‘The condition of being unable to create a piece of written work because something in your mind prevents you from doing it.’ (Cambridge Dictionary)
‘The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.’ (Oxford Dictionary)
‘A usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.’ (Dictionary.com)
‘A psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.’ (Merriam-Webster)
Note: Though, especially in view of the designated purpose for this website and associated blog, the following is primarily aimed at authors, what is shared may, and does, apply to other forms of writing. Some aspects may also be applied to other, non-writing, situations.
Though there may be similarities between people, each is essentially unique and different. Consequently, the following list of suggested causes will not cover everyone’s experience. These are simply some generally heard of ‘inferred’ causes and are in no particular order or preference.
- Creative problem within the work itself: Plot; Chronology; Character; Progression.
- Inspiration: Lacking or temporarily missing.
- Distractions: General life; Employment; Family; etc.
- Health: Poor; Illness (temporary or long term); Pain; etc.
- Relationship breakdown.
- Depression: Includes having a sense of failure for some reason.
- Fear: Work will not live up to expectations; Of criticism; etc.
- Stress: Financial; Emotional; Relationship; etc.
- Tiredness: Includes over activity (everyone needs a rest period).
- Intimidated by previous success: Worried new work will not achieve same standard.
- Pressure to produce: Deadline; Unfamiliar genre; Writing to please someone else; etc.
- Perfectionism: Wanting everything perfect in mind before actual writing.
- Impatience: Wanting to get work published quickly.
- Blank Page Syndrome: Staring at blank page/screen with no idea of what to write.
Again, it is not possible to provide a comprehensive list. Nevertheless, these suggestions are based upon solutions many have found helpful. Again, not in any particular order or preference.
- Free writing: Simply writing whatever comes to mind, whether it appears to make sense or not. This has proven to be one of the most helpful for many. In this writer’s experience, when returning to the writing a day or two later, what appeared to make no sense may frequently prove to be usable.
- Step away: Break the routine.
- Do something Else creative: Paint; Blog; Website design; Do-It-Yourself; etc.
- Brainstorm: Ideas; Plots; Character Development; World Building; etc. On own or with others.
- Set realistic goals: Authors can be unrealistic about how much they wish to write within a given time period. N.B. This does not imply failure, just a more factual appreciation of what they are able, physically and mentally, to produce.
- Exercise: May be gentle (a walk, light workout, etc.) or more aggressive (running, football, etc.). All down to the individual. Gets the blood flowing; helps the brain.
- Read: Preferably books in another genre to that in which the author writes. Rests the mind and enables fresh ideas to enter.
- Write alternatives: When cannot decide best way to present situation/action. One will usually stand out.
- Keep notebook: Enables ideas; phrases; etc. to be recorded whenever they occur. Normally, helps release the ‘block’.
- Abandon chronology: Approach work sideways i.e. write a later scene/chapter. Helps where there has been a ‘flow’ problem or just a simple hang-up.
- Schedule writing time: Discipline to write and not to do anything else within the given period. May sound counterproductive but can in fact cause a release; does take self-discipline.
- Night writing: Write something before going to sleep; brain will undoubtedly work on it during night.
- Morning: Write straight after waking; brain is freshest and unburdened with other matters.
- Forethought: Have some concept of what the work is about before setting out (avoids Blank Page Syndrome).
Does Writer’s Block Really Exist?
Arguments about this often arise in social media discussions and elsewhere. Whatever a person’s view point, it cannot be denied authors and writers in general do occasionally incur periods when they have some sort of mind blockage. This could simply be due to something as simple as tiredness but whatever it is, it is real to the person concerned.
How this ‘blockage’ is defined may have its own impact. Some will argue it is a ‘psychological’ condition others it is not. One piece of advice seen (unable to recall where or by whom) is that simply naming the matter as ‘Writer’s Block’ can aggravate the impact. In truth, they suggest, it is simply a ‘situation’ and not a ‘condition’. Makes a lot of sense as for most it is a passing issue. For those where it is longer term, there is probably something more underlying the problem.
Steven King also has a valid argument. The following is not a verbatim quote but more of an explanation of his statement: A truck driver does not wake up one morning ‘feeling’ they do not want to drive that day and so remains home. No matter how they ‘feel’ they get up, go to work, and drive wherever. And, guess what, they fulfil their employer’s expectations; they reach their destination and deliver, or collect, whatever they were meant to. Same for authors: no matter how they feel they should be getting up and ‘getting on with it.’. Just imagine if everyone who woke up not ‘feeling’ like going into work did not. The point is valid and, as indicated by the truck driver synonym, results in the task being ultimately achieved. True, the examples are of physical actions, which tend to be easier no matter the ‘feelings’. Nevertheless, self-discipline and perseverance pay off. In practice it is no different for an author.
Whenever such a situation is encountered it is unlikely the sufferer will be able to overcome it by:
- Refraining from writing until ‘inspiration’ arises.
- Making excuses.
- Watching television.
- Any ‘head-in-the-sand’ activity.
Whatever label is applied, there are times when an author, writer or whoever, will more than likely encounter some sort of blockage.
In most instances these should be recognised as being temporary. Generally, they are not a psychological problem or condition; they are simply temporary situations and should be seen as such.
It is possible to take action to defeat the feeling which, in most cases, is all it is.
The ‘sufferer’ needs to be proactive rather than a dormant acceptor. Nothing has ever been accomplished by simply giving in with a ‘I’ll never achieve anything’ attitude. The creative muse and ability is always present, no matter how well hidden it may become. Mining by the exercise of self-disciple and perseverance will ultimately result in something: usually quite good.
With respect to the fear of criticism. Whenever has someone’s thought/opinion actually changed who a person is? Answer should be never. Everyone IS unique and everyone has something to give. Allow and enable that unique creativity to flow.