Darren M. Palmer
Top 10 Reasons for Writer's Block & How to Eliminate Them
The concept of writer’s block originated in the early 19th Century when the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge first described his indefinite indescribable terror at not being able to produce work he thought worthy of his talent.
It is defined as a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. This loss of ability to write and create new material is not a result of commitment problems or the lack of writing skills.
The condition ranges from difficulty in coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce content for years. Writer’s block is not solely measured by time passing without writing. It is measured by time passing without productivity in the task at hand.
Throughout history, writer’s block has been a documented problem. Psychologist Edmund Berger coined the term “writer’s block” in the 1940s. Some believe it’s a genuine disorder, while others believe it’s all in your head. Regardless, we can all agree writer’s block is a painful condition that’s often difficult to overcome.
There are multiple reasons for writer’s block:
Lack of motivation
Waiting for the right time
Writers need to be capable of a certain amount of self-criticism. They need to be able to evaluate their work and always look for ways to improve. Being critical of your work, however, is different than being critical of yourself, and too often with writers, the two go together.
You have to separate your work from you as a person, but we’re also so close to it that the task can seem nearly impossible, sometimes. If an editor reviews your material, for example, and didn’t enjoy your work, the writer feels likes they are rejected.
When a book doesn’t sell, it feels like they are the failures.
Fear causes writers to struggle with being afraid and comparing themselves with others. They are concerned with putting their ideas out there for everyone to see. Fear is a primary reason some writers never become authors.
Lack of Motivation
Of all the reasons responsible for why you might be lacking in the motivation department, this first one is by far the most common: Either you don’t know what you want to write, or there’s a lack of clarity about what you want to write.
You’ll begin to feel more motivated when you put yourself in a position to feel more motivated. You do that with your body. Move like you move when you’re motivated. Stand like you stand when you’re motivated.
Many of us have been through this at one time or another. Are you tired and worn down from writing the same boring content? Is it hard to create interesting topics day in and day out? If you find that you have to drag yourself to the computer and force yourself to go through the motions, your passion may be fading. You never want to get to a place where you dread writing. If you get here, step away from the computer.
It’s often been said that every person has a book in them, but they never write it. Many people want to write a book successfully and they want the first draft to flow and be phenomenal. More than likely, this will not happen. Do not have unrealistic expectations that it will come quickly and easily. It takes time and energy to write, so don’t be unrealistic about how much effort it requires.
You want everything to be just right before you ever put pen to paper or touch a keyboard. You try to get it perfect in your head and never do, so you never begin. I want to remind you that your book is worth publishing.
These are the main reasons I am going to focus on. Some symptoms may include the inability to focus, feeling mentally foggy, a lack of inspiration, and feeling stressed and frustrated. The good news is that writer’s block isn’t as grave as you might think: it’s a temporary condition.
Writing is more procedural than creative. Most day-to-day writing is to record and convey ideas, tell stories, give direction, describe, inform, persuade, express new visions, etc. Procrastination comes into play in many ways. Writing a performance review or a progress report where there is no progress, can feel disquieting and stressfully get shelved.
Procrastination is a nemesis for many whose profession includes written work. When you face writing challenges, you feel tempted to put it off. You meet the never-ending conflict between writing or engaging unproductiveness.
Waiting for the Right Time
Some writers tell themselves it’s not the right time to write. They want to wait until their ideas are ready or until they’ve enough time to write.
What’s wrong with this thinking?
By waiting for your ideas or inspiration to strike, you’re putting off the writing process. No perfect time exists to create great writing.
It’s easier than ever to let a distraction get in the way of the writing process. Notifications, messages, phone calls, laundry, other commitments; the list goes on.
These will tug your attention away from your writing. They can also create insurmountable writing blocks. It’s easier to get distracted more than it is to stay focused. You have to choose to focus instead of giving your attention to everything else.
You may have simply tapped yourself out. We all have our limits, be they physical, mental, emotional, and all of the above mentioned. Eventually, your body, brain, or emotions will rebel and insist on downtime, which may come in the guise of what you may call writer’s block.
But keep this in mind: you aren’t blocked; you’re exhausted. Give yourself a few days to really rest. Lie on a sofa and watch movies, take long walks in the hour just before dusk, go out to dinner with friends, or take a mini-vacation somewhere restful. Be intentional about giving yourself — and your brain rest. No thinking about writing for a week! In fact, no heavy thinking for a week.
HOW TO OVERCOME WRITER’S BLOCK
Now that you’ve heard reasons why writer's block, I’m sure you are wondering what you can do to beat it. There are already tons of blogs about this topic. I want to make sure to begin with the fail-proof way to overcome writer's block is one you most know, but don't want to hear:
You have to have discipline; you have to write through it and eliminate excuses. Just start somewhere.
