How to Get Rid of Writer’s Block, Pixar Style

by Joe Bunting | 40 comments

I've been editing a short story for nearly three weeks and I'm stuck. When I was working on it the other day, I got so depressed I said, “I hate this. I never want to write short stories again. I never want to write fiction again. I suck at it too much.” In other words, normal feelings when you have writer's block. Pixar Writer's BlockThat's why I was so glad when I stumbled upon this recently:

“When you’re stuck,” said writers at Pixar, “make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.”

I love Pixar, and I love this idea. So let's practice it.


The Story: Two friends run into a group of murderers (i.e. the sharks in Finding Nemo). Make a list of what wouldn't happen next. If you hit on an interesting idea, write a scene about it. Do this exercise for fifteen minutes. When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section. Have fun!

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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  1. Chihuahua Zero

    On a writer’s forum, I saw one writer suggest this to another writer, who had no idea what to do with the story.

    My suggestion? A wizard with an Eldritch Abomination fetish bursts in.

    Ironically, such a suggestion is actually the most likely to happen out of the other mild ones I threw out onto the page. But that’s just me. :p

  2. Steph

    No depression, Joe! You have too much going for you. Don’t give up!

    Love the exercise. I think I will apply it to my big WIP, though.

    • Steph

      I am back to report that this works! I have been stuck on how to wrap up a scene in my WIP, so while I was putting my baby to bed, I thought about what my MC would not do: he would not walk away. Suddenly, it was apparent what he does do by staying. Thanks, Joe! I hope your day of writing went well for you.

  3. Bronson O'Quinn

    When it comes to storytelling, it’s hard to argue with Pixar. They’ve had a couple missteps (cough! cars! cough!), but when it comes to the basics, they’ve got it down pat!

    • Yvette Carol

      Ha ha! What even the much-hyped sequel Bronson? I didn’t bother seeing it after the first….

  4. Andrew Singleton

    Story is relevant to my hobbies and interests.

  5. Marianne

    I’m right there with you Joe.  I stopped my novel to do a short story sort of as a break from the novel. All went well until my writing partner said she really wanted to see the end of “Gwennie” (the short story) and that she loved it, that it was so alive.  As soon as I read that I couldn’t decide on what to do with Gwennie.  I’m going to try your prompt today but may not post until tomorrow because if I can get it rolling i’m not going to stop until I finish the story (I hope).  You will get there with yours.  Maybe you should put it down for a while and work on something else.  I have all kinds of ideas for my novel now that my short story is stumping me.  Read Brenda Ueland. She’s inspirational.  Why does this happen to us?

    • JB Lacaden

      I hope you’ll be able to finish your short story well. Do you post your stories online? Would love to read some of them! 🙂

    • Marianne

      I don’t have an online place JB.  I need to set up a blog but I keep putting it off.  

    • JB Lacaden

      An online blog is a great place to get feedback from fellow writers. Try to have it soon! 🙂

  6. Wanda Kiernan

    This was fun!  Here’s my practice:

    Rick and Larry followed the thin clue Jenny left behind before she disappeared.  They were making their way through a dilapidated warehouse.

    “Jenny!  Jenny!  Are you in here?”

    The two friends waited and hoped for a reply.

    “Awww, are you guys looking for Jenny?”

    Rick and Larry slowly turned around and faced the barrels of four .357 Magnums.  The guy who spoke was eating a burrito with his free hand.

    “Where is she?”

    “Do we look like we’d tell you?”

    “Hey, Hank.  I ain’t feelin’ so hot,” the small guy in the middle was looking gray in the face.

    “What do I care?  Let’s get this over with.”

    The clicks of the gun hammers echoed off the walls.  At the same time the little gray faced guy started vomiting violently.

    The other guys stepped back, but as soon as they moved they started vomiting, too.
    Hank was the last to join the party, and out came his burrito.

    Rick and Larry saw their chance and headed for the narrow opening through the hanger doors.  Rick was struggling to make it through.  Larry turned to see how closely they were being followed.

    “Rick, stop.”

    “I’m almost out!”

    “No. Stop. Look.”

    They both watched as Hank was the last of the bunch to pass out.

    The two friends looked at each other and couldn’t believe their luck.

    • John Fisher

      That’s good!

    • Yvette Carol

      Oof! I actually felt a little queasy myself 🙂

  7. John Fisher

    Pete and Jack take a trip in Pete’s beat-up van to check out Comfort, Texas, location of the Truer Der Union monument, farmer Albert Stiles’ hygieostatic bat roost built in 1918, and one of the best-preserved historic downtown areas in the state.  At dusk, finding their way to the old Stiles place, they happen on a group of men in a peanut field who turn out to be Klansmen; Pete and Jack are seen and it’s too late to scramble for cover.  They are apprehended by the men, ridiculed for their longish hair and hippie clothes, and forced to witness the beating and dragging to death behind a pickup truck of a teenaged male African-American accused of making lewd comments to a white woman.  The Klansmen then turn their muderous attentions on our heroes.

