Redefining Writer’s Block: Understanding the Cause
Writer’s Block is a term writers use when they are stalled in their story and they can’t find the solution, or the creativity, to get the momentum back. It can be an incredibly frustrating experience, especially if you have big dreams for your story. When you find yourself idling and potentially in “Writer’s Block,” it’s important to identify and understand the cause so you can ultimately overcome it. While some causes are more obvious, others are harder to spot because they are not where you thought to look.
Let’s look at some common causes of Writer’s Block:
Your thoughts around writing are all negative or confused
It’s really important to recognize that Writer’s Block is not actually a circumstance. Writer’s Block is a thought. You have the thought that your writing is blocked – whether your thought is obvious like “I am stuck,” or more subtle like “this is hard.” Either way, the thought is causing you to take the action of closing your laptop.
Do a thought download on writing (on a blank paper, write a list of all the thoughts in your head). If you have a lot of negative thoughts around writing, or confused thoughts like “I don’t know,” and “I can’t figure it out,” then chances are, they are contributing to your Writer’s Block. From this moment forward, don’t even call it Writer’s Block. Call it “Writer’s Solution Search” and switch your negative thoughts to more positive ones like “I am figuring this out.”
You’re missing the technical knowledge
Once you have your thoughts in the right place to start finding the solution, ask yourself if there are holes in your writing knowledge. Think of a web developer trying to design a website. They can’t just go in and start typing random letters, hoping it turns into code. They need to spend time learning about the programming language and researching strategies.
Like a programmer learning to code, a writer needs to know how stories are structured, the anatomy of a character arc, the rules of genres, settings, themes, and all the other pieces that make up a story.
These are the essential building blocks to writing a powerful story that gets noticed by agents, publishers, readers, and reviewers.
There are many free blogs, podcasts and videos available on writing. Start with them and take notes!
You’re not willing to be uncomfortable
Pay close attention to what you do after you give up trying to write. Do you immediately look for comfort in the form of Netflix, food, social media, shopping, bubble baths, or whatever else your comfort might be? If you do, you know your block is that you are not willing to be uncomfortable. It’s in these moments that you have to get really firm with yourself and remember your reasons for writing this book in the first place. If your reason “Why” isn’t strong enough, the immediate comfort will always be the more appealing option. It doesn’t mean you are lazy or undisciplined, it just means you have a human brain that seeks comfort.
Related: Writer Goal Setting (and Achieving!)
Those are some common causes, but what happens when Writer’s Block isn’t as easy to spot as some of the above examples?
If you’ve gone through the above and still find yourself unable to write, here are some other ways your brain may be blocked:
You’re using up all your brain energy on other things
Our brain doesn’t have an endless supply of energy. The concepts of decision fatigue and willpower are proof of this. Are there areas in your life where you are using up all your willpower or making too many decisions?
Likely, there is something in your life that you are spending a lot of time stressing about. Do a thought download on everything in your brain – all your thoughts – and notice what comes up. Sometimes it’s not even the number of thoughts on a certain topic, it’s the emotions they bring up. Are there emotionally charged thoughts about your relationship? Your weight? Your parent’s divorce? Your kid’s school? Your job? Alcohol?
I can tell you from experience that it’s nearly impossible to write a book when your thoughts are spiralling over something else. It can be difficult to notice too, because often those thoughts don’t come up when you are trying to write. You can be focused on writing – and wanting to write – and yet your brain has nothing to offer.
Sometimes, you’ve been thinking these thought patterns for so long that you don’t even notice them anymore. This is a big problem because you don’t see the effect they have on your life and on your energy. But how would your life be different if you didn’t spend any more time thinking about this thing? How much more would you have to offer?
Life throws a lot at us, and it can be difficult to process the emotions of it all when you don’t know how. If there is an area in your life that you know you are struggling with, spend the time fixing it. Your struggles are truly optional and once you realize that, your world will open up so much bigger than what it is right now.
You’ve gotten really good at not writing
We become good at things that we do often and consistently. This means if you’ve developed the practice of starting to write, then giving up, then guess what... you’ve gotten really good at not writing. This may have started out as negative thoughts or a lack of knowledge, but now even with them, you still have the pattern.
Fortunately, there is an easy fix to the habit of not writing. It’s writing! In the moments where you want to give up or procrastinate, retrain yourself to push through. What you write doesn’t even have to be related to your story or goal. It just has to be writing. Doing this activity will help you develop a new pattern, one that will serve you better.
Related: How to Make Writing a Priority
You’re determined to do it on your own
The writing community is a powerful resource for writers. But unfortunately, many writers don’t seem to utilize it.
Writing often has a stigma around it that it’s a solitary activity. Many writers don’t even recognize that they have that belief. What are your thoughts on finishing a book? Do you believe you have to figure it out by yourself? Why?
Once you can break down your belief that writing should be done alone, you can start using the writing community to inspire, motivate, and assist you in your writing.
You honestly don’t know what should happen next in the story
Sometimes you just run out of rope! You want to write, you’re in the habit of writing, your creativity has been flowing before now – but you’ve just hit a wall in the middle of your first draft. Here are some tips for when you find yourself stalled:
Go back and edit. If you find yourself staring at the blinking cursor, go back to the previous page, the previous chapter, or even all the way back to the beginning of your manuscript and do revisions. You’ll find that the act of revising will give you momentum, and when you get to the part where you’re stuck, you’ll naturally keep going. Plus, you’ll realize that what you’ve written so far is not as bad as you thought! The confidence boost will free you to keep typing.
“I find I always stall at about the midpoint. Trying to continue writing is like pulling teeth, and my writing gets worse as my thoughts spiral: ‘Everything I’ve written so far is word vomit. I’ve run out of plot. I’m a bad writer. This story sucks.’ That’s when I go all the way back to the beginning of my story and edit what I’ve written so far. This gives me the momentum I need to write the second half. Whenever I find myself stuck like this, I go back. Enjoy the process of making multiple passes over your manuscript! Your story will end up way stronger for it.” - Tiana
Freewrite possibilities. Just vomit out some words at a rapid pace. Write what’s got you stuck, e.g. “Anna needs to escape from the pirate ship but I don’t know how she should do it.”. Then write some possible things that might happen next. Type out a whole scene, even. Have fun going on a fun tangent and writing the most ridiculous scene you can think of. Posing a question to yourself and analyzing possible answers works wonders.
Start writing the next part in point form. Sometimes it’s hard to get the words flowing, so just abandon the flow for now and write a summary of what happens next. “Anna steals the key to the brig. She waits for nightfall and unlocks it. She runs up the stairs. The pirates chase her.” This will get your brain moving and get you over the scene that’s got you stuck. You’ll find that you quickly start writing properly again. You can always come back to your point-form parts later and flesh them out.
Writer’s Block is never permanent. Once you practice self-awareness and recognize the cause, the solution will become obvious.
Remember why you started writing in the first place and how writing an epic scene makes you feel. You love writing, right? You’re excited to finish your book and hold it in your hands, right? Let go of the self-imposed pressure to “hurry up and finish this story”. Your dream to be a published author is valuable, and you deserve to enjoy the process of getting there. Remember your “Why”, be honest with yourself in terms of what’s stopping you, and above all, have fun with the process of writing!