Defeating Writer’s Block with Miriam Halahmy

I’m very pleased to welcome Miriam Halahmy to the blog today. Her excellent advice on getting over writer’s block is particularly pertinent to me right now, as I’m struggling with the final few chapters of my current novel.

Ways to get writing again.

I’m not a big fan of the term ‘writer’s block’. It’s not that I always sit down at my desk ready to write and bang out 2000 words a day. It’s simply that I believe it is always possible to do a bit of writing, even if it isn’t the next chunk of the great work you had hoped for.

So here are my Five Favourite Tips for getting going when you feel completely stuck and unable to write a word.

1. Write a word, write a sentence, write something. Write with thick felt tip – my latest craze is Sharpie pens – deface a large sheet of brown paper. Take a word from your manuscript and brainstorm it all over the page. Writing is the trigger. Not writing makes us feel frozen inside. We are all about words so have fun and just write some.

2. I know that writing a set of disconnected words won’t get Chapter 14 written and you are feeling anxious and under pressure and can’t I offer something better than Number 1?

I can. Sit down and write for 30 minutes and then get up and walk away. That brief writing time will return your self esteem and unfreeze your writing muscle. Do 30 minutes every day in the leanest, most uninspiring, most shut, closed, tight periods when you feel blocked, and you will breathe new life into your writing. I promise you will stand up and walk away feeling, “I’ve done it, I’ve done my writing for today and now I can load the washing, cook dinner or watch Daytime TV without feeling guilty.”

3. Ask questions. Whenever I am stuck in the middle of a novel and I just can’t seem to write the next 50 words, let alone 5000, I switch to Bold Deep Red and put up any question which comes to mind. I answer each question before I put up the next one. I’m not brainstorming questions for the sake of it. I’m letting questions take over and trigger writing which ultimately will get me unstuck, reveal where I’m headed next and get me back to writing in a linear flow.

Here are a few examples :

a) Why am I sitting here?

b) What has just happened?

c) Who is x or why or z?

d) What do I want to say, write, do here on this page, in this para, in this book?

e) What do I honestly think is going to happen next?

I haven’t found that the question really matters. It’s a device, a trigger to trick me out back into writing. It works, mostly.

4. If it doesn’t work, or sometimes because it feels better to do this anyway, I go back to pen and paper. Or whatever you like to write with by hand instead of laptop. I wrote my first novel, Secret Territory,back in the 1990s steam age by hand and still feel amazed sometimes that I ever managed to write complete novels on a little Samsung Notebook.

So when I’m stuck and the writing just isn’t pouring out of me, I go back to the old ways, the contact of pen on paper and I start asking all my questions. Usually I find I’ve covered several sheets in about 10 minutes, I’m ready to fire up the laptop once more and get back on my horse.

5. I know this all sounds a bit smug and as though I can write anytime, anywhere, with just a few nudges to get going again. Well, I can’t.

But like most people who have been doing this for donkey years, I have managed to find tricks and devices which will get me out of the doldrums and off again. Sometimes I know you just have to call it a day or even a week. But even in the worst dry patches there’s always something you can do.

Now, don’t get me started on Timers – those kitchen types which ding when your time is up. You can set it for three minutes, ten minutes or even an hour. Some people swear by them. Me? I just want to throw them across the room. But a Timer may be just the lifeline you need to get over the writing hump. So go for it!

Good luck with your writing and do let us know if you have a great tip for getting unstuck.

About the Author


Nominated for the CILIP 2012 Carnegie Medal, Miriam Halahmy is the author of HIDDEN and ILLEGAL (published by Meadowside Books). Her third novel, STUFFED, will be available from March 2013.

She will be running a Creative writing workshop – Writing for children and teensat the Ham and High Literary Festival in September.

For more information on her books visit

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