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Writer's Block, Fact, or Fiction? How To Deal with Flagging Motivation.

writer's block. girl. pastels. computer. desk. writing. illustration drawing by Katherine M Kennedy

I've had days where words have poured out of my fingertips, sentences forming of their own volition. Everything runs smooth and easy. And I've had days where words are such a struggle that I doubt I could write a text message, let alone a book. Every sentence is agony, every paragraph an accomplishment.

People—writers in particular—are sensitive about the term Writer's Block. They disavow it. They refuse to believe it exists while shuddering at its shadow. Writer's block is just a term for a bad day, week, or year at the office. It's not a strange, magical affliction specific to writers and writers alone. It's something everyone experiences at some point in life. Everyone has days where everything seems to go wrong. I once sent a draft meeting invite that was decidedly unprofessional to over 80 people. Almost weeping as I tried to claw it back, hoping beyond hope that nobody had opened it yet. I had writer's block, corporate writer's block. Everything I did was wrong. Obvious solutions evaded me; every step I took sent me sprawling to the ground, tripping over my feet.

I absolutely believe writer's block is real. I don't believe that writer's block means you have run out of ideas or somehow lost the ability to write. It just means you are having a bad writing day. A bad day at the office. Today was a bad writing day for me. I didn't even try. I have flu, it's 1 million degrees here in sunny South Africa, and I'm in a mood. I was utterly uninspired, with no idea what topic to write about. I knew I could mine a topic if I wandered around the internet, but I also knew that writing about something I didn't feel interested in would make for a hard slog. For obvious reasons, the topic of writer's block hit me, and the more I thought about it, the keener I got on writing.


  • What Do the Guys and Gals in White Coats Have To Say About Writers Block?

  • What Do Writer(s) Have To Say About Writer’s Block?

  • Recognize Where The Fear Comes From

  • When You Can’t Write Edit

  • Read To Inspire Ideas

  • Let Your Brain Do The Problem-Solving Work While You Sleep

  • Vent To A Friend, Family Member, or Pet

  • Remember That You Control Your World

  • Skip Ahead. Write The Next Scene

  • Focus on The Parts You Enjoy and Are Good At

  • Turn Off Part Of Your Brain—The Critical Part.

  • Stop Worrying—Just Write

  • Change Perspective. Literally.

  • Give Up… For Now

  • Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder—Don't Let Yourself Write. It Is Forbidden

What Do the Guys and Gals in White Coats Have To Say About Writers Block?

Doctors, scientists, and physiatrists are interested in writer's block as a kind of debatable phenomenon, but it is mostly categorized as a form of intense fear. Edmund Berger coined the term 'Writer's Block' in 1947, a Freudian follower who held writers in mild contempt but described writer's block as a "neurotic inhibitions of productivity." Theorizing that writing was a form of therapy for the writer. As such, writer's block was about something other than laziness, a lack of talent, or a drying up of the creative fountain. Rather, it was a psychological block that could be treated through therapy.

What Do Writer(s) Have T0 Say About Writer’s Block?

Phillip Pullman (whose writing I love) rejects the idea of writer's block.

"Writer's block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber's block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?"—Phillip Pullman

I kind of agree with him. Giving a name to something is deadly; terming writer's block 'writer's block' gives it a sort of power through naming. However, we do have something similar for other professions. It's called burnout. And the difference is, when a plumber gets stuck and doesn't know how to fix something that's broken, a plumber can just walk away, can't they? Decline the job they feel ill-equipped to handle." Can't fix this, you'll have to find someone else to do it" isn't a sentence available to a writer. And we don't get paid more for realizing that the pipes have eroded and the whole thing is a do-over. Replacing a book's plumbing is a horrifying construct, and most of the time, there isn't anyone there to help us figure out how to do it well or right.

Recognize Where The Fear Comes From

hoodie, man, ocean, moon, sad, floating, sitting. midjourney AI image

Everyone harps about the terror of the blank page, and a blank page does have a mythologized terror to it. The blank page mocks, the cursor blinks at you, etc. The blank page doesn't bother me. A page filled with words does. Getting somewhere is more terrifying than not having an idea. Writing it, reading it, and recognizing that the idea isn't on the page. That's terrifying. In my fallible head, I equate writing with painting. Once the paint is on the canvas, it's difficult to take it back. Not true of writing. The best part about writing is the delete key, and I constantly have to remind myself that I can try, fail, and delete.

When You Can’t Write, Edit

girl, computer, neon, editing, misspelling, wordng, illustration. midjourney AI image

When the words just aren't flowing, editing existing work is a good method of getting things done without delving too deep into the impossible. Many writers don't recommend editing as you write your first draft, "just get the words on the page," they say. And in theory, I agree with them. In practice, constantly writing and doing nothing else is draining. Personally, I need to mix it up a bit. While I loathe editing, it is a crucial part of writing and an effective way of progressing your story, even when you don't know what the next chapter will look like. Additionally, sometimes Writers' Block is a convenient excuse because I don't feel like writing. If I force myself to edit, I'm still working and don't get away with the writer's block cop-out.