The difference between professional writers and amateurs is this: Both encounter blocks, but one pushes through while the other gets paralyzed.
Develop a Writing Routine
Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits. This might seem counterintuitive to some. Creativity is viewed as something that naturally ebbs and flows, not something you can schedule.
But the truth is, if you only write when you ‘ feel creative.’ You’re bound to get stuck in a tar pit of writer's block. The only way to push through is by disciplining yourself to write on a regular schedule. It might be every day, every other day, or just on weekends, but whatever it is, stick to it!
Use Imperfect Words
A writer can spend hours looking for the perfect word or phrase to illustrate a concept. You can avoid this fruitless (and block-engendering) endeavor by putting, “In other words,” and merely writing what you're thinking, whether eloquent or not. You can then come back and refine it later by doing a search for other words.
Find someone to hold you accountable. Accountability is all about being answerable. Being answerable to someone or something external is a proven method for achieving your goals. Accountability buddies have been working miracles in other areas.
Don't Start at the Beginning
By far, the most intimidating part of writing is starting, when you have a whole empty book to fill with coherent words. A blank screen is one of the most intimidating things for a writer.
Instead of starting with the chronological beginning of whatever it is, you're trying to write, dive into the middle, or feel confident. You’ll feel less pressure to get everything straight away because you're “already at the halfway point” — and by the time you return to the beginning, you’ll be all warmed up!
Develop a Writing Routine
If you only write when you “feel creative,” you're bound to get stuck in a tar pit of writer's block. The only way to push through is by disciplining yourself to write on a regular schedule.
Stop Writing for Readers
Most advise writers to “write to market.” And while this is important if you're looking to publish a book, the pressure of other people’s expectations can be a considerable inhibitor that — you guessed it — manifests as a significant block.
So throw the market out the window for now and write for yourself, not your potential readers. This will help you reclaim the joy of being creative and get you back in touch with what matters: the story.
Indeed, it may even help your writing in the end! Disregarding what readers expect, especially if your genre is particularly “literary,” often loosens your prose into sounding less pretentious and more real.
Freewriting involves writing without pause — and without regard for grammar, spelling, or topic. Consider journaling! Of course, what you jot down may be utterly irrelevant to your current project, but that doesn't matter!
The goal of freewriting is to write without second-guessing yourself — free from doubt, apathy, or self-consciousness, all of which contribute to writer's block.
Set a time-limit
Maybe start with 10 minutes. You can gradually increase it.
Map out your story AKA Brain Dump
Doing a brain dump. GO BACK TO THE OUTLINE! Get all of your ideas out of your head.
Relax — Keep it FUN
“Perfect is the enemy of good,” so don't agonize about getting it exactly right! You can always go back and edit. But for this first time around, just putting the words on the page is enough. A rough draft is better than no draft. Make sure you keep it enjoyable and don’t stress yourself out!
Identify Strengths & Weaknesses
Write down the strengths of what you're written so far or what you believe you write well. Is your opening hook compelling? Are you on FIRE? Does your own writing inspire you?
Determine which areas are working and focus on those.
Write down the weaknesses of what you’ve written so far.
Is it too long? Is it too short? Figure out what’s wrong and fix it.
Through identifying the flaws in your writing, you can determine why you’re blocked. Taking the time to identify the weaknesses in your writing will help you overcome writer’s block and simultaneously improve what you’ve written.
Root Cause of Writer's Block
Last but not least, discover the root cause of writer’s block.
Writer’s block can come from a problem greater than a simple “lack of inspiration.” So dig deep: why are you really blocked?
Ask yourself the hard questions. Really dig deep with what is preventing you from writing. Here’s an example of a few questions you can ask yourself:
Do I feel pressure to succeed and/or competition with other writers?
Have I lost sight of what my story is about, or interest in where it's going?
Do I lack confidence in my own abilities, even if I've written plenty before?
Have I not written for so long that I feel intimidated by the mere act?
Am I simply feeling tired and run-down?
Writing is hard work. There’s no doubt about that. But you can make it even harder by accepting writer’s block. Choose to get on with writing.
Find out what works for you. Write as much as possible about what you are passionate about! Remember that tomorrow is a new writing day, but you will write more tomorrow if you start today!
How to NOT Overcome Writer’s Block
And just for fun, here are some anti-solutions to this problem:
You do not overcome writer’s block by refusing to write until you feel “inspired.”
You do not overcome writer’s block by wallowing in self-pity.
You do not overcome writer’s block by procrastinating or making excuses.
You do not overcome writer’s block by watching TV.
You do not overcome writer’s block only by reading articles on how to overcome writer’s block.
(Yes, I said it!)