Sitting Down to Write: How to Start When You’re Stuck

We all know the feeling. You’ve got a scene in your head you want to write, but your brain isn’t working. Your fingers won’t cooperate. Maybe it’s your keyboard that has it out for you. Whatever the case, you can’t think. You want to start, but you’re stuck.


(I have gotten so much traction out of this gifset. I could use this in every post.)

Here are a couple of tricks I find really handy for that first half-hour when you’ve sat at your desk, opened your laptop or your notebook, and gone “… oh no.”

1. Make a list of sensory words to put you in the mindset of your scene.

What’s your character seeing? Hearing? Smelling? Touching? Say I’m writing a scene where my main character is running from a monster in a rainstorm. I might make a list like this:

mud, muck, slippery, splatter, pouring, shoes squelching, shivering, sheets of rain, buckets, splashed, slipped; snarling, slobbering, growling, thundering paws; spikes of lightning, blinding, flash, silver; panting, whimpering, skidding, falling, crashing

This’ll help you visualize the scene and get into the headspace.

2. Try describing your character’s emotional state, moment by moment.

Make a second list following your character through the scene, describing what he’s feeling. For example, let’s return to my character, running from the monster:

First, he’s panicked, because if he slows down, he’s dead. He runs; he slips in a puddle and his stomach feels like it flips over. Faster now, he starts to pant, develops a stitch in his side. The cold rain makes him shiver. He hits dead end after dead end; he doesn’t know which way to go. His panic turns to rattled indignation. Why should he be the one running? That’s when he grabs the nearest blunt object and whirls around, ready to fight.

Now you have a kind of emotional timeline of what your character is thinking or feeling throughout the scene. Because you wrote it in one go, it should follow a consistent logic.

3. Set a timer for a five or ten minute word sprint and write down whatever random descriptions you can think of that would fit the scene well.

“Rain poured down in silvery sheets.”

“Ropes of slobber swung from the creature’s jowls.”

“He fell, skidding through the mud, and scrambled to stand back up.”

Don’t let your fingers go still for one second — this is a mad dash to get words out and creativity kickstarted!

Now, look back at what you have:

  1. A list of adjectives worth dispersing throughout your scene to set the mood
  2. The emotional journey of your character to help plan your action
  3. A number of descriptive sentences to get you started

Voilà! Just by structuring your writing warm-up, you’re already halfway through writing your scene! The trick here is simple:  when you feel overwhelmed and don’t know how or where to start, break up the scene into manageable pieces and go from there! Try it! See if it works for you.

Okay, now I turn it over to you: What do you guys do when you can’t get the words to come out? Do you have any exercises or word games that have always helped you? If you were running from a monster in the pouring rain, would you try to hide somewhere or turn and fight?? Leave a comment, let’s talk!

10 thoughts on “Sitting Down to Write: How to Start When You’re Stuck

  1. iggy23

    I like number 2 a lot! When I write, I like to step into my character’s shoes and think for a moment what he/she feels at that point in time. It’s very powerful to feel the fear or happiness because you can then transfer that to writing. The only thing is sometimes it cannot be describe by words – but I digress. For me, I usually just refer to books that I’ve read before or just randomly surf the net and then come back when I think that there’s something that I can put in words 🙂


    1. Ooh, that’s a good tip too — A lot of times if I’m at a loss, I’ll go find a similar scene in another book and try to dissect what made it work. Sometimes “what made it work” is frustratingly intangible, but at least it’s a starting point!

      Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a writer, getting stuck is one of the WORST feelings. Really terrible. And I just need to say that these ideas are FANTASTIC. Seriously. I will definitely be checking them out when (I was going to say ‘if’ there… but hey, there’s so use in being THAT positive ;)) I get stuck. Recently, I wrote a post on what to do when you don’t have the motivation to write, and one of my tips just just to write anyway. For me a similar idea applies to when I get stuck. Sometimes I get so focused on the words I’m putting down on the page instead of just telling story (I really hope that makes sense) that I find I just cannot WRITE. Which is frustrating as hell. So I tell myself to take a step back, breath deep, and focus on the scene/story again. That usually helps.

    Anyway. New follower here! Great post! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I get so focused on the words I’m putting down on the page instead of just telling story (I really hope that makes sense) that I find I just cannot WRITE.

      Yes, that makes SO MUCH SENSE. I get bogged down by that too — if a paragraph sounds clunky or I’m just not writing well one day, I’ll get so discouraged and distracted by the mechanics, I’ll forget to just let go and enjoy telling the story. And that’s the most important part, that you’re entertaining yourself and telling a story! That’s why word sprints on Twitter are so nice — you force yourself to focus on just writing, no editing, no plotting, just throwing down words.

      Also, I totally have Pinterest boards and a tumblr revolving around my WIPs too! You’re right, it’s such a good way to get in the right mood. (Or, to procrastinate semi-productively.)


  3. Pingback: Happy Writer - Sitting Down to Write: How to Start When You’re Stuck

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