Read To Inspire Ideas

boy, reading, neon, galaxy, glasses, illustration. midjourney AI image

Reading a book is one of the best methods I've found for inspiring new ideas. I don't know why but nothing gets writing going like reading other people's creative ideas. I like to re-read an old favorite or read something really, really bad. I know this sounds weird, but there is something about mentally correcting another person writing and solving their problems that helps solve my own.

Let Your Brain Do The Problem-Solving Work While You Sleep

girl, sleeping, dream, stars, sparkles, book, girl sleeping on book, illustration. midjourney AI image

Sleep is an excellent method for problem-solving plot holes and story ideas. We solve problems in our sleep, maybe through dreams, maybe through the process of turning today's problems into yesterday's problems. Contemplate whatever sticky situation you've written yourself into right before you go to sleep, and then let your brain do the work while you slumber.

Vent To A Friend, Family Member, Or Pet

girl in front of computer, neon, dogs, typing, illustration. midjourney AI image

They likely won't be able to help you, but just talking out loud can be a cathartic experience that helps you get unstuck.

Remember That You Control Your World

I often get stuck because I'm trying to force my characters to do things they would never do or because my plot has fallen apart and doesn't make sense. Fine. Get another character to do it, write in a societal rule, and introduce another character. You control the characters and the world, so bend it to your will. Just remember to go back and layer it into the story, so the change doesn't come out of nowhere.

Skip Ahead And Write The Next Scene

boy leaping over book pages, neon, galaxy, illustration. midjourney AI image

You don't have to write your story in order. If a scene or a bit of dialogue is giving you difficulty, then skip it and write the next one. Save the complex scenes for 'Good Writing Days' and the easy ones for 'Bad Writing Days.' Whenever writing is going well I write descriptive scenes as they are the most challenging for me.

Focus on The Parts You Enjoy and Are Good At

girl read, dreamlike, illustration, neon, open book. midjourney AI image

There is no point slogging over complicated scenes when the words aren't working for you. On bad days don't try and prove what a bad writer you are by writing the hardest stuff. Rather focus on what you are good at, write the scenes you do well, and keep it simple.

On Big Bad Writing Days, I start with dialogue (it's my favorite bit) and the layer in the rest around it.

Turn Off Part Of Your Brain—The Critical Part.

giant wolf, looming, shadow, forrest, illustration, sunset. midjourney AI image

Turning off your brain sounds like terrible advice, but it's not. Sometimes we need to get out of our way. If writer's block is made up of apathy, anger, anxiety, and issues, then it's a self-inflicted problem, and letting that critical part of you go and just writing is possibly the best move you could make.

Stop Worrying—Just Write

man floating on clouds, thinking, sleeping, chill, blues, illustration. midjourney AI image

Similar to 'turn off your brain,' just write, don't think too hard about, and don't fret about plots, character arcs, and foreshadowing. Just get the words down on the page and fix it later. Sentences aren't set in stone; you can always go back and change them. Don't worry about foreshadowing something that will happen in chapter twelve when you are on chapter one. You'll only get to chapter twelve if you take on the writing of the moment. And once you've actually written chapter twelve, you can go back and make sure you've laid the breadcrumbs. For all you know, they could be a different style and flavor than you initially thought.

Change Perspective. Literally.

mirrors, mirrors showing multiple perspective, illustration neon. midjourney AI image

I had this one scene… pure evil. I swear if any piece of writing almost killed me, it was this awful, horrible, demonic scene. It wasn't even that contemplated. Nobody died, there was no fighting, no grand professions of love, but every time I wrote it, it came out 100% wrong. I must have written the stupid thing 50 times. And it wasn't short. It was a long, tiresome chapter that refused to be anything but boring and forced. I wrote it and re-wrote it, and it sucked every damn time. (If I'm being honest, there is another chapter at the midway point of my book that I was never quite happy with, but I don't want to think about it)

Finally, I switched perspectives, literally. The chapter was written in a close third. I invented a whole new character, a side character, and wrote it from his point of view. And finally, FINALLY, the chapter came together. Finally, it was right. Not only that, but the side character quickly became one of my favorite characters in the book. He engineered an entire side plot and became vital to the story. He even fixed a plot hole later. Sometimes a change of perspective makes all the difference.

Give Up… For Now

woman throwing papers out of office window, neon, illustration. midjourney AI image

Controversial, I know, but during my 'I Must Write At Least 2000 Words A Day Or Die Trying" phase, I pushed through bad writing days. I needed 2000 words, and nothing was going to get in my way. I should have taken a break. I should have done something else, walked away, and left the writing for another day—but I didn't. Instead, I wrote utter garbage, garbage that I then had to rewrite. And I'm not talking 'the first draft is always bad' levels of garbage writing; I'm talking depressing, lose faith levels of garbage. It was demoralizing. There is something fundamentally depressing about opening up your work from yesterday, work that took hours to complete because it was such a trail, only to find absolute trash. Every day turns into a bad writing day when it starts with reading the turd you wrote the day before.

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder—Don't Let Yourself Write. It Is Forbidden

space, galaxy, astronaut writing in space, neons, illustration. midjourney AI image

This is fun for those who don't like being told what to do. Forbid yourself from writing. No writing for you. Not a single, solitary word. Writing is outlawed. If you're like me, nothing will make the ideas flow, and your fingers itch more than knowing you aren't allowed to do anything about it.


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