The Dreaded Writer's Block

Illustration by Eva Avenue

Illustration by Eva Avenue

Anyone who writes dreads writer's block.  Experienced and beginning writers alike sit down to write and suddenly find themselves staring at the computer screen or holding pen in hand.

Waiting . . . waiting . . . for creativity to pour forth.

Nothing comes.  It's as if every creative cell has taken a vacation. Why it happens no one is able to say definitively.

From writer to writer, its causes vary:  fear, weariness, loss of focus, need for fresh air and exercise, a much-needed step away from the computer and more.

If you are new to writing and have yet to suffer an episode of writer's block, your turn will come.  And yes, it too will result from one or more of the reasons listed or something else altogether.

Merriam-Webster.com defines writer's block as a "psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece." Take heart, young writers, the word "psychological" implies no sign of mental illness or loss of mental faculties.  It simply indicates the mind is unable to tackle the creative tasks set before it at a given moment.

More often than not, writer's block is the result of some unresolved fear, such as:

  • fear of failure
  • fear of success
  • fear you've run out of ideas
  • fear you'll be seen as a phony
  • fear you won't finish what you've started
  • fear you've exposed to much, or perhaps not enough
  • or some other fear only you know

So, what's the cure for writer's block?

Suggested cures are as many and varied as the causes.  Many have written much, and some of our best known authors have shared their thoughts on the subject.  Let's first look at some of what others have written.

Reaching back to 2011, take a look at a post written by Chris Robley, marketing coordinator for BookBaby and editor of the BookBaby blog, and posted on Joanna Penn's blog, The Creative Penn.  Robley gives a 12-step cure for writer's block, and each step is solid in its ability to help you move past your block.

Some of Robley's suggestions include:

  • Write something every day
  • Cannibalize older writings
  • Join a writing group

Read the rest of his suggestions here.

On a lighter note, there is Debbie Millman's handwritten list of 10 steps to overcoming creative block, included in designer and musician Alex Cornell's Breakthrough!: 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination:

Incidentally, Cornell's book was the result of his own creative block which sent him on a search among his favorite artists to learn their coping techniques during a similar period of creative drought.

Lastly, a few quotes from some of our favorite writers on the subject of block:

I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of anything written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing — just for the hell of it, just to keep their  fingers from becoming too arthritic, just because they have made a commitment to try to write three hundredwords every day.  .  .Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck. You’ll sit there going, ‘Are you done in there yet, are you done in there yet?’ But it is trying to tell you nicely, ‘Shut up and go away.’

~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say.  It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.

~ Barbara Kingsolver

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.

~ Ernest Hemingway

What I "hear" as I read Robley's post, Millman's handwritten steps, and the quotes of these well-known writers is never give upand keep writing.

What do you hear?  

Won't you share with us how you deal with writer's block?

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Up next: A review of a writing resource every writer should have, The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, will be posted on Thursday.