How I Crushed Writer’s Block with a Joke

Published 26 Mar 2024
by Anca Antoci

A joke between friends became the Michael Effect, a fun way to beat writer’s block

When I started writing, I didn’t know I was going to write a book. I just had a scene in mind and a handful of other vague ideas. It was a dumb story that I never dreamed would evolve into a book, let alone a trilogy.

Why am I telling you this? Because if I could do it, you can too. And because I need you to understand that despite the fact I knew nothing about creative writing when I started, the book wasn’t a complete failure. Yet, because I learned the craft as I went, the first book took me about six years (on and off) to write. So, the start was rough, but that’s not important for this story. I only brought it up to set the stage for the second book of the trilogy (Blue Shadow Prophecy). I learned fast that I sucked as a pantser. Some writers have a natural talent to write by the seat of their pants. I don’t. What I need to craft a good story is structure.

After I published my debut, Forget me Not, I realized I needed an outline for the second part of the trilogy. But, like I said, I learn as I go. My initial outline wasn’t good enough, or so I thought, and I improvised until I got stuck. Writer’s block hit me and my mind went blank.

I was so frustrated, so I vented on Twitter. Unexpectedly, Michael, who loved my first book, offered a playful solution: “Name a character after me and kill him.” Now, you need to know that Michael was a funny guy who read a lot, mostly fantasy and horror. We’d banter back and forth every week. I know he said it as a joke, but I took it as a writing prompt. Instead killing him, I wrote Michael into the story. Joking aside, once I created his character I figured out how to fix some plot holes and that got my creative juices flowing. He became a pivotal supporting character, complete with an inner struggle, aspirations, and a vampire identity adorned with a Guns N’ Roses tattoo (molded after the real Michael).

Take the challenge and run with it

Out of all my books, that one was the most fun to write. Michael and I chatted often, because I wanted to craft the character as closely as I could, down to personal grooming habits and mannerisms. Perhaps I should have mentioned that Michael and I had never met in person and he didn’t post photos of himself. He used the stylized drawing of a skull as his Twitter avatar.

Once I decided I was going to add this new character and what role he was going to play, I wanted to give him a unique voice. So Michael and I talked for a bit and I learned he was from Georgia. I had to look it up. Now don’t laugh, but I live in Europe and I don’t know where every American state is located. I had a feeling it was in the South, which is why I checked and then asked Michael if he spoke with a Southern accent. He told me to check out Steel Magnolias — that’s how they speak in Georgia. From there, I asked him about particular (to him) speech patterns, or saying that he uses often. He claimed this was a fun exercise for him. Then he gave me a long list of phrases and saying. Michael was very diligent. Not only did he give me a long list of catch phrases, idioms and other things he used often, but he took the time to explain what they mean and in what context they needed to be used.

This was quite the challenge. Not only because of the southern manner of speech, but because my first book was set in Alaska. How do I move the action all the way to Georgia? That a legitimate question, right? Well, Michael the vampire kidnaps the main character, Rae Davis, on behalf of an evil witch. Ta-da! At some point, I wondered if I was getting in over my head. Had I complicated my life unnecessarily? The short answer is no. I hope that if someone from Georgia reads my trilogy, they’ll go ‘Yeah, that sounds about right.’ So I just went with the flow.

Of course, Michael, the vampire, needed some internal struggle, so I asked Michael the human about a love interest. Michael was married to Stacy, so I wrote her into the story too. I’m going to imagine you’re here to learn how I wrote my way out of the writer block, not to read my books, but just so you know, the next sentence is a spoiler. An evil witch had Stacy under a curse and used Michael as her puppet whenever she needed someone to do the dirty work for her. He can’t kill the witch or he stands to lose the love of his life. So Michael got to do some pretty questionable things, including kidnapping the main character, Rae. That’s not even the worst he’s done, but no more spoilers!

Hey, I never said Michael was a good guy. I said he was a cool character. There’s a difference. If you’ve read any of my books, you know I have a soft spot for morally gray characters. But don’t worry, Michael gets his redemption arc, and…spoiler alert…happy ending in the epilog of book 3, Blue Shadow Legacy.

The Michael Effect—A Personal Alchemy

What’s the point of my story, and how can it help you? The point of my story is that when I hit the writer’s block, I had to figure out what I was missing: inner struggle and high enough stakes. The main character had hers, but lacked some real obstacles in her way. That’s when Michael showed up and he makes trouble for her, not because he enjoys it, but because he does as he is told. At some point it’s pretty hard to hate him. Ah, the things we do for the ones we love.

Michael’s essence brought a fresh perspective to the narrative. His inner conflicts made things even more complicated in the story. The way his goals and obstacles played out made the story more dynamic.

Lessons Learned—Adding Depth and Dimension

The Michael Effect showed me how to tell a good story. It’s all about having well-rounded characters. You need to give your characters real struggles, goals, and personalities to make your story immersive.

Bringing Michael on board not only got rid of my writer’s block but also made the story so much better. It’s pretty cool to see what happens when an author and their audience collaborate out of the blue. It proved that the unexpected can spark your creativity.

The Michael Test—Improving Your Craft

How can The Michael Test help you? If you’re stuck on your story, try the ‘Michael Test’ on your characters and plot to get past writer’s block.

Ask yourself: Do my characters have enough internal conflict to fuel their arcs? Do they have real obstacles? If not, what could go wrong now? Are the stakes high enough to keep readers on the edge of their seats? Based on how you answer these questions you’ll know what to do. I’m currently writing book two of a new series and chapter 24 is dragging. Since I had already planned out this story on the Michael Effect, I practiced what I preach. I asked myself what could go wrong. So I jotted down a few ideas (that weren’t too good) and they actually inspired some awesome plot twists (but I might be biased since it’s my story). Then I started writing like words were going out of style tomorrow.


I assure you I’m not special. All writers go through times when they’re not sure what to write or feel stuck. Inspiration can come from anywhere, so add it to your work. In my case, it came from an online friend. But you can draw inspiration from a song, a childhood memory, a scene in a movie, a dream. Sky is the limit.

Michael’s story is a great example of the magic that happens when we embrace the unexpectedness of creativity. Sadly, real-life Michael passed away soon after the book was published, which makes this story bittersweet. I am fortunate to have met him and grateful he read and loved my work (I sent him a copy before the book came out). His review is one of my cherished ones.

I am sad he didn’t get to read the conclusion to the Chimera Trilogy. I wrote the epilog in his memory. Spoiler alert: he and Stacy get their happily ever after and open a bar called Stake and Grill (no, that is not a typo, but he’s a vampire so the pun was intended).

Next time you’re stuck with writer’s block, keep in mind the Michael Effect. You don’t have to call it that, but I do. Surprise yourself, make your characters complex and struggling, and let your story thrive. If they’re not struggling enough, raise up the stakes. Ask yourself: what could happen to make things worse? Characters shine when they struggle to stay to the surface.

This article was origianlly published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium.