The obligatory writer’s block post

city walls

You can start open battles in the streets of writing forums by claiming that writer’s block doesn’t exist. It’s not exactly that I’m going to do that…

Everyone who blogs about writing should discuss writer’s block sooner or later. Sometimes I blog about writing, so I’ve decided this includes me.

I’ve avoided writing about writer’s block until now because I haven’t known what to say, but today I sat down to write a blog post and drew a blank, so voila!

(Okay there was the post about solutions to fantasy writer’s block, but that doesn’t count.)

If you head to certain parts of the web, you’ll see writers arguing about whether writer’s block exists at all. The arguments tend to go something like this:

Blocked writer: I have a really bad case of writer’s block. I haven’t been able to write anything in two months, and my characters feel so abandoned they’re packing their bags to emigrate. Can anyone help me?

Believer 1: When I get writer’s block it helps me to work on something different. Why don’t you give your WIP a rest for a while and write a few short stories?

Believer 2: yea that works 4 me to. and also interviewing my characters bcuz you just need to write something without editing or obsessing about every word

Believer 1: You could try reading a book you enjoy. Maybe your creative juices need replenishing.

Blocker writer: Thanks for the suggestions. I do have a book I’ve been meaning to read, so I’ll try to stop stressing about not writing for a bit and see if reading inspires me.

Non-believer: That’s a terrible idea. Writer’s block doesn’t exist. I’ve never had it because I always eat lots of fibre. All so-called writer’s block is is an excuse to be lazy. Stop making excuses and go and write.

Mod: This is a forum for supporting people who are struggling with writer’s block, not a place to debate whether or not it exists.

Non-believer: But writer’s block doesn’t exist and all this coddling is destroying people’s ability to write by turning them into special snowflakes who can only write when inspiration strikes, and that’s going to make it impossible for them to be professional writers.

Mod: [Non-believer] has been blocked from this forum for repeatedly refusing to follow the rules.

You know, I’m sure there was a point to this.

That’s right. I was trying to make myself look like less of a jerk when I point out that I’ve never had writer’s block and I’m not entirely sure I believe it exists.

Is this apartment block a writer's block?
Is this a writer’s block?

Don’t get me wrong.

I fully believe writing can be hard, especially when you don’t have clear in your mind what you’re trying to write.

I fully believe other problems such as life crises and mental health issues can render you temporarily incapable of writing.

But none of these are mystical conditions that suddenly and inexplicably make writers unable to tap their fingers on a keyboard and make words appear on their screens. (Admittedly, a flat battery will do that.)

Carpal tunnel syndrome might have this effect, but dictation programs have come a long way, so that’s not an excuse any more. I suppose you could lose your voice at the same time, in which case you have my sympathy and hopes for a quick recovery.

I have days when I spend an hour writing a sentence and then deleting it, but not because I have writer’s block.

It’s usually because I’m trying to write a scene that I haven’t figured out. The rest of the time it’s because I’m trying to jam too much into a scene that doesn’t belong there. (Am I the only one who does this?)

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I don’t have any of the answers. Maybe writer’s block is genuine disorder of the brain caused by too much of hormone x or not enough of hormone y. I have no idea.

What do you think? Is writer’s block real? Have you had it? Have you figured out any strategies to get over it?

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Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

30 thoughts on “The obligatory writer’s block post”

  1. I don’t have much experience with what people usually refer to as “writer’s block.” Most of the time the problem is just that I’m flat-out out of ideas (which always seemed to me to be a bigger problem, and yet, there’s very little discussion of this or support for it. Even most books on fiction writing always seem to assume that you already have a solid story idea in mind and you’re just flailing about not knowing how to put the words down on paper. Just once I’d like to read one of these books with a first chapter called “Uhhhhh….” then I’d be like, “Okay, THIS is where I’m at.”)

    But when people talk about “writer’s block” they seem to be describing a condition where you know what needs to happen in a scene or in the rest of the story or you know the general bullet points of the article you’re writing, but somehow you can’t seem to articulate it or you can’t bring yourself to physically write it, like your hand is forming a stiff claw and closing in on itself or something.

    I’ve only had one experience like that in recent memory. I have a WIP that I stalled on a while back. I know where the story needs to go; I just can’t seem to go with it. But with that, I don’t really feel like I’m “blocked”; I’m just very reluctant to get back into the headspace of that story for various reasons. And maybe that’s a lot of what is for people: some internal reluctance, and they’re just fighting it on some level, maybe more than they realize.

    If it’s just being stuck, well yeah, there’s always the rough patches too. In those cases, you just have to squirm in your chair and grit your teeth and grab your head and try to get through it.

    1. I know what you mean about the out-of-ideas problem. I actually did find a solution in a writing book. Hmm… let me go and see if I can find it. Okay, I’m back. Check out chapter 3 of James Scott Bell’s “Plot and Structure”, titled “How to Explode With Plot Ideas”. The “titles” and “opening line” techniques are my favourites. I blogged a bit about how I use them here: https://www.asakkalon.com/subconscious-toddler/ I can’t say they’ll necessarily work for you, but they definitely do for me if I take the time.

      I have a (short) story I’m stalled on too, but I know what the problem is: the story isn’t quite working as it is, and I can’t be bothered figuring out how to fix it because my main WIP is much more exciting. But no claw hands in sight. πŸ™‚

  2. I have a theory about W-block.
    Imho, it starts when a writers tries to write, and to edit at the same time.
    Constantly arguing with oneself that discriptions, dialogues are not good enough, or distracting the flow.
    Causing severe selfdoubt.

    If you have a clear vision of your arc, and your characters arc, much can be avoided. Be passionate about your chars, your world, your message.
    Any conflict can(should) be sorted out later.

    If nothing helps, consider writing about an author with a block, hiding for himself in a deserted hotel in the winter. The result will be ‘shining-2’.
    Avoid adverbs thoughπŸ˜‚

    1. I definitely agree that editing while writing causes problems for some people (though others find it’s the only way to work). We all suffer self doubt, but if it gets too bad you get stuck in a loop of fearing to put down anything on paper because it won’t be as good as you want it to be. I think they’ve invented word-processing programs to help with this, or you can be low tech and set your font to the same colour as the background so you can’t see what you’ve written and just have to keep going.

      I’d love to be stuck in a deserted hotel all winter where I could do was write. As long as there was internet… for research purposes, of course.

  3. I don’t think I’ve had writer’s block – I’ve certainly got stuck before, but it tends to be because I’m not sure how a scene’s meant to go, or what happens after it. Or because I should be writing a blog post but would rather write about dragons.

    Otherwise, yes – life gets in the way sometimes, and I get in my own way, and that’ll definitely block me for a bit. But it’s not some big scary phenomenon, it’s just me tripping over myself.

    And I usually have the scene problem with short stories, because they’re really far too short for everything I want to happen!

  4. I dont really get writer’s block either. Usually my problem is the opposite, I have too many writing ideas and I can’t keep up with them all. I do sometimes, however, have a time problem, where there just aren’t enough hours in the day to make good progress on my WIP

    1. And he rode into town on a sleigh pulled by plot bunnies…

      Sorry. πŸ™‚ I certainly know what you mean by not having enough time. Darn all these annoying people who expect us to do other things in life like earn a living, cook, clean, and shower!

  5. I don’t believe in it either. There’s no other occupation or hobby where people claim to have some special kind of “block” when they don’t feel like doing it. When I don’t feel like playing games I don’t whinge that I have Gaming Block – I just do whatever I DO want to do. Writing is no different. Sometimes I feel like it, sometimes I don’t. No mystery, and no need for a special label.

    And when we do want to write, but it’s hard? Yeah, that means it’s hard. There are difficult levels in games, too. It still isn’t Gaming Block.

  6. I don’t think of writer’s block as any single affliction, but I do believe it exists, in one way or another. Sometimes, you just really don’t feel like writing, and as soon as you sit down to force yourself to write something, you’re stuck there saying to yourself “wut r werds even.” Sometimes it’s any of the mental health issues or other crises you described that cause the block.

    The key with writer’s block is in whether you decide to give it any power. If you give in and decide, “I’m blocked, and I can’t write today,” then it’s only going to get worse the next day, and the next day after that, and the next. I believe there are ways to prevent writer’s block, and I do feel like there are ways to cure it, and both require writing, no matter how hard it gets.

    – From a writer whose blocks are usually caused by the guilt of not writing.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with this! I haven’t been there, but I can image if it’s about guilt over not writing then the longer it goes on the harder it gets to break through. Do you have any particular suggestions of ways to break through that have worked for you?

      1. Hm… I’ve tried a lot of things to varying degrees of success. I think my favorite trick was to set a timer for five minutes and just make myself write nonstop. I used Chris Fox’s 5KWPH app when I did this, which automatically calculated my words-per-hour pace during those five minutes.

        This usually had two effects: First, I would get excited at my writing speed and dream of all the writing I could get done if I just wrote uninterrupted for sixty solid minutes. Second, I would usually build up enough steam to actually want to keep writing.

        But occasionally, after five minutes, I still found I wasn’t up for writing much that day. On those days I would simply close my laptop and go do something else. There was no guilt in it, because I gave it an honest effort, and I knew I would try again the next day.

        I actually wrote about this (and a few other ideas) on my blog a while back: http://davidtshank.com/2017/05/all-the-small-things/

        1. Nice! When I started writing after a long break I tried something similar. I’d recently read Chris Fox’s book and I decided to sit down and just write for five minutes. I started writing and looked up an hour and a half and 2k words later.

          Giving it a try but not pushing yourself if you can’t get into the flow sounds like a pretty sensible idea.

  7. When I feel that writing is getting hard, I kick myself in the behind and write. Lol I don’t always want to cook, but I won’t let myself starve. Same principle, I guess.lol
    More seriously, the pomodoro method is nice to make sure you’re productive. Starting is the hardest, then words flow.
    Everyone’s different, but it’s important to remain passionate about what you’re writing. Patience and discipline can come in handy too lol πŸ™‚

  8. Oh, good post, Alecia. I’ve never had writer’s block. I attribute it partly to writing from an outline – I always know (sort of) what has to happen next, and I can write it even if I don’t feel motivated or it’s coming out like crap. So writer’s block, for me, is beat by sheer determination and discipline. Unless it’s a physical block – carpal tunnel or broken fingers or a migraine, I will write. I can imagine that writer’s block is more common with pantsers.

    1. Thank you! That’s a fascinating hypothesis you have that writer’s block is more common with pantsers. I think I’m going to have to run a Twitter poll on it. It makes logical sense to me that you’re more likely to get stuck if you have less of an idea where you’re headed. Let’s see what the numbers say. πŸ™‚

  9. Great post! Writer’s block is my favorite of all writing topics! πŸ˜€ It’s so fascinating to see how other writers deal with it, and I’m actually surprised how many here don’t seem to have experienced a block.

    The Block is by far my biggest writing problem and I’m in constant search of new methods to keep it at bay. I used to get blocked a lot. My longest continuous writer’s block lasted from 2010 to 2015, during which I was convinced I would never do any creative writing again. I felt like a failure and it was awful.

    I never lacked story ideas. I think what I’m chronically short on is confidence in those ideas. Also, I used to try to write perfect first drafts, which was just a really bad idea. I hardly ever made it further than a couple of chapters. Once I managed to accept the fact that it’s okay for the first draft to resemble a rolling garbage fire, I finally started getting complete stories down.

    I have a pretty good anti-block arsenal these days and I never want to get blocked again. XD

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Five years is a really long time to feel blocked – I’m so glad you developed techniques to overcome it. I wonder how much of writer’s block (or what people suffering from it call writer’s block) is amenable to such techniques. Other than accepting that your first draft can be terrible, is there anything in particular that’s helped you?

      1. I think my writer’s blocks were caused by the wrong writing technique combined with perfectionism and low confidence. It took me a long time and a lot of reading about writer’s block to realize this. Identifying the reason why I was getting blocked helped me to find methods to overcome it, so I think the biggest help was really understanding what’s causing the block.

        I’m still terrified that I’ll end up in a state where I can’t write, but I’m pretty sure it won’t happen again. πŸ™‚

        1. I can see how perfectionism plus low confidence would make it really hard to write. But it sounds like you’ve addressed the actual problem, so I reckon you’re unlikely to get stuck like that again.

  10. Of course there is writer’s block. There is also exercise block, laundry block, weeding-the-garden block, account-balancing block, and taking-out-the-trash block. All necessary and important activities, but ones I often don’t feel like doing. But neither do I want to live with the result of not doing them. Writing, although I like to give it airs (and by extension myself) is much the same.

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