Wikipedia defines writer’s block as “a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.”
However, I have come to believe that in most cases, writer’s block is a symptom, not a condition.
Before we can cure writer’s block, we have to diagnose it.
Writer’s block is almost always presented as some mysterious disease. A writer sits down to work and nothing happens. The ideas are gone. The words don’t come. It must be writer’s block!
At times, writers certainly lose their inspiration or face challenges that prevent them from working. I’m not saying we shouldn’t call this writer’s block. What I am saying is that in my experience, there’s usually some underlying cause, and it’s often something that’s easily remedied. Instead of blaming our inability to work on a vague condition, we can figure out what’s really preventing us from writing and fix the real problem.
Today, let’s dissect writer’s block and figure out what causes it. We’ll also explore some solutions for curing writer’s block, and I’ll share some writing tips that have helped me stay inspired.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
The true causes behind writer’s block are probably infinite. Each of us requires a different set of conditions to be productive and creative. Some writers can trudge through a draft when they’re tired while others will just stare at the blank page with an even blanker look on their faces. However, there are a few common causes that we can identify:
- Physical ailments: If you’re sick, exhausted, hungry, or dealing with a headache, you might find it impossible to write. Allergies interfere with my ability to focus on anything, including writing, a few times a year. Whether you face these kinds of ailments occasionally or on a regular basis, it’s important to acknowledge the real problem and then look for a cure. That might mean taking a break so you can take care of yourself. I recently struggled with writer’s block because I had a nasty cold. I cured both my cold and writer’s block by drinking lots of hot water with lemon and honey.
- Mental and emotional stress and distractions: It’s hard to concentrate when you’re in a bad mood, stressed out, depressed, or angry. In cases of a bad mood, a little positive thinking might pull you out of it. You can also use relaxation techniques to calm your anger or alleviate your stress. It’s normal to be depressed after any kind of loss or trauma, and these times may call for taking a hiatus from your creative work. If depression persists for more than a few weeks or months, it’s important to see a doctor.
- Lazy days: Sometimes you just don’t want to write (or do much else, either). There’s a deadline looming but the sun is shining and the beach is calling. You swore you’d finish this chapter today but you’d rather take a nap. Technically, this probably shouldn’t be included on this list, because the problem isn’t that you’re blocked; you’re just feeling (or being) lazy. However, I know there are writers out there who use writer’s block as an excuse for being lazy. This is common when writers get burnt out and what they really need is either a break or a little motivation. Look for ways to get your energy levels up (eat healthy, nutritious meals and get plenty of exercise) and revisit your goals to regain your motivation.
- The grass is greener: This is a close cousin to the lazy day. It’s not that you’d rather get some rest and relaxation. You’d just rather do anything in the world other than work on your writing project. In fact, you’d rather surf the web, organize your closet, or schedule a dentist appointment. You may even be seduced by a brilliant new idea that’s tempting you away from whatever you’re supposed to be working on. The grass may look greener, but it’s not. The only cure here is sheer willpower. You can also use a reward system: get your work done and then treat yourself to something special.
- Avoidance and procrastination: Sometimes we go out of our way to avoid a difficult writing challenge. It could be that we’ve gotten our characters into a sticky situation and can’t get them out of it, or it could be a poem for which we just can’t seem to find the right rhythm. You might know, deep down inside, that you have to scrap some of your work or make heavy revisions to get yourself unstuck. Maybe you need to do some (boring or tedious) research. So you avoid it altogether. Instead of procrastinating, push yourself to face these obstacles head-on. You can also skip ahead and work on some other part of your project. If you’re truly stuck, then ask a friend to take a look and offer advice. Often, someone else can see a solution where we can’t because we’re too close to our own work.
I’m sure there are many more causes of writer’s block. I’ve experienced all of these in varying degrees. As I’ve grown more experienced, I’ve learned that whether I need to take better care of myself, push harder to get things done, or face up to an undesirable challenge, writer’s block can be cured, and usually, it can be cured easily.
A Few, Final Writing Tips for Combating Writer’s Block
- Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, and drink plenty of water. Schedule time for rest and relaxation. Don’t run yourself down.
- No matter what you’re working on, some other project or activity might sound more enticing. Try to see one project through before starting another and reward yourself when you push through something difficult or unpleasant.
- On the other hand, if you have two projects going, you can rotate back and forth to maintain your interest in both.
- Get advice from other writers. Often, they’ll see a solution where you see no way out.
- Sometimes, defeating writer’s block is just a matter of getting inspired. Keep a running list of ideas and things that inspire you. Whenever you feel uninspired, this list will be there for you.
How Do You Handle Writer’s Block?
Do you believe in writer’s block? Is it a real condition or a symptom of some other problem? Is it possible to become uninspired for no reason whatsoever? Do you have any writing tips that would help other writers stay inspired and unblocked? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Today’s post features an exercise from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which is filled with exercises for various forms of writing, including fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It will inspire you while imparting useful writing techniques that are fun and practical.
This exercise comes from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” The creative writing exercises in this chapter focus on free-form poetry writing.
I chose this exercise because it’s fun and inspiring. It asks you to use a song as a foundation for writing a poem. Many song lyrics are poems in their own right. This exercise focuses on rhyming, but it also shows you how to look at your writing’s musicality and encourages you to think about rhythm and meter in your work.
Give it a try, then come back and tell us what you learned. Feel free to share the poems or lyrics that you write from this exercise in the comments section. Read more
Please welcome guest author Ali Luke with a post on making adjustments to your physical environment to help your writing.
