Have you ever sat down at your desk with a nice cup of tea, your room cleaned, and your schedule cleared, but when you get down to write something, nothing gets done? Have you struggled over the same sentence for about three hours? That’s writer’s block, and despite being a natural part of writing, it can be very discouraging, frustrating, and it can push a writer to give up on their project. Let’s explore what writer’s block is and why it happens, as well as equip you with what you need to overcome this obstacle.
What is writer’s block?
The first thing to understand is that writer’s block (or creative block) isn’t exclusive to writing, but intrinsic to the creative process itself. In Susan Reynolds’ article titled “Five Reasons You’re Experiencing Writer’s Block”, she describes the block as a myth and explains that writing “incorporates uncertainty, experimentation, and a willingness to create art from the depths of who we are.”
Writing takes a lot of effort and can be draining to our minds—hence why it feels so discouraging to spend all of this effort to come up with little or nothing. Writer’s block doesn’t describe the struggle to write something, it instead describes the feeling of defeat when faced with that struggle.
The next time you’re faced with writer’s block, don’t linger on it, and definitely don’t be too harsh on yourself for it. Instead, face the reality that you’ve stalled because you weren’t “prepared to move on to the next level” (Reynolds).
It’s about the story.
The story is going nowhere.
This applies mostly to people who’ve hit a snag midway into their story. Writing is very much about momentum; the deeper you are in a story, the better your understanding should be about where the story will end up. So what gives?
Something came along and derailed your writing momentum down a path you’re not creatively comfortable with. This comes across as writer’s block because, even though you could be printing out pages, it’s far from what your initial vision was, and trying to bring it back on track is where your snag might be.
The solution? Stop. Review your story from the start and identify exactly where it all went wrong. It could be a plotline, a character, or a flaw in logic that blows everything out of the water. In the moment, having that one component in the story might have seemed like a good idea, but as much as coming up with great ideas is the mark of a good writer, knowing when to cut something out is as well.
The story got boring.
Remember a time where you were eager to get back home, sit down at your desk and continue your passion project? If that wasn’t the last time you progressed your story, you might have gotten bored of it.
Writing invariably comes from a place of passion, and if that passion is lost, then so is your will to not only continue writing, but to also come up with interesting ideas that would otherwise enrich the story. If you have to sit down, and push yourself to write a story you can’t wait to stop writing, this is another form of writer’s block.
The solution? Something once excited you about this project of yours, and you need to get back in touch with that passion. Ask yourself these questions, and answer them honestly:
- What was the message I wanted to tell to the world through my story?
- What was spark that ignited the ideas for my story?
- At what point in the story did I lose that spark?
It might be unfortunate, but your project may also no longer interest you—and that isn’t a bad thing, nor does it suggest that something is wrong with you. Shelve the story, don’t forget it, and maybe that drive to continue it will come back.
The story hit a dead end.
It’s been four, five, six hours, and you’re still staring at that blinking line; nothing is coming through. No matter how hard and how long you think, you cannot start or progress your story. Your story hit a dead end.
Writing is driven by sparks of inspiration. No matter how you spin it, it’s rare to see a story that doesn’t pull inspirations from other works, real life cultures and legends, or from nature itself. The real issue in this scenario isn’t that you can’t progress a story, it’s that you don’t have any inspiration, and that’s what’s causing your writer’s block.
The solution? Explore. Broaden your knowledge on the subject matter or theme you’re writing about. If your story is science fiction, then learn about actual bleeding edge science. If your story is set in a real place, learn about that location, or that time period. Visit museums, read texts, talk to people. Enriching your own personal knowledge on something is great way to get inspired, and to progress your own story.
Alternatively, you might just be set in your ways. A fresh new methodology might help you dig yourself out of this snag. If you’re someone who plans out their stories, try simply going at it and write what makes sense in the moment, and vice versa. Writer’s each have their own style of writing, but having range and utilizing different techniques as a way to hone and evolve your own style will only ever come in handy.
The story is in editing hell.
Can’t seem to be content with the chapter(s) you wrote? Did you rewrite your story for the fifth, sixth, or eighteenth time? You’re set in a cycle you can’t ever seem to get out of; your story is in editing hell.
This one is a lesser known one, as editing is a really good thing. However, editing is supposed to be a very technical, robust, and long process that should be done only on finished stories. If you edit an unfinished story, you will never feel that it’s right, and you’ll always feel that it’s missing something—and it is: it’s missing the rest of the story. This cycle of constantly rewriting the same sections of a story is a form of writer’s block.
The solution? Finish your first draft. Power through it, and don’t look back because of course it’s going to need editing and rewriting; no story is ever perfect on its first go. The first draft is the most important step to a story, and it lays out the complete foundation to eventually shape into a wonderfully written story.
It’s about you.
Writing is exhausting. You’re spending hours thinking, typing, reworking, and researching. You might be losing sleep, or skipping a meal. Some are conscious about the toll writing has on the body, but others aren’t, and they become exhausted.
When you simply cannot think straight, or lose focus easily when trying to progress your story, your body and mind might be subconsciously rebelling against you. This effect is a form of writer’s block.
The solution? Give your mind and body the rest they’re demanding. Take time away from your story, make sure you sleep well and nourish yourself with good nutrition. Relax and remember that the time you might feel you’re “wasting” is actually time spent making sure that your next writing session will start off great.
Everyone has a life—a social life, love life, you might have a job or kids to take care of—no matter how you spin it, each and every one of us have responsibilities that prevent us from working on our project. Progress has stagnated, and that’s because you’re distracted.
Writing takes time, and large amounts of it at that. If you’re struggling to find time to write because of the responsibilities at hand, the best solution is to actually tend to them. Plan a window of time to work on your project ahead, that way you can get every foreseeable task taken care of beforehand. If that window still isn’t enough, then carry on, an opportunity will come. If that’s the case, you can also keep a notebook ready wherever you are. That way, if an idea or realization comes to you, you won’t miss out on that spark of brilliance, and you will be able to work on it during your next session.
Be patient! Even baby steps will end up walking the mile some day.
Are you still stuck?
There are plenty of different perspectives on writer’s block and how to overcome it out there. We recommend researching on your own and hope you find the answers to your problems. Never give up, and don’t beat yourself up for it.