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. 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.

14 thoughts on “The Dreaded Writer’s Block

  1. Thank you for this post, I really enjoyed it, I particularly like the advice suggesting that you stop writing when it is flowing well so that you always have something to say the next day. Thankfully I have yet to experience it but I am under no illusions that my time will come – at least now I am kind of armed to deal with it!

  2. When I suffer serious block on a particular piece it’s usually because the piece isn’t working at all. I write every week in a group with prompts so am forced with coming up with something new weekly. The story I’m doing now is flowing well but the one I started in class (which I did take to shake up my brain) is on holiday at the moment That story requires a crucial piece of the puzzle which is not yet full born. It will be, I just have to give it time. The main method I use when I’m stumped is I “just write” even says that in my current chapter. The mind goes blank but the fingers on the keyboard still type.

    1. Sue, I love your comments. I like the story that “is on holiday at the moment” waiting on a “crucial piece of the puzzle which is not yet full born.” 🙂

  3. Excellent post Sherrey. What works for me is to go with the flow when it’s there and not fight if if it’s not..take a walk, play the piano, play with my grand kids. Sometimes stepping away from the screen frees me up to think in new ways. Love the quotes and tips you provided. Thanks again. I’m really enjoying your bursts of creativity with your posts 🙂

    1. Thanks, Kathy! I like the idea of going with the flow too. And some days the flow is better than others. Now I’ve learned something new about you that we have in common — I also play the piano, and it does help. 🙂

  4. Sherrey, This post is rich with wonderful suggestions and interesting quotes from great writers to jumpstart creativity and stay in the “writer’s mode.” I’ll be posting this on the Women’s Writing Circle Facebook page, too. As you know, at WWC we are great believers in the power of writing groups and reading our work aloud in the read-arounds. This coming Friday, some of us are reading our work in public. All of this leads to finding our voice, enjoying our craft and staying in touch with our readers.

    1. Susan, I enjoyed reading your comments and reactions to this post. I envy your writing group. I’ve sought and found a couple nearby, but they didn’t pan out. Just not what I was looking for. I’m still searching because I believe they are an essential part of our writing.

  5. Lovely post, Sherrey. I strongly associate writer’s block with feeling overwhelmed from work overload – not very helpful when those deadlines are real. Ironically, it’s when I step away from it all and am able to really disassociate when I achieve a mind-body release of tension. In my A to Z Blog Challenge #6 I shared a very effective experiment that relates to creativity as a resource state and how to recall the sensory detail of the state and future-pace it to an outcome you desire.

    1. Thanks, Belinda, for your comments and stopping by. The word “overwhelm” is a good descriptor for what, I believe, we all feel and then define as writer’s block. I remember the experiment you mention and wish I had thought of it while drafting this post. I would have definitely shared it and linked to your post. Drat!

  6. I don’t oftentimes encounter writer’s block because I mostly review books, but you hit the nail on the head with the fear of success part! My husband is constantly telling me that I should not be afraid to do well and that I ‘stay’ within my comfort zones. Luckily, he’s a good pusher in just the right ways!

    1. Allison, imagine my surprise at finding you here. I’m delighted you dropped by. Your husband sound like mine. And it seems we both picked good husbands who know just how to push! 🙂

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