    What wouldn’t happen:

    One of the men’s wives, tired of her life among racist killers, slips in unawares and opens fire with her pistol from concealment, killing husband, friends and relatives to prevent further atrocities.

    A group of Armed African-Americans crashes the party,  guns-ablazing, and everyone white is mowed down.

    The Sheriff has gotten wind of the festivities and shows up in time to save our boys.  Or to help with the slaughter.  Maybe he’s one of them from the first!

    My own story is too bloody for me!  And flawed in several different ways.  But it’s what I came up with in the fifteen minutes. 

    • Yvette Carol

      It made me think, would you have thought of the wife going in, guns blazing if you hadn’t done ‘what if not’? Because it struck me as brilliant….

    • John Fisher

      No, I don’t think I would have at all!

    • Marianne

      You got a lot of anger and violence out in fifteen minutes.  The woman with the pistol is especially vivid to me.  Pistol says so much more than gun.  I guess that’s one of the details that Joe keeps talking about.  

    • John Fisher

      Yes, anger and violence can still characterize racial relations in my part of the country; racial resentment is still very much part of the daily landscape.  Plus, I recently read about the Emmett Till case in Mississippi in 1955 which was along these lines.  And wasn’t there a movie about a woman who went undercover into some such group, ended up married to one of the guys, and may have killed him in the end?  That was at the back of my mind too.   Pistol is a powerful word indeed – a lot of people carry them concealed in my state.

    • Marianne

      I know I’m in Virginia.  We can’t carried concealed weapons without a permit though. 

    • John Fisher

      It’s the same in Texas, must have a concealed-carry permit, but if you don’t have a glaring criminal record or a history of mental problems it’s not hard to get, just for spending a few hours classroom/firing range time — it’s pretty easy, or that’s my semi-educated perception.  I’m not a gun person.

    • Marianne

      I can’t get this under you last remark.  I’m not a gun person either.  I have fired a pistol and a shotgun and both times I was scared to death.  Not for me.  

    • John Fisher

      Me either.  I kinda enjoyed my dad’s old .22 rifle when I was a kid — until I saw one of my uncles carrying a rabbit he had just shot by its ears.  That kinda fixed it for me.  Years later my brother who did turn out to be a gun buff, had a .38 police special that I shot a couple times off in the woods aiming at old cans — and the kick and the destructive power really did scare me.  I just don’t have the fascination with it that some do.

  8. Yvette Carol

    Boy those Pixar guys are ones to follow huh. That one sentence packs a meaty punch. I copied it to my great quotes file because I don’t want to forget it!! I’m knee-deep in my WIP so now I have ace up my sleeve if it tries to dropkick me. Joe, dig that honesty!! Chin up, keep striving, and as my gran would say, ‘pin your hopes upon a star and you WILL get there!’

  9. JB Lacaden

    1. Ninjas suddenly appeared.
    2. They were able to dodge all the bullets and escape unharmed.
    3. The sun rose and killed the murderers (who turned out to be vampires).
    I exceeded 15 minutes. Apologies. I had so much fun writing it! I chose number one:

    Jack and Vic were panting like dogs the moment they stopped. He was drenched with sweat from head to toe and his legs were aching terribly. Jack wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt.
    “We’re goners Jackie,” Vic managed to utter in-between gasps of oxygen.
    Jackie paid no attention to Vic. He looked around and three huge silos standing in front of them–they were in Factory Row. Jack walked closer towards silo standing in the middle.
    “What do we do Jackie? I don’t wanna get kicked off.”
    “Shut your yap or I’ll shut it for ya,” Jackie barked. “We can hide inside one of the factories. They won’t be looking for us for long.”
    “Where?” Vic asked.
    Before Jackie was able to answer, he heard the loud noise of the cars roaring behind them. Jackie quickly turned around to see three Flivvers. Two men came out from each vehicle.
    “We’re dead Jackie,” Vic said, running beside him.
    Jackie remained quiet. He watched as the men in trenchcoat started walking towards them.
    “You ginks are fast runners,” said the man in the middle.
    “Not fast enough though,” the man at the far left said. The others snickered.
    Jackie watched as each one of the six men pulled out their roscoes.
    “Too bad you two were at the wrong place at the wrong time,” one of them men uttered. “We can’t allow you to live after what you saw.”
    “We’ll fill you two with daylight.”
    “Please, please, I don’t wanna die yet,” Vic was in tears as he pleaded for his life.
    Jackie was speechless. He watched as the six men pointed their roscoes at him. “Say nighty night boys,” the man in the middle shouted.
    Then, a metallic object shot forth from somewhere and landed on the middle man’s forehead. The man’s eyes were wide with surprise as he landed on his knees, then on his face. He was dead.
    The five remaining gangsters shouted in confusion. Jackie watched as two more of ninja stars flew from above and towards the man standing on the far right. One hit him right on the left eye, while the other one landed on the man’s throat. The man gurgled blood as he fell on his back, dead.
    “There! Above the silos!” shouted the man beside the one with the ninja star in his eye.
    Jackie and Vic shiftd their gaze to where the gangsters were pointing. Jackie saw a man silhoutted in darkness. The gangsters pointed their roscoes at the mystery man and shot their bullets at him. The night was filled with the sound of guns being fired.
    Jackie crouched low, afraid to get hit by a stray bullet. His eyes remained glued on the man clothed in darkness. He watched as the man leapt from the top of the silo and somersaulted in midair. Bullets seemed to avoid the man as he landed on his feet while at the same time sending out a couple more ninja stars. The remaining gangsters dropped dead to the ground.
    Jackie and Vic weren’t able to believe their luck. They watched as the man turned around and looked at them. The man’s face was covered with a black cloth and only his eyes were visible. The man gave a nod and tossed a pellet to the ground. The pellet exploded and smoke poured out of it. Jackie and Vic coughed as the smoke spread towards them–the smell was that of rotten eggs. When the smoke had completely vanished, they saw that the man had vanished as well. Jackie and Vic stood up, their lives saved.

