Saturday, December 4, 2021

4 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block When Your Characters Go Silent

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

Lately, I seem to be going through a case of writer’s block. Not like when I can’t decide where to set a scene or why my characters are gathering for coffee/tea/burger/ballgame. But life has taken me away from my writing for a while, and now I can’t get back into it.

I asked our pharmacist. There’s not a vaccine. (She wasn’t smiling.) And supplements don’t seem to be helping.

My characters have left the building. And they don’t seem to want to return unless I promise to pay them more attention.

Maybe writer’s block boils down to a lack of trust.

So, what can I do to earn back my characters’ trust?

1. Be open to changes in the story.
Are your characters want to show new sides to their personalities? Are they suggesting a different motivation or even a new character?

Maybe your setting has gotten old, and they need to go somewhere besides the same old coffee shop? A new cliche is friends always gathering in the same coffee shop. That might have worked for the TV show, Friends. And it might even be realistic. I do have my favorite places, but you lose such a great opportunity to show different parts of your character by always setting them in the same places.

Writing is not theater or TV. New settings don’t cost anything. But they can add so much to your story.

While I’ve been spending time rethinking my story—the scenes I’ve written and the new scenes I’ve planned—some changes that have come up surprise me. They’re not big changes, just subtle ones that make the story richer.

2. Look at the world around you.
Often writer’s block comes down to having an empty creative gas tank. One of the best ways to refill is to get off the page, get away from the computer, and get back into real life. Whether that means taking a walk through nature, meeting with friends, or enjoying the arts, take some time away so you can return with a refreshed mind.

Now I believe what I’ve just written, but I also remember the writer (If you know his name, please tell us in the comments.) who said something like he wrote whenever his muse appeared, and she appeared every morning when he went to his desk.

Hmm. Maybe a deadline is the vaccine I need.

3. Work on something else. Temporarily.
One of the great things about being a writer is that we have all kinds of toys in our toy boxes. Even though I’m stuck on my manuscript, I’m still working on my blog, doing guest posts, and thinking about the plot of another book.

Now be careful with this. This is a trap I’ve seen many writers fall into. It’s easy to get distracted with all the shiny things spinning around us, squirrel, that we can’t focus. I have friends who are more talented than me, but they can’t stay on one task to get focused.

And they don’t get it finished.

But if you are having problems connecting to your story, maybe you should take some time to work on something else. Our brains are such awesome creations., Even when we aren’t aware of it, they will often continue to work on the first story. This might lead to an eureka moment where you realize you’ve answered a problem that had your stymied.

4. Believe.
It is so easy to lose faith in ourselves. To think that the present circumstance will never change. This week, a friend told me that there is nothing new under the sun. Yet, life is always changing. No matter what you are going through, it will change with time.

When the plans we’ve made either don’t happen, like we have planned, or something else takes priority, we wonder if the work is worth it. Or even possible.

There are so many cliches about this. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You eat an elephant or buffet bar one bite at a time. They have become silly, but the truth is still there.

Writing. Good writing. Takes time. You only get there by giving it the time that it needs. That means putting in the effort to learn the craft and do the work. You can’t rush it (although I often try), but with effort you can do more than you thought you could.

Earning your characters’ trust. It can be frustrating and take time. But we all know the pleasure of writing a story when the characters are leading. 

I’ve got to tell you what just happened. I’d taken a break and was walking through my neighborhood, letting my mind roam, when it settled on my story. I haven’t been able to write the next scene because, well, it’s boring. It seemed like it just filled time until something important happened. Then the idea popped into my head. Skip it. I’m telling a story, not detailing a day in someone’s life.

I think it was Leonard Elmore who said don’t write the parts your readers will want to skip.

That sounds so easy. I knew that. Yet, to me, that was an eureka moment. This week, I’ll reach my word count. Because even though I haven’t seen any progress in a while, I didn’t give up on my characters. And now I know they’ll come back.

They have a story to tell.


Tim Suddeth is a stay-at-home dad and butler for his wonderful, adult son with autism. He has written numerous blogs posts, short stories, and three novels waiting for publication. He is a frequent attendee at writers’ conferences, including the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and a member of Word Weavers and ACFW. He lives near Greenville, SC where he shares a house with a bossy Shorky and three too-curious Persians. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at


  1. Thank you, Tim, for these excellent points. Although I write mostly nonfiction, several of these points are very helpful for me as well.


  2. Strong medicine, Tim. #2 hit me where I live. Also very humorously - yet seriously - written. Come on, man, chase that muse! Gift yourself with a challenge to add another 4 points. Either I've got a more serious case than you, or you're not looking far enough. Reading your points caused me to face my own. Since all 4 of yours apply to me, let's see if we can find a couple more. Good luck. And - as always -thanks. Best to you and your great family this season.
    Jay in SC Foothills

  3. Thank you for your excellent post, Mr. Suddeth. I especially appreciated your suggestion to earn a character's trust. Well put!

    I equate earning a character's trust with getting to know my character. I find that if I don't know where to take a character next, the reason is that I don't know my character well enough. So I go back to the beginning. I ask myself whether I know my character's deepest wound, the lie she believes because of that wound, her greatest fear resulting from the wound, and her greatest dream in spite of the wound. Exploring these questions--often while away from my story--results in clarity of direction.

    Thank you so much for your post. I pray God's blessings on your writing!