Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems

by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller

Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name was……..

While most of you are busy guessing who this mystery writer is, let me tell you that the aforementioned lines are the start of my fantasy fiction book on writers (if I ever write one). The reason I call it fantasy fiction is because every established as well as aspiring writer knows that writing is not a piece of cake. One has to face lots of hardships, phases of self doubt, fear of failure and the proverbial ‘writer’s block’ to write a few pages, let alone a complete novel.

Though there are problems aplenty that plague an author’s mind, most writers have to deal with similar hurdles, and luckily, there are ways to cross these hurdles. Today, I am going to address 4 common problems of creative writing that cripple a writer’s mind and how they can be resolved by using unconventional tools. Before you roll your eyes and dismiss this piece as just another run of the mill article on writing advice, check out how writer’s can find solutions to their troubles in most unexpected ways:          

Problem 1: The idea well has dried up
Solution: Mind mapping – a Pandora’s box of ideas

Generally, a writer’s block can be classified into two types: one where you are unable to write what you are thinking and the other where you are stuck in a story with no idea of how to proceed further. If you are suffering from the latter case of writer’s block, then mind mapping might be the tool that could save you and your story.

Many times, a writer starts to write when he or she gets an exciting idea, but soon hits a roadblock when the idea well dries up. Every time I get stuck in my story, I use the technique of mind mapping, which is basically just allowing your mind to run wild with imagination.

For those who are unaware of mind mapping, it is an ideation technique where people start with the central idea and explore all its possibilities in the form of pictures, images, numbers, etc. All you need is a paper, a set of different colored pens and an open mind that will help you explore your central idea and connect it with other sub ideas through logical flow of thoughts. In short, mind mapping sparks creativity in the mind that is struck by a drought of ideas.

This is just a very basic example of mind mapping that I have used to show how one can explore different genres and plots through a one line central idea.  

Problem 2: Character depth is superficial   
Solution: Flashcards – get your characters’ traits and backstories on finger tips

Imagine this. After hours of doodling and brainstorming, a writer hits the keyboard as soon as he finds an exciting idea to write about. With hours of hard work over the next few days, the pages of his unfinished novel start to fill, but he finds that something is not quite right. After pondering over it, he concludes that his characters lack depth and their traits seem to overlap with one another. Every fiction writer has gone through this phase where they are dissatisfied with their one dimensional characters who are hampering the effect of storytelling.

I was recently re-introduced to the magic of flashcards. During my schooling years, I relied heavily on flashcards to memorize math formulas and develop my vocabulary. I have found flashcards to be extremely useful in developing living, breathing characters. Before I start the writing process, I assign a flashcard for each of my primary characters and make a note of their respective traits / backstories on other sides of flashcards. It helps me get under the skin of the character and understand the emotions behind the motives that drive their actions. There are many websites that can help you with creating flashcards. To give you an idea about how flashcards will work for characterization, here’s a screenshot of a flashcard that I created from

Front side:

Back side:

                           Image Courtesy: Cram  

Problem 3: Can’t put your thoughts into words
Solution: Thought Journal – a platform that lifts the pressure off your writing

As writers, we all strive for perfection. We want our writing to be on par with the best in the business. But, there are times when words fail us and no matter how much we try, those perfect words that create literary magic evade us. I have seen writers struggling to express their thoughts in words and I have experienced it first hand as well. When I thought about it, I felt that it is the pressure to deliver our best that hampers our efforts to put pen on paper. One simple way that I devised to lift the pressure off my writing is to start a thought journal. There are plenty of online spaces like where you can go and pour your thoughts in the form of words without the pressure of giving your best. Once you have written what you had in mind, you can always chop and change later, and create literary magic through a web of words. And the best thing about these online journals is that they keep your entries secret i.e. no one can view it other than you.     

Problem 4: Bitten by the procrastination bug
Solution: NaNoWriMo – Sometimes deadlines can inspire great work  

I have wanted to write this piece for way too long, but have been putting it off for a while now. I love writing and would be more than happy to share my techniques of overcoming writing trouble. Then what was stopping me? Ah yes! The curse of procrastination.

Nothing affects a writer’s work more than the procrastination bug. And one way to stop procrastinating is setting a deadline. It was only after I set a deadline of writing this article within this week that I was able to get on with my writing.

One of my friends introduced me to this great platform called NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month), which is a perfect cure for procrastination. By setting a deadline of one month to write a novel from scratch, NaNoWriMo inspires thousands of writers from across the world to shed procrastination and turn their ideas into books. One can form their own writing circle and inspire one another to write their book in a month. NaNoWriMo spreads the flow of infectious creative energy that is hard for any serious writer to discard.  

There are many more ways to resolve the writing problems listed above, but trying something new can be fun and exciting. So I request all the fellow writers to try a few of these tools, if not all, and let me know it they worked for you too. Let’s beat the demons that keep us from writing our masterpiece, fulfill our destinies and have fun while we are at it!

Ethan’s Bio

Ethan Miller is an online ESL tutor. Apart from his passion for teaching, he loves to write and is currently working on his first book. When he is not teaching or working on his book, Miller loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. You can follow Miller on Twitter and check out his blog.