We all know the feeling. We sit at a desk with our computers or notebooks, ready to write all the words, except the words aren’t coming. It feels as if there is a mental block stopping you from writing. It’s uncomfortable — sometimes painful — to watch the blinking cursor, mocking your helplessness. This feeling can continue for days, weeks, months, even years.
My Worst Case of Writer’s Block
When I was in high school, I pitched my novel in progress to a municipal magazine. A few weeks later, they agreed the serialize the story. I still have that acceptance email. At that point, the story was not finished, but the fifteen written chapters gave me over a year to continue writing for the monthly publication.
The euphoria of being published was accompanied by bitter anxiety. I would flip through the magazine just to see my name in print but not to read the work. For some reason, I kept finding mistakes in the printed version, second-guessing every detail and character.
I received many positive comments on the story, which were incredible to hear, but increased the stress at the same time. I wrote the story because I like to write; I was not mentally prepared to have people read them, as naive as that seems.
What if they hate it? What if they think it’s too violent? What if they don’t like the characters? What if they guess the ending? These thoughts tormented me as each chapter was published. Months later, I failed to continue writing the story.
I worked on other new and shiny projects. Whenever I sat to write for the magazine serial, I got writer’s block. I didn’t know what to write, and when I did force out a few words, they sounded awful. So I pushed the manuscript aside. Whenever I thought of the serial, my anxiety grew. I knew I had to write more, but I had forgotten how.
One year passed. The editor was asking for more chapters for the upcoming edition. The stress was at its peak. If I didn’t deliver, I was going to lose the spot in the magazine.
Writer’s Block: The Harsh Truth
No employer is going to accept writer’s block as an excuse for failing to write. Why? Because writer’s block is a not real excuse. You don’t work; you don’t get paid. You don’t write; you don’t get published. It’s that simple.
But Sarah! protests the peanut gallery. So many famous writers had writer’s block. Want to hear a list?
No, I don’t.
A. You are not a famous writer. Chances are, you haven’t finished your first book yet. Or began it. It’s a bad idea to compare yourself to F. Scott Fitzgerald or Harper Lee.
B. This term has become a meme. Non-serious writers blame use it to rationalize their lack of writing. You’ll see them post memes about it on social media.
How does this help them write? It doesn’t. It’s just a flashy excuse to stop whenever they don’t feel working.
You overcome writer’s block by writing.
As I type this, I can hear the screaming from the peanut gallery: But that’s the point! Writer’s block means I can’t write!
Listen up, peanut gallery. You can’t give up over every hitch in the process and say “oh well. I’ve got writer’s block. Guess I’m not gonna write today” if you ever want to finish your project.
I’m not saying that writer’s block isn’t real because it is. The blocked feeling is valid, but using it as an excuse is not. To overcome it, it’s beneficial to reflect and understand why you are feeling blocked. Sometimes it can be a combination of reasons.
7 Reasons Why You Get Writer’s Block
We don’t know what happens next in the story.
This one is obvious. You can’t write if you don’t know what happens next. Fortunately, this block is easily prevented by plotting the story ahead of time. Whenever you get stuck, check your outline and continue writing. If you have no such outline, I’d suggest you create one. Better late than never.
We want to write perfectly the first time.
This was a constant struggle for me. I wanted the first draft to be the only draft, polished, pretty, and ready for publishing. Yet that’s not how it works. The first draft is to get the story down on paper. Polishing comes through revisions and editing. No writer escapes editing, and you must pay your dues as well. Keep writing no matter how bad it seems; you can revise it later.
We don’t feel like writing at this moment.
Tough luck, kiddo. If you want to publish a book, you gotta write it. Even professional authors have days when they want to pitch their laptop out of the window, but they write anyway. Forcing yourself to write becomes easier in time with proper discipline.
You didn’t realize writing is hard.
It’s hard. If you don’t love it, don’t do it, and don’t blame writer’s block. If writing was easy, everyone would publish books.
In this situation, you can’t write because you are distracted by your environment, or you are desperate to do something else besides writing. You feel blocked because your headspace is full of the other things that are much cooler than sitting and typing words. Use those distractions as rewards to productive writing time, or find a quieter place to work, whether it means writing in a private room or turning off the Internet because we all know how distracting that can be.
Sometimes you may also need to change the time of day you write. Maybe you are too groggy in the mornings and work better at night. Perhaps you are too tired at night and need to write in the morning. Read this blog post on creating a writing space for more tips on that.
This happens very often to writers, almost recurringly. Writing a book is a long, arduous process and you are not going to be as excited for it by chapter thirteen as you were by chapter one. Losing steam does not mean you are a bad writer, or that your story is boring. It simply means that you are human and you need some reminders of why you are writing. Try walking through a bookshop, hanging motivational quotes on your wall, or imagining yourself with your published novel. Then keep writing.
Writing with anxiety is difficult, but not impossible. Sometimes you need to find ways to subdue the anxiety before writing so you can enter the session with a clear mind. Maybe for you, writing is a way to release stress. If it’s clinical anxiety, proper treatment will increase your productivity and help your writing process.
Many famous authors like Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, got severe writer’s block after the success of their first novel. The world expects a masterpiece, yet what if they can’t deliver that again? Yet true authors battle through it. Sometimes they need time to regain peace of mind and get inspired again. This feeling was similar to how I felt when I saw my serial in print.
Just Keep Writing
A year after my manuscript got accepted, I had no choice but to continue writing the story.
I was sitting in the car on a family road trip somewhere. I took out my laptop and thought for a while about what could happen next. Then I typed the words slowly, cringing at how awful they were. Yet I needed to write something. Anything. So I wrote.
After that miserable chapter, it became easier. I refound my love for the story and its characters. I wanted to finish the story, to create the ending I had envisioned the year before. I continued writing and was proud of my progress. I still had days when I didn’t want to write but forced myself because I wanted to finish the book so badly.
You may feel blocked but you are not stuck. You can keep writing, even if its garbage at first — remember, you’ll edit that later — and then you will find your flow.