How to Un-Block Writer’s Block

We have all been there, haven’t we? Whether we have written ourselves into a corner and cannot come up with a clever punchline to save our lives, or are staring at a blank screen/piece of paper with no inspiration whatsoever, Writer’s Block is brutal. And for those of us with no buffers (*ahem* ME *ahem*), the clock is ticking, your readers are waiting for a decent joke, and suddenly a pool of sweat collects in your studio. What the frig do you DO??!!!!

First off, I want to mention that I am offering advice to those cartoonists who are gag-a-day humorists, or those who write shorter story lines, as opposed to the long-format graphic novels with complex tales. I have never written a really long story, so once you are already in the depths of your story, I’m not sure how you deal with Writer’s Block. I would think one gets better results when writing longer story lines if it is laid out to begin with, using outlines, notes cards, much like writing a high school essay. However, for those of us who write humor-based comics kind of on a whim, as life deals us the comedy queues, sometimes, well.. life is not so funny and you just end up staring off into the distance for hours. Well, during those times, I am here to help… in these scenarios:

When you write yourself in a corner (ie: when you have the strip laid out but never came up with a punchline, or now HATE the one you originally came up with), try one of these:

  • Back up. This is actually an old graphic design tip I use, when you’re not sure about your design. Back away from the monitor and see your piece in a new light from further away. This can be applied to comics as well. It helps you separate yourself from the tiny little details (art, words, fonts, balloons) and look at the piece as a whole. Sometimes simply re-reading the first panels with an open-mind will help you find a punchline that works.
  • Google it. This seems weird, but try googling keywords you would use to describe your comic. Read the random stuff that appears. It’ll most likely be topical of what you were trying to write, and sometimes all it takes is a certain words or phrase to switch on that lightbulb.
  • Jot down words. Much like the google suggestion, just write down as many words as possible that relate to your current comic. It’s a simplified version of the writing exercise called stream-of-consciousness writing. Is your comic’s subject about crying over spilled milk? Okay then… milk, glass, cow, udder, nipples.. ha! nipples are funny… See, now you may have found your punchline in a round-about way. Hey, however you get there, right?!
  • Walk away. If those don’t work, give up (for now). A watched pot never boils, right? You might need to give your overworked brain a rest. Go tackle a small job around the house, take a shower, walk the dog… and you may find that the answer just pops right in your head! Then, you’ll be sprinting back home with the dog to FINISH up that comic!

When you’re mid-storyline, trying to progress the story, but currently at a standstill with ideas:

  • Reread. Go back to the first comic of the series (or a good landmark) and reread the comic with an open-mind. Pretend you’re new to the story, try to separate yourself from being the creator to just being entertained by the story and artwork. Once you hit the last comic, your fresh outlook may help you write the next episode in the tale.
  • Play pretend. Put yourself in your character’s shoes. Imagine being apart of this story, what would you (the character at hand) do in this situation? Close your eyes, hear their voice in your head, imagine their body language, let your character take the reigns and help you write the comic.

When you’ve got a blank page/screen, open for any subject, but nothing else goin’ for ya:

  • Turn on the news. Even if your comic does not deal with topical news, watching fresh material can give your brain something new to stew over. You may find yourself writing a comic about something you’d never have thought up on your own.
  • Grab a Book. Flip to any random page. Blindly point to any word. While doing this, keep the basis of your comic in the back of your mind, and apply the random word to your concept. One usually sticks, and a funny idea stems from the exercize. I worte a funny random strip about the old exploding pigeons and rice urban legend using this method.
  • If you use the igoogle homepage, a handy widget to install is the “Writer’s Idea Bank”. This is what I resort to in times of “dust-bunny-brain”. It spews out a random poem packed with imagery, and much like the above suggestion of random word selection in a book, one of those words is bound to conjure up an idea! You can also try other free online tools like The Writer’s Plot Generator, or try out the Random Joke Server…. search by subject and put your own twist on a joke you find there!
  • Exercise. It has been medically proven that working our your body also trains your brain, plus it’s a break from sitting and staring at a blank page or screen. Like I suggested earlier, sometimes all you need is a break and something new for your brain to focus on. So, get up off that chair or couch, and do some sit-ups, push-ups, jog in place, or take that spoiled dog for a walk again. Once you return, you’ll be fresher, calmer, and in a more receptive state of mind.

I hope these suggestions, although somewhat odd, can help a frustrated cartoonist with a deadline hanging over his/her head. I know the feeling, and it’s not fun! If trying out these exercises do not result in fresh ideas, then either you need to get some sleep, or there is something deeper wrong that is hindering you from creative thinking and writing.

Happy comic-ing!

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  1. When I have an idea or just a vague direction for my comic, I’ve noticed that when I go and do some chores (vacuuming or doing the dishes) my mind can just continue to process the ideas and eventually I often get some great ideas.

    Another very important tip: write down your idea IMMEDIATELY! Don’t think you’ll remember the idea 3 minutes from then… WRITE IT DOWN. NOW! I often have thought that I could remember the great idea… and 5 minutes later I had no clue what the idea was. And it never came back…

    • Oh yeah, stop whatever you’re doing and write it down as quickly as you can… Don’t think of anything else or try to correct spelling, etc., just write. I’ve lost ideas as I started to write them down as my brain started to think of tangents to the idea. So, yeah, write it down as soon as possible.

      Nothing more frustrating to have an idea that made you laugh to have it disappear in the vapor of our terrible memories.

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