What Causes Writer’s Block?

Many writers have trudged along on their journeys believing Writer’s Block was this menace that attacked out of nowhere and could not be defeated. For many, it has become a joke. But for some, it’s a nightmare that has no obvious end.

Upfront, I’m going to admit to those who don’t already know — and remind those of you who already do — that I do not like the term “Writer’s Block.” At least, not when it’s used as an excuse for not pushing yourself just a little harder to get your work done.

It’s the “I’m not doing to write today because I have Writer’s Block” mindset I have a problem with. It’s not that I don’t believe writers get stuck. It happens to me, too. Sometimes.

But I do realize that many writers have trudged along on their journeys believing Writer’s Block was this menace that attacked out of nowhere and could not be defeated. For many, it has become a joke. But for some, it’s a nightmare that has no obvious end.

So I’m here to break down reasons why sitting down and writing is hard sometimes. Looking at this logically, it’s not as scary as it seems. You might feel blocked because:

  • You have no real interest or emotional investment in the topic. Not all great ideas “fit” into your realm of interest or expertise. Yes, you can do research, yes, you can gain enough knowledge on a topic to then put a creative spin on it. But a lot of writers don’t “want” to do that. They feel blocked because they find themselves biting off more than they can chew, so to speak. I completely understand why this can make you feel stuck. There are times “writing what you know” is the easiest way to do it. Some aren’t prepared or willing to take on a greater challenge and “freeze up” when they try.
  • You’re trying to be perfect or “one-up” yourself or someone else. The “I’ll never write anything as good as x” mindset probably prevents 90-95% of aspiring writers from actually finishing what they start — or starting anything at all. Here’s the deal: You are not perfect, and nothing you write will ever be. That’s OK. It’s normal. In fact, it’s expected. Even agents who review manuscripts don’t expect your work to be flawless. They just need you to prove you can tell a good story and get it as close to perfect as possible … after many revisions. All first drafts suck. Let’s be honest about that.
  • You’re afraid to get creative. Sometimes an idea pops into your head that just makes you think, “What? No! That’s too far, too crazy, too weird, I can’t write that.” Guess what? You totally can! Fear is one of a writer’s greatest enemies. I know because I’ve battled it, too — and still do more often than I’d like to admit. But it can stop you from writing what you know in your heart is the thing you’re supposed to be writing. My advice? Just go for it. What’s the worst that could happen?
  • You don’t work well under pressure. This is not me — I procrastinate specifically because I do my best work at the last minute. But there are plenty of people out there who do not work well under pressure. At all. This could be why you’re struggling. You may not thrive in an environment that keeps tight deadlines or assigns tasks last-minute. That’s OK. Try not to let yourself break under that pressure. Break assignments into smaller segments and do your best.
  • You’re mentally/emotionally unable to commit. Some people deal with so much drama in their day-to-day lives that writing simply becomes impossible for them. Work drama, romance, long-distance friendships — whatever’s going on in your life, it’s probably distracting you from your work even when you don’t realize it. You’re putting so much energy into everything else that you don’t have much or any left for writing. How do you fix this? You figure out how to make a little room for writing and you make sure you’re giving that as much attention as you think it deserves. Even if that means writing about what’s bothering you at the moment. It still counts.

Other possible causes might include distractions (you think you’re “blocked,” but really you’d just rather be doing something else) and a lack of time management (only giving yourself a small window of time to do something and “coming up blank” because of the pressure).

Does Writer’s Block exist? Yeah, I guess so (she says begrudgingly as she checks the search volume of this keyword phrase). But just because it’s a thing doesn’t mean you have to give in to it all the time. Sometimes you don’t feel like writing. Guess what fixes that problem? WRITING ANYWAY. Honestly, sometimes I just start writing whatever comes to mind and it turns into something semi-decent. It’s like a very rough start to a rough rough rough draft. Go for it. See what happens.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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5 thoughts on “What Causes Writer’s Block?

  1. So I’ve been following your blog for over a year now. I use it to inspire me to write and it has became an important part of my writing routine. But I’m just wondering about something. Are you not doing NaNoWriMo this year? If you’re not doing it this year, is it too presumptuous to ask you why? I know that it’s really none of my business.

  2. I appreciate your discussion about not having to be perfect when one writes. Completing that first draft is refreshing, then I have an opportunity to add to my writing and give it more personality.

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