Calling bull on writers block – stop playing victim

If you google writers block, there are a ton of articles about how to beat it, how it happens to everyone, how it is inevitably linked to being an author and how it’s nothing to be ashamed off.

On the last part, I agree. No one should be ashamed of struggling with their writing. The only emberrasing thing is calling it writers block and acting like it is an almost incurable disease.

Here’s why.

If you keep calling your difficulties writers block and fall prey to the all to common notion of “Oh, there’s nothing I can do. I will have to wait until the muse comes knocking”, you are robbing yourself of valuable time and you are setting yourself up for failure in the long term.

Before I go into detail on that, there is one thing I want to clarify:

Writing is hard, hard work.

Those moments when your fingers fly over the keyboard, when beautiful phrases line up and you know exactly what your characters are going to do next? They might not happen often. You might have to fight for many of the words and paragraphs you want to get onto paper. Until you understand, and what’s even more important, accept and acknowledge that, you’ll be having a lot of “writers block ” episodes.

So, why do I think you should stop calling it writers block? For two reasons:

It is unspecific and it puts you into a passive position.

You become the victim of a force that is beyond your control because you cannot define it.

Once you have accepted that writing is work, despite the fact that the end product is a piece of art, you begin to understand why the notion of writers block is frankly, ridiculous. You wouldn’t go into your dayjob, sit down at the desk and say “Man, I’ve got *insert title of your position* block today.” (Granted, you might well want to, but you know better than that.)

Difficult times happen. I doubt that any author ever has seen any of his or her projects through without hitting a low at some point. It’s is normal. You just shouldn’t chalk it up to some semi-esoteric ailment.

Instead, find out what it is that blocks you, and call the problem by it’s name. I’ve got a few suggestions of what it might be:

  1. You don’t want to write.
  2. You want to write but don’t know how because you have run into a problem plot- or otherwise.
  3. You are hit by the realisation of how terrible an author you are and cannot fathom to go on.

I’d say those three are the most common reasons for struggling with not being able to write. It’s vital that you figure out what exactly it is that is stopping you. “Writers block” is unspecific. You cannot formulate an actionalbe solution strategy to get over this. “Writers block” is  a very general term that, in the worst case, people simply accept as something that “happens to artists”.

Dig deeper than that. Look at the core of your problem, then adress it accordingly.

Here are a few ideas about how to figure out which of the three cases you are suffering from and what you could do to overcome them.

Number 1 usually happens when you subscribe to the notion that you need to be “inspired” to get some writing done. You’ll have to get rid of that notion. Period. I think it was Dali who said “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” You need to do the work. If it helps, keep reminding yourself that with writing, it’s often like with that party you didn’t want to go to and then stay until the staff throws you out at half past four in the morning. It’s great once you are there.  Just start.  (Freewrite, find a prompt, write your inner anti-writer a nasty letter, whatever works. Words are your forte. Write yourself back into it).

Number 2 is often a bit fiddly to pin point. It might be that you lack some background information , but don’t want to research it because it’s troublesome. You try writing on without it, but it doesn’t quite work. Do the research. I promise you, in 99 out of 100 cases, it will inspire new ideas and spark your writing on.

Maybe you can’t get back into your text. Go back to what you’ve written the last time. Read through it, edit here and there. Once you hit the end of the document, you should be primed and ready to go. If you are still a bit wobbly, don’t worry. Just write. You can edit later. The quality of your writing should pick up latest one or two paragraphs in.

Maybe the dynamics between your characters don’t work. Find out why. Don’t say: this isn’t working and sulk. Try to look at the whole thing from different angles, get the big picture, talk with friends, write a paragraph in the characters voice about their relationship.

Not knowing what or how to write, essentially, is where the hard work sits. When you hit chapter 10 and suddenly, it becomes a hot mess and you don’t know where to go from there, the honeymoon phase is over and the true work has started. Congratulations. You are one of the initiated. Now do your guild proud and plough away at your text, your plot, your research, your characters. Whatever it is you need to clarify to go back to smoother sailing. (Mixed metaphors much? I have decided not to care. Onwards!)

Number 3 is a very very common problem. The sudden doubt of everything. “I am not good enough.” “This is crap.” Whether or not that is true is not my place to say. What I want to say is this: it doesn’t matter. I have itterated again and again (and I will continue to do so) that writing is a craft that you learn by doing it. So if you have doubts about the quality of your work, literally the dumbest thing you could do is to stop writing. Because that means you stagnate and remain as good or bad as you currently are.

Maybe you are not as good as you want to be yet (or maybe you are already better than you think), but this is a work in progress. As long as you keep writing and work at it (yes, I am sorry, mainly repeatedly writing the way you always did, without getting feedback, without challenging yourself will not yield much improvement, if any at all), you will get better. Learn to respond to self-doubt with a healthy dose of “So what”.

Also, alter the things that you say to yourself. Turn “Maybe I am not good enough” into “Maybe I am not good enough yet“. Turn “This sucks” into “Right now, this probably still sucks”. Don’t make it sound like the current state of your ability or progress is definite. It is not.

Doubt happens. It’s alright. It’s natural. Giving up is what’s the problem.


My final note on the subject is of a more delicate nature, but one that is very important to me. If you suffer from inability to write due to massive doubt in your work to an extend that is majorly upsetting to you, I’d also very gently advise you to look at your relationship with yourself and your current life situation at large. If you are in a bad place generally, then the quality of your writing is maybe not your biggest concern. As I have stated before, writing can be therapeutic, but it is not therapy. I understand that for many people, their writing is the one thing they love, the one thing they feel like they can draw joy from. But if that doesn’t apply at the moment, don’t let it be the weight that finally sinks you. There’s a time and place for everything.

You’d take a break from work if you are mentally unwell. It’s just as alright to take a break from writing. It’s not going anywhere. It will always be there for you. You can come back whenever you want and can, and it will receive you with open arms (and empty pages to fill).


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