How to Overcome Scene-Paralysis

Are you stuck on how to begin writing the scene you have lingering somewhere in your mind? Have you got a ‘notion’ of what you need to write but no idea where to begin?

Congratulations! You are only one step away from being a writer! All that is left is to write.

But, how?

There is never one solution for every writer, or for every creative idea that hasn’t learnt to walk yet. As you write and practice overcoming creative hurdles you will learn your own creativity hacks and catalysts.

I was recently stuck trying to start a scene in my book even though I knew the events that needed to occur. As a way to ease the overwhelm of writing that first sentence, I opened up google.

Key point: google is never a good first option for overcoming creative hurdles. The internet can be a creative trap!

Once I had avoided the problem for some time, I was still no closer to writing my first sentence. So, I continued to option number two. The second-best option is obvious: I opened a word document and created a table with five columns.

If you’re confused now – good. I’ve got your attention. The exercise I am about to share with you was inspired from a lesson I received in a writing workshop. While it is helpful, it will not write your first sentence for you. That, only you can do. Yet, this exercise can create more direction transferring your creativity from you mind to the page – which is helpful.

Activity: Immerse the five senses.

The senses (sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing) in writing create the layers that bring the images to life for a reader. Every writer and genre will utilise the senses differently to create different experiences, but they are equally important in each.

Example one: pay attention to how Rick Riordan included smell into his story telling.

“He smelled bad, all right – but ocean bad. Like hot seaweed and dead fish and brine.”

  • Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Rick Riordan

By describing the smell (of ‘ocean bad’) through similar smells (‘hot seaweed and dead fish and brine’) without even smelling anything as the reader your sense of smell has been included and you further engage with the story.

Example two: pay attention to how Cormac McCarthy included hearing in his description.

“The water was the color of clay and roily and they could hear it in the rips downstream.”

  • All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy doesn’t try to tell you what water sounds like; he leaves it up to you to fill in the gap. But he does tell you that the characters can hear the water, so he engages your sense of hearing into your reading and keeps you included in his world.

So, how does this help you write your first scene?

In the word document I opened, I titled each column with a different sense:






Then, with the scene in my mind and not yet on paper, I began to imagine the senses my character would experience in the scene. The only information you require to start the exercise is: where will your scene take place? Once you have answered that you can begin to solidify the scene in your mind through the five senses.

P.S. Check out my ‘tools’ page to download your own exercise sheet!

By starting your creative engine and beginning to write your scene without the first sentence you are priming your brain and creativity to find a way to get from sentence-one to the sentences you’ve half-written for the scene. Engaging the five senses for yourself to transfer your idea from mind to paper can help you overcome scene paralysis – it may even improve your writing!

Happy writing!


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