Writer's block. Whether or not you think it's real, we all have those times when we just don't know what to put next on the page. Not fun!

When I was a freshly graduated college student living in a new city, I joined a writers' group whose members had a unique suggestion for dealing with writer's block. During one of our meetings, I was explaining where and why I was stuck in a screenplay I was writing. Various people offered suggestions, but the one I remember went something like this:

"Do something completely random, something that doesn't even have to go into the final story. Like, your character trips over a chicken. And then see what happens from there."

That advice straight-out headbutted my perfectionistic tendencies. What? Intentionally write something that I knew wouldn't be part of the final draft? Wouldn't that just be a waste of time? And . . . what if I lost control of my story? What if it went someplace I didn't want it to go?

Looking back, I now realize that those thoughts came from a place of fear. And when is fear ever rational? Still, for a long time, it led me to resist trying my friends' advice. 

Until the opportunity was forced upon me. 

A few years later, my youngest sister (whom I'll call L) decided to play the Letter Game. Put simply, the players write letters to each other as if they're characters in a story that they make up together as they go. It was literally all fun and games until L's character wrote to mine to warn her of an assassin that was coming for my character's mentor.

At first, I was annoyed. I had plans for the mentor, and now L was messing with her.

Though I didn't think of it in these terms at the time, I'd been presented with a character-trips-over-a-chicken moment. And, against my usual inclinations, I decided to run with that moment instead of circumventing it. The results could be interesting, I thought.

And were they! Because I let the assassination attempt happen, L and I got to add all sorts of new characters, story elements, and character development to our creation. Now I can't imagine the story going any other way.

The cool thing about tripping over a chicken is that it's not limited to fiction. You can do it in nonfiction, too. Argue the opposite point of view for a while. Let yourself briefly go down a rabbit hole about a side matter related to your topic. When you stride daringly off the "right" path, several important things can happen:

1. You get distracting thoughts and ideas out of your system so you can think more clearly.

2. You gain clarity about what you really want to write by approaching your story or topic from a new angle that you otherwise might not have tried.

3. You just might find some great ideas for your next project.

So the next time you're stuck, trip on a chicken. It might be just the shake-up your writing needs.

Write on,


(Modified from an email originally sent to subscribers 1/8/2020. Photo by William Moreland on Unsplash.)