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 alleviate 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, we writers certainly lose our inspiration or face challenges that prevent us 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 when writer’s block threatens my writing productivity.
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) to curb laziness and cultivate self-discipline to stay focused on your goals.
- Burnout: The flip side of laziness is burnout. If you push yourself too hard, you could crash. Endless late nights at the keyboard, exhaustive early mornings drafting and editing, and strained efforts to grab moments throughout the day to work on your writing projects could cause your fire to burn fast and furious but then fizzle if you’re not careful and overdo it. It’s okay to binge sometimes. It’s okay to to work hard. But it’s also important to pace yourself. Pay attention to your productivity and figure out how to get the most out of your efforts.
- 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 major 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. Sometimes 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, pace myself, or face up to an undesirable challenge, writer’s block can be cured, and usually, it can be cured easily.
A Few, Final 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. They might 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.