Is Writer’s Block Real?
Writer’s block is a mysterious condition of writers, where they suddenly find themselves totally unable to write at all. It can last anywhere from days to years, and it seems to strike suddenly, without warning. There are articles about writer’s block all over the internet, and a good number of them claim that the legendary ailment doesn’t actually exist, that it’s a copout or an excuse for when writers don’t particularly feel like writing.
Spoiler: I think that’s not true at all. Writer’s block is real, and not only that, but there are several different major issues that lead to writer’s block. In this post, I’m going to help you identify what type of writer’s block you have and give you some ideas for how to fix it. Let’s get started!
The various causes of writer’s block:
In my scrolling through writers’ forums and blogs, I’ve come to identify five distinct causes for writer’s block. Here’s what they look like:
1. Health Slump
Physical and mental pain can and does inspire many people to write, but it can do the opposite just as easily. It’s really hard to be creative when you’re in pain, whether that’s from a broken leg or fresh grief.
Are you battling through migraines to get your words in? Is it difficult to get out of bed each day, let alone type out a story? If so, your health may be at least part of what’s causing your writer’s block.
2. What’s Next? Syndrome
This type of block usually starts when you’re unsure what to do next in your story, but it can also happen when you discover you have a giant plot hole or write yourself into a corner.
Do you still have the desire to write, but are struggling to put words on the page? When you sit down to write, do you feel lost or trapped in your story, unsure where to go with it? If these sound familiar, then the story itself might be the problem.
3. Confidence Crisis
Maybe you got some disappointing or hurtful feedback on your story or maybe your confidence in your writing has always been a bit low. When you lose all confidence in your writing, it becomes almost impossible to write.
Do you spend a lot of time feeling afraid of what others will think of your story? If you do manage to get words on the page, do you immediately delete them because you think they’re junk? If so, it may be that your confidence is the problem.
4. Empty Well
If you spend a lot of time using up the creativity in your well without giving it a chance to fill back up, you may find yourself with this type of writer’s block. Creativity is a resource that can be depleted.
When you sit down to brainstorm, does nothing come up, or what does come up seems lackluster or repetitive? Have you been writing for long stretches (say, months) without absorbing others’ creativity? If so, this may be the type of writer’s block you’re dealing with.
They say that too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and that goes for writing as much as anything else. Writer burnout often happens to people who write for a living—copywriters, reporters, authors, etc. But it can happen to more casual writers, too, especially when they push themselves too hard.
Do you find yourself not just out of ideas, but completely disinterested in even finding ideas to work on? Would you rather do literally anything else than write? If so, then burnout may be the cause of your writer’s block.
How to fix writer’s block:
So how do you get over writer’s block once you’ve determined you have it? Some will say that you should just keep writing no matter what, but I don’t think that’s always the right approach. Instead, the first step is identifying the cause. It may be just one thing that’s holding you back, or it could be some combination of the causes I’ve listed above that’s blocking you. So first, sit down and really try to figure out what’s going wrong. Only then can you push past the block.
Here’s some advice I have for each type of block:
If you’re having a health-related block:
If your health condition will heal in a relatively short time, then you may be best off just taking a break from writing until you’re feeling better. You can spend that time refilling your creative well instead, and once you’re feeling your best, it’s likely that your block will disappear.
If your health condition is not going to heal for quite a while, or if it’s chronic, then you’ll have to learn how to work around it if you want to continue writing. Take some time to sit down and make some lists: things that trigger your condition or make it worse, signs that you’re about to have a flare, and signs that you’ll come into a better time soon. Make a list of days that are always hard for you, such as medical appointments or certain anniversaries or holidays. Then make a list of times you feel especially creative, such as when the weather’s warm or when you do word sprints together with friends. Use all of this info to make yourself a more realistic writing schedule that takes your condition into account.
