I know what a friend looks like. Friends are there to support you when you need them. If you call in desperation, they come over. If you need a laugh, they crack a joke. If you're down, they give a helping hand.

However, I’ve concluded that the Muses are not my friends.

Beat Writer's Block with Grimms' Fairy Tales

Those unseen forces of inspiration that gift creatives with shiny new ideas, they don’t come over when I need them. They don't pick me up when I'm down, and they don't crack jokes when I need a laugh. Instead, they willingly abandon me to the clutches of writer's block.

“Help me,” I cry with desperation  into the blank scene of my laptop. “Please. I’ve got nothing. I need you.”

“I’m sorry,” the voice of the Muses’ smug personal assistant says on the other end of the line in my mind. “The Muses are busy right now. I’ll let them know you called. Please try back later when you aren’t ready to write—like during your morning commute when you are stuck in traffic with no way of taking notes, or in the middle of your next business meeting when your boss is sitting across the table watching you. They should be available then. Thank you. Bye-bye.”

If I waited on the Muses to get their lazy butts in gear, I’d never get anything written, which is why I’m happy to share with you the powerful weapon that has lessened my dependence on the Muses and helped me beat the dreaded writer's block: Grimms' Fairy Tales. When I get stuck for an idea and don’t know what to write, I turn to the Grimms.

4 Steps to Beating Writer's Block with the Brothers Grimm

Think of rewriting Grimms' Fairy Tales like going to the gym and working out. It gets all your writer muscles working and revved up.  Here’s how I do it.

1. Find the Fairy Tale

Picking a story you already know is cheating. Don’t do it.

Instead, I suggest using this Random Number Generator. In the “max” box on the right, type the number 210, and then press the “generate” button. Make note of the result.

Now, go to this list of 210 Grimm Fairy Tales. Use the result from the Random Number Generator to find the story you will be rewriting today.

2. Lay Out the Beats and Find the Heart

As you read through your fairy tale, write down the beats of the story. By “beat,” I mean the things that happen. Write one simple sentence for each beat. Don’t get complicated; a straightforward sentence will do.

Once you’ve finished writing the beats, read through all of them, then answer the question, “What is this story about?”

Keep the beats and the heart of the story. Forget everything else.

3. Re-imagine the Story in a Modern Setting

Now take the heart of the story and the beats of the story, and imagine that story happening down the street from your house. How would it play out? What would the story look like? What types of characters do you need to make the story work? 

Bonus: Do It with One Scene

If you are really looking for a challenge, after you decide how to tell the story in a contemporary setting, figure out how to tell it in just one scene.

4. Rewrite Your Story

See, you don’t need those stupid Muses and their obnoxious assistant. You are now ready to write a fantastic story without them. The final step is to sit down and write your new story.

My Example: The Poor Boy in His Grave

I try to do this at least once a week. If you need an example, here's one I did a few weeks ago:

First, the magic Random Number Generator gave me #185: The Poor Boy in His Grave.

Next, I read the story, wrote out the beats, and found the heart: Poor kid loses parents. Poor kid is raised by people who don’t like him. Poor kid “messes up” and gets beaten. Poor kid sneaks food while hoping to die. Poor kids lies down in grave. Abusive caretakers' house catches on fire.

Heart of the story: Poor abused kid gets revenge in the end by laying in his grave.

Then I re-imagined the story in my city. I realized I needed a poor kid, some nasty caretakers, a grave, and a house fire.

Taking the bonus challenge, I thought, “What if the kid doesn’t die? What if he is being questioned by the police about the house fire?” I realized I could tell the whole story through an investigation.

Finally, I wrote the story.

And just like that—writer's block defeated.

What creative techniques have you used to beat writer's block? Let me know in the comments.


Kick the Muses’ snotty personal assistant in the teeth with your own Grimms' Fairy Tale rewrite.

Take fifteen minutes to pick a story and reimagine it, following the steps above. Share your practice in the comments below.

Make sure you keep the title of your story the same as the original Grimm Tale so we can see which one you repurposed. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

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