Annie On Writing

April 10, 2012

Alpha Ladder your way out of writers block

Filed under: Writing Tips,Writing Tools — Annie Evett @ 12:01 am
Tags: , ,

Writers block can cripple a scene, suck your creativity dry and leave you disillusioned and dispirited. When other techniques fail, try shaking the creativity box up with a simple tool called the Alpha Ladder. It will bring clarity to your scene or character, while gifting you with insights which you may have otherwise over looked.

An Alpha Ladder is a structured brainstorm which can be completed individually, collaboratively or as a race with others. You may structure it as a timed race against yourself or others, or as something that you come back to and build upon.

Many writers use the resulting list as a resource that is placed on the wall or near your writing space as further inspiration. This strategy can cover any topic, scene or character building process, being as specific or general as you wish to make it. You may use it to clarify emotions about a relationship in a scene, or utilise it to bring further depth to a setting.


  • jot ideas down quickly.
  • no crossing out or judging the answer. Everything has value in the end.
  • write singular words only – no sentences or phrases.
  • being with asking yourself what physical items are in the scene or that your character can touch or see. Expand this to what they are feeling or how they are reacting to what is happening.
  • try to engage all of the senses when brainstorming ideas and ask questions – what smells, feelings, textures, sights, tastes, sounds, emotions are connected to this scene/ character.
  • its ok to use the aid of reference materials, but don’t let this become a distraction or focus away from the main activity.


  1. Give your blank piece of paper a title. ( e.g The cafe scene when Rob proposes to Alice),
  2. Underneath the title be specific about what you are planning to clarify or explore. (eg. how Alice is feeling given she is already secretly married to his best friend…. or whatever…)
  3. Jot down topics or senses you want clarified. (e.g bringing the cafe scene to life.)
  4. Create a vertical list from A to Z down your page – either typing it or hand drawing it on a large piece of butcher paper. Give yourself plenty of room between each letter, especially if hand drawing it.
  5. For each letter, write a word starting with that letter that is related to the scene/ character/ setting.
  6. Skip between and around letters – you don’t need to answer it alphabetically.
  7. Depending on the structure of your challenge – if its timed, between collaborators or individual, complete the list as quickly as you can without editing or judging what is being brainstormed.

Trust that your unconscious mind suggested words which will help you out of your stuck state. Go back to your scene and insert some of the words you have brainstormed.

The simplest things might bring a new focus to your scene ( eg – “pepperpot” may have been one of the words you came up with, but this now brings clarity on a backstory or meaning to a conversation your characters are having.)

With the list completed, you will have a bank of words describing feelings, tastes, textures, sights and sounds focused specifically on the topic you were stumbling on.


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