In either case, it’s important to develop a strong sense of acceptance for your circumstances. You might not be able to finish stories as quickly as other writers. You might have to postpone writing for days or weeks during a flare of your condition. That’s all okay. Going at your own pace is all you can do, and even if you finish slower, that doesn’t have to hurt your writing dreams. Often, writer’s block will dissolve when you put less pressure on yourself.
If you’re blocked because you’re stuck in the story:
First, take a couple no-pressure days away from your story. Spend these days not thinking constantly about your story problem and just let your brain do its work in the background. Sometimes our brains just need a little break to put the final pieces together.
If a break doesn’t work, then you may need to brainstorm. It might help to list out all the possible solutions, even the most ridiculous. Yes, if you’re writing a fantasy, the idea of aliens coming down suddenly and abducting the villain is probably not going to work for your final battle, but that silly idea might spark something that actually would work. You can also talk to a trusted friend about your story and try bouncing some ideas off them. Sometimes, a bit of background research can spark something that dissolves a block, too.
If confidence is blocking you:
The first thing to do is try cutting out comparisons. If your friend always posts amazing story snippets on social media and you feel you can never be at that level, then temporarily “silence” or “unfollow” that friend. Take a break from critique groups and focus instead on CPs who are enthusiastic and totally supportive at all times.
If these things don’t work, you may need to remove some pressure from yourself. Rather than trying to get this latest story published, for example, tell yourself that this is a practice story, and you’re not necessarily going to do anything with it after you’re done writing. (This works especially well if you’re trying out a new genre or age group.) Or tell yourself that you’re the only one who’s ever going to see this story and give yourself free rein to let it be bad.
And finally, if none of the above bring around any improvement, then you may need to get some outside help. Try talking to a therapist who can help you with your overall confidence, not just your confidence in your writing.
If your creative well’s empty:
The only way to get out of this one is to refill that well! I have a more thorough blog post on this coming up, but in short, you need to absorb other people’s stories. Put writing on the back burner for a week or two (or even a month or two if you need it!) and do other stuff. Read some of the books on your TBR, binge-watch that show you’ve been eyeing on Netflix, put eighty hours into a new RPG, or get out and do something new! Chances are that at least some of these things will spark new ideas for you, and when you’ve got more ideas than you know what to do with, it’s time to get back to writing.
If burnout’s got you totally blocked:
This one I know from experience—before I knew what burnout was, I was a creative writing major in college, and I spent three years writing and revising literary fiction when I’m more of a genre fiction gal. By the time I realized that I couldn’t even write “the fun stuff” anymore, it was too late. It took eight years for me to get back to writing.
Unfortunately, if you don’t realize the symptoms before you actually get fully burned out, then the only cure is a break, so try to catch this one as soon as possible if you notice it coming on. If burnout’s your problem, just continuing to write through your block will only make it worse. You need a total break from writing. And I mean total—don’t beat yourself up for not writing, don’t lament the writer you used to be, don’t even think about writing at all if you can help it. Spend that time working on other hobbies and enjoying stories you’re not writing.
As for how long? It takes as long as it takes. If you catch the burnout before it’s gone on too long, you may only need to take a week or two off to feel refreshed and ready to hit the blank page again. If you’ve been burned out for a while, though, it may take months or even years to come back to writing. So if you notice yourself starting to burn out, take a no-guilt break ASAP! (Emphasis on no guilt!) And once you’re back to writing again, come up with some strategies to prevent yourself from reaching the burnout point, such as removing some pressure from yourself and scheduling frequent breaks.
Writer’s block is definitely real, and it’s also something you can get past. You just have to figure out the cause and then use a strategy that will actually work rather than just trying to push through. And if you try a strategy for a while and find it’s not working for you personally, then you also have to have the flexibility and willingness to give something else a try.
If you still love writing, then you will get back to it at some point, no matter how blocked you may be. I believe in you!
And if your particular problem is that you’re stuck in your revisions, I have a service that can help with that! You can learn more on this page or contact me directly via email. Sometimes an outside perspective is all it takes to get your story flowing smoothly again!