What is Writer's Block?
A blinking cursor and a blank, white page. You've been staring at it for the past hour, wracking your brain for the words to write, but nothing comes out. Then the fear kicks in as you soon realize you've fallen victim to the dreaded writer's block!
But what exactly is writer’s block, anyway? How do you overcome it? That's exactly what we'll discuss in today's post.
What is Writer’s Block?
Simply put, writer’s block is a psychological condition where you’re unable to write anything new. Physically, you’re still capable of sitting down and putting words on a page–even if those words are bad–but when you get to the keyboard, your brain just refuses to let you write anything. But the good news is, we have strategies that will help you through that.
Before we get into the tips and tricks to work through your writer’s block, we’ll first look at why many writers get blocked in the first place and how to shift your mindset to overcome this.
How to unblock your mind
How do you picture yourself as a writer? Sitting at your desk littered with empty coffee mugs, pulling out your hair and screaming in frustration? Many times, writers think that good writing requires suffering— and that if you don’t agonize over your work, it’s not “real” art.
But here’s a little secret–the first mindset shift we’re going to make–you do not have to torture yourself. You don’t have to suffer to write well. Suffering over your writing is a choice, not a requirement. You can choose to picture yourself as someone who enjoys their work, looks forward to writing, and embraces the creative process.
Understand what writer’s block really is:
The main reason writers struggle with writer’s block is because of one little four-letter word: fear. Being blocked in our writing almost always comes down to some variation of fear. Fear that it won’t be good enough— that it won’t measure up to what we’ve built it to be in our heads. Fear that we are not enough as writers.
Here’s a mind-blowing secret. Are you ready for it? As writers, we will never feel like enough. Even if we’ve sold millions of copies of books, won multiple awards, got movie deals, and even a theme park inspired by our books, it will still never feel perfect. There’ll always be things you’d like to fix and improve on in your story, no matter how many times you revise it. That's just what being an artist is all about.
Now, here’s the first step to overcoming this fear; you can either choose to look at this as a curse and let it turn you into a tortured artist, or you can look at it as the key that unlocks and unchains you from the burden of fear and perfection. Here’s the mindset shift we need to make: perfection is not achievable, but getting it done is achievable.
Now that we know what “writer’s block” really is, it’s time to erase those words from your vocabulary. So instead of “writer’s block,” let’s call this what it is: writer's doubt. Writer’s doubt reminds you that doubt and fear are part of the process and you have to write through it if you want to get to the end. So let go of the fear and perfection, and just write.
Put on the crappy writer’s hat:
Another thing that holds writers back and gives them doubt is thinking they have to write well and finish at the same time. That’s just not possible. This will keep you from finishing many projects. Stop trying to revise while you’re drafting and learn to separate the drafter from the reviser.
To separate these two roles in your mind, think of the drafter as the one wearing “the crappy writer’s hat,” and the reviser wears “the fancy writer’s hat.” The primary job of the drafter or “crappy writer” is to prepare a preliminary version of the document. They’re responsible for getting the ideas down, building the frame or structure of your story, writing a rough sketch, writing a lot of words–even if they’re bad–and just finishing the project. The reviser, or “fancy writer,” comes in after the draft is finished and makes it beautiful. They focus on making the project work better, so you’re left with a final version you can be proud of.
Let yourself wear the crappy writer’s hat during the drafting phase. The fancy writer’s hat is for the revision stage. The sooner you learn to separate the drafter from the reviser, the faster you’ll become unstuck and finish your project.
How to unblock your writing
Now, let’s get into the tools & tricks to help you when you’re stuck or stalled. Not all the tools will apply to you and your project, but they can be combined with others to help you tackle your problem. Keep trying different tools till you find one that works for you and your current project.
Talk it out
Most writing is done in our heads, but sometimes we get stuck and can’t think our way out of a problem. So stop thinking and instead try talking about your writing problem out loud. You can talk it through with a critique partner or writing group, friend or family member, even your pets or yourself. It’s not really about the feedback you can get from these people–though that can help as well–but it’s more about the act of talking through the steps of your problem and having to explain it. Sometimes, this helps you to see the problem differently, and allows you to identify what’s wrong, and hopefully find a solution.
Write by hand
Research shows that students who take notes by hand absorb more of the topic than those who take notes by typing. This is because the brain is more activated and engaged when writing longhand. Free writing by hand can put you in a different head space and allow you to think about your project differently. Swap out your keyboard for a pen and notebook and brain dump, use bullet points, or write anything you want.
Skip a scene, chapter, or section that you’re having trouble with. You can always write notes to yourself about what you think should happen (i.e., insert fight scene here) and then come back to it later when you’ve gained more perspective. For now, just move on to the next scene or one you want to write. Remember, you don't have to write everything in order/linearly.
Build a routine
The most important tool that will help you overcome writer’s doubt is a writing routine. If you set up a ritual or writing routine, you’ll eventually find yourself more ready, eager, and inspired to write every day no matter what you’re stuck on or challenges you’re facing. Every writer will have a different routine they use, so find one that works for you.
Try a few different things to see what works. This could be an exercise or stretch, a specific food or drink, a location, a movement, etc. Do this for a minimum of 30 days to get the habit to stick. Be sure to do it every single day and watch how your brain responds.
This tool is the “master tool” that can be combined with any of the other tools, like the power of the bullet point or the pen is mightier. As long as you’re sitting down every day, sticking to your routine, you are writing, and that is the whole point.