    • zo-zo

      This is so vivid!  I felt like I could see all the men going down like in a movie, and I had to shield my eyes!!!  Good dialogue too.  

    • JB Lacaden

      Thanks zo. Glad you liked it. 🙂

    • Marianne

      JB you have a real talent for describing action.  LIke Zo Zo, I could see the whole thing.  

    • JB Lacaden

      Thanks! 🙂

  10. Ollin Morales

    What a brilliant exercise! I love it. Thanks for sharing.

    For your writer’s block, I would also try:

    – going for a 15-30 minute jog
    – going for a 15-30 minute walk around the park where you just wander, with no destination i particular
    – play: do something like go to a local toy store and play with a light saber, run down a steep incline, eat a whole pie in under a minute, etc.
    – have an adventure: go hiking in the mountains, jump into the oceon with all your clothes on, visit your nearby observatory, etc.

    These tips may sound random, but really they are meant to get your head out of the way. Your mind is really the one causing the block, if we can remove the thinking and doing with some non-thinking an non-doing you’d be surpsied at how quickly a new idea pops into your head.

    I love trying the second tip, it’s my favorite go to: walking in the park and meditating ALWAYS gets rid of my writer’s block.

    • John Fisher

      Makes me think of Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, which is totally about un-blocking.  She suggests an Artist Date every week, which is a geeky name for it but you do just the kind of things you listed above!  And I still do the Morning Pages, her other major suggestion, which is three pages of longhand (not on the computer!), strem-of-consciousness  writing every morning without fail first thing.  It doesn’t have to be good or correctly punctuated or anything, but it helps me “hose off the crud”, find my own truth, and more than one character has been born there!

  11. zo-zo

    Thanks for sharing, Joe… if writers like you have bad days, there’s hope for the rest of us! 

    It was obvious this group did not come
    into the gardens for a leisurely stroll – their hands were in their
    pockets, and in true farmer style, they had their knives sticking out
    of their socks.

    Mavis and Mervin’s eyes watched the
    shoes coming towards them.

    The park had a pinkish glow as the day
    was subsiding. Thunder echoed in the distance, and with it the men
    approached, with their knives catching the light as they walked.
    Some men grew distasteful grins, whilst others looked menacing as
    frowns overshadowed their foreheads. They were slowly, slowly
    walking with even footsteps towards Mavis and Mervin.

    Mavis stomped her foot on the ground
    three times. ‘No no no! I can’t believe you don’t remember me,

    There was something about that tone,
    the way she said ‘boys,’ like the word disappointed her. The
    menacing group hesitated, and weren’t even sure why. One of the boys
    from the back huddle gasped. ‘It’s Mrs Finnegan!’

    Without blinking, the boys scuttled
    into a straight line, hands straight at their sides, and heads
    slightly down. They knew what was coming.

    ‘Why boys, is that a way to treat an
    old friend?’ Mavis said, shuffling towards the boys, her bony finger
    poking into each of the chins which were folded into their chests.

    ‘No Mrs Finnegan,’ they said, softly.

    Mavis stomped her foot and the mens’
    chins flew up. ‘I didn’t hear you!’ Lightening flashed in the black

    ‘No Mrs Finnegan,’ they shouted,
    looking straight ahead.

    think you need a little maths to set you straight,’ she said and spat
    into a rosebush. ‘Let’s start with the two times tables. You never
    were that bright.’

    mens’ faces didn’t flinch, as they put their hands behind their
    backs. ‘One times two is two, two times two is four…’

    • JB Lacaden

      This is just awesome. Had me laughing in my office desk. Nice writing. 🙂

    • zo-zo

      Thanks! 🙂  I’m so glad it made you laugh!!! 

    • zo-zo


  12. Miriam Nicholson

    Will you guy give me some honest feedback on this story starter? My friends say its good but..I’m not sure if they are just saying that or if they mean it



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