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How Do You Defeat Writer's Block?

Updated on June 16, 2014

In This Article...

  • I've fallen And I Can't Get Up!
  • The Root of the Problem
  • Fixing The Problem
  • Quotes On Writer's Block

You're Not Alone

Famous Writers who suffered from this affliction:

  • Maya Angelou
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Mark Twain
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Hilary Mantel
  • Ray Bradbury
  • William Faulkner
  • and many others...!

I've fallen And I Can't Get Up!

Sometimes, you just can't find the inspiration to write. I experienced this, not too long ago, and I promised myself that I would research the topic to try to come up with a solution. I also wanted to use what I've learned to write an article about it. And since I always keep a promise I made to myself (not really), here is the result!

First let's review writer's block itself. We often talk about it, and we recognize it when it happens to us, but what is it?

Writer's block is defined as "a writer's loss of the ability to produce new work".

Well, that really summarizes the whole problem, doesn't it? You suffer from writer's block when for whatever reason, you are unable to put pen to paper and write what you want to write.


The Root of the Problem

But perhaps we are asking too much of ourselves. Maybe the problem shouldn't be that we can write whatever we want to write. After all, writing comes from within. We write the words that seem to present themselves to us, and although we can give a direction to the way we take those words, we can't force new words to come to us if we don't yet know them actively. In the same manner, we can't write about things that are alien to our minds. The idea has to exist before we can write it, and our mind needs to have the room necessary to work on it.

In short, there can be many causes for writer's block. The most important ones are:

  • A lack of inspiration
    This is always temporary! Writing exercises should help a lot with this problem.
  • Too much inspiration
    This is when you seem to be unable to choose between a plethora of ideas. It's a little more difficult than the previous cause, but often this problem will result in a great idea - though many times you'll need to discard all the ideas competing for this to happen!
  • You are distracted
    You can't focus on your writing because there are too many other things vying for your attention. Maybe you are sick, have financial problems or other things that need to take priority.
  • It's too difficult
    Sometimes what you want to do, can be too difficult. You may be asking too much of yourself. Don't fret. This happens to the best of us! We all have our own voice, our own style, and sometimes we want to make something that we don't have the tool for. Yes, even famous authors have experienced this.
  • Too aware of the audience
    If you are constantly worrying about what your potential readers might think or say about your work, you are paralyzing yourself and writer's block is the natural result.
  • Pressure to perform
    Maybe you are on a time schedule, or people are expecting a certain quality from you. This too can be putting a lot of pressure on your shoulders.
  • Perfectionism
    This is when you demand nothing short of flawless writing from yourself. It's not just the audience you are worried about, it's your own opinion. You want to compete with such giants as Shakespeare, Hemingway or Mark Twain. Talk about putting pressure on yourself!
  • Ambivalence
    You want to really do two things at once. Maybe you want to write, but you also want to do something else. Or maybe you want to just write, but you want to write about two different topics - or you want to write, but you don't want to write. Either way, you're feeling an internal dispute and until you resolve it, you're not getting anywhere. Best way to get out of this: do something else!
  • Boredom
    Sometimes, the thing you're trying to write (about) just doesn't interest you.
  • Burnout
    It could be you've been asking way too much of yourself (see: Perfectionism, Pressure to perform, Too Difficult). If you do this for too long, you'll get a burnout, which is a psychological condition where you are mentally (and sometimes physically) exhausted. The only cure for this is rest, and doing fun things.
  • Never learned to generate ideas
    When we learn to write, either in high school or by reading about it online, we are taught all the mechanics: correct spelling, grammar, story development, etc... But the one thing we hardly ever learn is how to generate ideas!


Your Opinion

What do you do when you're stuck?

See results

Fixing The Problem

So we've touched on the possible causes of writer's block. Great. Now we know what the problem is. But how do we fix it? That's really the reason you're reading this article, isn't it?

But you're in luck. There are many possible solutions to overcoming the feeling that we're stuck. The first step is obviously figuring out why you are stuck. Been there, done that. Next!

After you know why you can't write, you can choose from the following list to get out of the ditch you're in.

Try to pick a solution based on the origin of your problem

  • Talk With Others
    Sometimes, simply discussing the problem with other people can help you get out of it. Maybe you'll suddenly make that click you need, or they'll offer an insight that's surprisingly helpful.
  • Reading
    Every writer will tell you, the best way to improve your writing, other than writing, is reading! You might find inspiration, or it'll distract you long enough that your subconscious mind has the room to put the pieces in their place.
  • Brainstorming
    Start with a word, then add what that makes you think of, and continue on, in no particular direction. Just let your creative juices flow and follow where the path takes you.
  • Free writing
    A wonderful exercise to get out of the block. Just write about anything, no matter what, no matter how stupid it may seem. It's not for publication after all, it's an exercise. Don't worry about quality, or logic, or direction. Just keep writing.
  • Making a list
    If you feel you have too many ideas in your head, try to make a list of them. For instance, I have a .txt file saved in which I list all the ideas that come to me. Say I am writing something, or doing anything around the computer, and an idea pops into my head. I'll open the text file, add the idea in, and I'll be confident I won't lose it! Then when I want to write something, I can look at the list and just picks what appeals to me. Or you suddenly think of something you want to mention in an article, but you're not yet writing the article. Same principle: open the file, make a note of it so you can remember for the right moment.
  • Ask questions
    What? Why? How? When? Who? Ask as many questions as you can think of and try to answer them. In depth. Again, this is encouraging your creativity without necessarily focusing too much on "I have to write". Don't try to continue the story or the article, instead, investigate to deepen your understanding of it in general.
  • Join A Writer's Group
    Join a group where you can talk about the block, or about anything to do with writing. Maybe give others advice and in so doing, you'll find the answer for yourself.
  • Do something creative
    Paint, or sculpt, knit... Anything you can think of that's creative, but that isn't writing. You're kickstarting the creative parts of your brain!
  • Do writing exercises
    Google this. You'll find so many exercises you won't know where to start.
  • Write down your ideas
    If you have an open task in your mind, such as an idea you're trying to store, you're leaving less room in your head for writing. So get it out of your head and put it down somewhere. Notepad, for example. Anywhere that you know you can easily retrieve it. This way, you'll dare allow yourself to forget about it, and open up space to write.
  • Stop being critical
    Just write. Let it suck. Don't be too critical, just get it all out of your head. Keep the critical view for the editing part, which comes later.
  • Take a breath
    Just take a step back, and do something else. Your mind might need some time off. Do something that doesn't require thinking - or at least a different kind of thinking. Maybe some sudoku puzzles? Or paint your nails, clean the house, read a book, watch a movie, anything you want. Yes, you have to take a mandatory vacation! It's for work. ;)
  • Skip
    If you are stuck on a specific part, let it sit for a bit. Maybe you'll find more flow in a different section of your article. You can come back to the one you're stuck with later. Heck, maybe writing something else will even inspire you!

These are some of the tips I have found on various sources online - including some I thought of myself as I researched possible causes for writer's block. Please let me know which ones you've tried and found to be helpful!

So here's my question to you. What do you do when you're stuck? Any tips that haven't been listed here?


Quotes On Writer's Block

  • To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.
    —Allen Ginsberg
  • Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
    —George Orwell
  • The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.
    —Robert Benchley
  • The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.
    —Samuel Johnson
  • Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.
    —Larry L. King
  • Style means the right word. The rest matters little.
    —Jules Renard
  • One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.
    —Lawrence Block
  • It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.
    —Ernest Hemingway
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
    — Mark Twain


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