Drawing a Blank, Literally

In June, I threw some writing warm-ups into the blogosphere, including some of my favorite ways to deal with a blank page. But maybe you’re not the writing exercise type. Or maybe the ideas are even more stuck than those suggestions will dislodge. Sounds like it’s time to approach the situation from an alternate angle.

When everything seems buried deep or evading me altogether, whether it’s writing or editing, I know I need to switch it up big time. I close my laptop and grab a sketchbook. Sometimes it’s easier to get my thoughts flowing if I take the words out for a while. In that spirit, here are a few ideas for directing your creative writing energies when the writing won’t come. The experience of each form might be enough on it’s own – a break that let’s your brain balance itself out by using a different area for a while. However, in case that doesn’t cut it, I’ve included a suggestion to tie each experience back to writing.


Whether it’s making your own or listening to someone else’s, spending time engaging intentionally with music can set the right tone for your story. Start with some music that speaks to where you are mentally at present and sit with it for a while. This might be enough to open up and start work, but it might also just be a springboard.

Apply it:
Pretend you were making a movie, what music would represent each character for the soundtrack? Keep that sound with you as you work on a story to maintain continuity in your characters. How would the sound change and grow while still being recognizable as the same theme? That’s what we’re looking for in our characters, too: an identity that develops and breathes but is still the same individual at his/her core.


If you enjoy moving, mix this with the music you’re exploring and groove. If you’re not a mover and shaker, close your eyes for a minute or two and picture the style of motion in your head. Does the movement match the music or intentionally grate against it? By connecting the brain to the body, more information can be taken in from the outside world as well as from within ourselves. Expression takes on another dimension in motion.

Apply it:
Move like your characters. Develop a dance, a walk, a tick. Once you’ve got the look, experiment with a few words to describe it. What about the setting? How does the story world around these living beings move? Does it skitter through the lives in it, weigh everything down, or impose on its surroundings? Is movement in such a place free and flowing or cramped and confined? Start with sweeping generalizations and work down to details.


Put pencil, pen, or paintbrush into action. Start a line and see where it leads you. Let ink bleed through a sheet of paper and examine the results on the other side. Make splotches of pigment until you see something in it. Or pick up a camera and investigate the world around you. Find texture and shadow. Consider perspective and space. Are the images you’re drawn to connected somehow? If nothing is coming out, draw what the inside of your brain looks like as it searches for an idea. Is it brilliant white, empty, mysteriously dark, crowded?

Apply it:
Step into the world of your plot. What visual art exists there? If your characters were to find a paintbrush or a stylus in their hands, what would they create? Alternately, if you’re searching for a brand new story, find or make what represents where you are right now and tinker with the words you would choose to describe it. Would this painting, photo, or etching be an epic, thriller, or fairy tale? What if the 3D version of an abstract image were the physical world of your story?

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