Do you struggle to get into writing?
Perhaps you sit down with your favorite notebook on a regular basis, but you never seem to get far.
Your kids start arguing. Or you get a backache. Or you’re distracted by that neighbor doing yet another bout of DIY. Or an urgent email pops up for your attention.
External factors aren’t the only (or the biggest) distractions that affect our writing, but they make a surprising difference in our ability to be productive.
If you’re already struggling to focus, a few distractions and irritations can easily be enough to make you give up for the day.
Here are seven key factors that influence how well – or how wrong – your writing sessions go. Which of these could you tweak today? Read more
When I started Writing Forward seven years ago, I had no idea what to expect. As a writer and internet junkie, a blog seemed like a smart way to pursue two of my greatest passions. I had no idea where the journey would take me.
This website has helped me build a business, become an author, learn about the artistic and business aspects of writing, and most importantly, it has connected me with the writing community. Although at times the journey has been frustrating and exhausting, it has also been enlightening and invigorating.
Writing Forward may be my website but it wouldn’t be going strong today if it weren’t for the many readers and writers who have subscribed, commented, and shared the content via social media. I’m grateful to everyone who’s been a part of this amazing journey. Read more
We writers can’t be inspired every day.
Sometimes we get burned out. Other times, we have ideas but they just don’t seem appealing at the moment when we sit down to write. Sometimes we need to take a break from a writing project and spend a little time on shorter projects, which can recharge our creativity. Other times, we’re just stuck in a writing slump.
That’s when keeping a little stockpile of writing ideas and inspiration inspiration is a good idea.
The Pocket Muse
I received my copy of The Pocket Muse as a gift a few years ago. Unfortunately, it sat on my bookshelf for far too long. But recently, I cracked it open and started perusing it. And I found it absolutely delightful. Read more
Today’s journal prompts are taken from my book, 1200 Creative Writing Prompts, which is filled with inspiration for writers and includes prompts for writing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.
The journal prompts in the book are found in the creative nonfiction section. They urge you to think about your personal experiences, beliefs, and ideas and then write about them. Some of these prompts could be used to write personal essays. They might even inspire an idea for a memoir, a personal blog, or a weekly column.
All the journal prompts are designed to spark ideas for personal writing. If you get an idea that is different from the prompt, go with it. Change the prompts, combine them, and use them in whatever way you see fit. Read more
There are always too many writing ideas or not enough of them.
Some days, we writers are so overwhelmed with ideas, it’s impossible to get anything done. Should you work on your novel? That essay you’re writing for your favorite magazine? You have an original premise for a short story. And you feel a poem coming on.
Other days, we just can’t find any inspiration. Read more
Today’s post is an edited excerpt from the introduction to 10 Core Practices for Better Writing, a book that aims to impart best practices in the craft of writing.
“When I’m writing, I know I’m doing the thing I was born to do.” — Anne Sexton
Words. They have the power to captivate the imagination, impart knowledge, express feelings, and share ideas. They are magical, and they are powerful.
A writer makes things out of words: sentences and paragraphs, essays and articles, books, poems, stories, and scripts. We use writing to create, communicate, share, and express ourselves. We use it to connect with people.
Writing is one of the most useful skills a person can possess. Think about how stories, speeches, films, and books have impacted society and culture, how they have shaped people’s thoughts and beliefs, and you’ll get an inkling of just how influential writing can be. Read more
Every writer I know has a different perspective on just how good grammar needs to be.
Some are sticklers who insist on adhering to the highest standards of the literary order. Others are comfortable taking creative liberties and believe that breaking the rules is an art unto itself and a practice that should be embraced.
Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I believe that a writer who is dedicated to the craft will take the time and invest the energy required to master the most basic tools, grammar being foremost among them. But I also believe there are situations in which it’s best to break the rules — as long as you know which rules you’re breaking and why. Read more
Today’s poetry writing exercise is an excerpt from 101 Creative Writing Exercises.
The exercises in 101 Creative Writing Exercises encourage you to experiment with different forms and genres while providing inspiration for publishable projects and imparting useful writing techniques that make your writing more robust.
This poetry writing exercise is from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” It’s titled “Alliteration and Assonance.” This exercise covers two literary devices that make your writing more rhythmic and memorable. Enjoy! Read more
Every once in a while, we writers need a break from our regular writing routines. Whether we spend our work week crafting copy for clients or dedicate late-night hours pounding out chapter and verse, we occasionally need respite from the monotony.
We get burnt out in the middle of a long project and need to step away so we can gain perspective and recharge our creativity. Sometimes we need to rejuvenate between projects. When a major project is finished, we need to find our next big idea.
But we also want to keep writing. A short vacation from writing practice starts with good intentions but ends with wondering how months or years slipped by without getting any real writing done.
One great way to continue writing while taking a break from our work is by engaging in creative writing activities. These are activities that remind us that writing is fun, meaningful, and invigorating, and they keep our writing skills sharp. Read more
There’s more to writing than pushing a pen across a piece of paper, and there’s more to being a writer than having written.
These days, everyone’s a writer. We write emails, text messages, and lists. A free blog is just a few clicks away. Self-publishing has drawn tens of thousands of dreamers who have scrawled stories and uploaded them to the web for all to read.
Everyone’s a writer, including you.
But how do you differentiate yourself? How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you make your words and ideas resonate with a reading audience? Read more