Writer's Block

Writer's block is the most common problem faced my writers. Virtually all writers will experience it at some time or other and every one of them will eventually overcome it. This is easy to say while not caught in its clutches. When experiencing writer's block, it's difficult to see a way out.

The purpose of this page is to let those experiencing writer's block know you aren't alone and that it does go away. And I want to give you some resources which may help you get over it more quickly.


What is writer's block?
What causes it?
What do I do about it?
Additional Resources

What is writer's block?

You sit down in front of the computer, ready to get to work on your novel. You open a blank document, put your fingers on the keyboard, and completely freeze up. You cannot think of anything to write, even though you may have had a bunch of great ideas just a few hours earlier. Your mind is as blank as the screen in front of you and you start to wonder if you will ever be able to write again. This is writer's block and it happens to virtually all writers at some point. It may last a few hours or it may last a few months and during that time, you will probably question your ability to write. You may also begin to avoid writing altogether. The longer writer's block continues and the more stress it causes, the harder it is to overcome.

What causes it?

Probably the most common cause of writer's block is fear of failure. You are afraid that what you write won't be good enough so you avoid writing at all. You expect everything you write to be perfect but you cannot live up to these ideals so you quit trying. You can prevent this from happening by accepting one simple thing: Everything you write is not going to be, nor should it be, perfect. For every good paragraph you write, ten others may be terrible and that is perfectly normal. The first draft of anything should be less than perfect. That's what editing and rewriting are for. By focusing on your writing instead of the finished product, you can avoid getting caught up in the quest for perfection.

Another cause is pushing yourself to do too much in too short of a time. Maybe you heard that your favorite author writes 1000 words per day or all your friends are entering writing contests and churning out story after story. You consider these people successful and adopt their writing habits in the hopes that you too will be a success. Unfortunately, it can cause the opposite effect. Setting unreasonable goals for yourself which you cannot meet will only discourage you and contribute to writer's block. If you get overwhelmed, you will have a difficult time writing at all. If you wish to set goals for yourself, make sure they are reasonable. If you can only write for 10 minutes, three times per day, that is OK. Forget what everyone else is doing, develop a schedule that works for you.

Sometimes, it is necessary to write what we have to write, not what we want to write. We may really want to write fiction but for economic reasons, must write articles for various magazines. There is nothing wrong with writing purely for profit, as long as it doesn't start to affect your desire to write. If you think that your dislike of your current assignments may be contributing to your writer's block, put them aside and write something you enjoy. Work on a piece you haven't had time for in a while or start something new. It doesn't even have to have a true plot, you can write about what you did over the summer. Whenever you get bogged down with boring writing assignments, don't forget to take some time now and then to do the kind of writing you love.

If instead of having trouble thinking of ideas in general, your writer's block is focused on one particular work, you may need to put it aside for a while and come back to it later. Occasionally, the cause of this problem is that you have worked so hard on a piece, it's importance has become exaggerated in your mind. You fear that it cannot possibly live up to your expectations and you can't think of any ideas which are "good enough." Put it aside, remember the first draft does not have to be perfect, and work on something else for a while. When you return to this work, if you still freeze up, it might be the work itself

You may have become bored with your central characters or do not have enough suspense or conflict within your plot. Maybe you paced the story too fast and you ran out of plot twists before the ending. Or worst of all, maybe you have lost interest in your story. Look over what you've written and see if you can determine any problems which might have caused your block. If this is the case, simply fixing the relevant aspect of the story should help you get un-blocked.

What do I do about it?

The best way to overcome writer's block is to figure out what is causing it and solve that problem. If you are unable to determine the source of your writer's block, there are several other things you can do to overcome it and jump start your writing. The most obvious method is to force yourself to write. I don't mean to necessarily work on a real project, just free associate, write about a past event, or even write about having writer's block. You may also want to start keeping a journal or a dream diary to keep yourself in the habit of writing every day. Or try some writing exercises. Sometimes the act of writing, even if you aren't writing anything meaningful, is enough to get the ideas flowing again.

If you cannot make yourself write, take a break. It can be a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. Before you begin, set a date and time at which you will start writing again. During that time, do not write or worry about not being able to return to writing. Read books, do things you enjoy, focus on other things in your life. You might find that you return to writing with a fresh perspective and that your writer's block has disappeared.

When you are unable to even think of an idea to write about, instead of staring at a black page, do things which may spark new ideas. Go to the park, the mall, or another public place and people watch. Take a notebook and write down your observations as well as anything else that comes to mind. When you see a person or family that interests you, imagine what their "story" is. Who are they? Why are they there? What kind of past do they have? You might trigger a character or story idea.

Another way to come up with character ideas is to buy a book or visit a website of baby names. Reading the meanings of names might spark an idea or you can pick a name at random and brainstorm with it. You may also want to read articles on story ideas or try an idea generator

The most important thing when experiencing writer's block is to relax. Remember, you are not alone and you will get past it. If you get uptight about it, it will get worse. Try some of the above suggestions, meditate, and/or talk with other writers to learn their experiences and strategies. Almost every writer gets writer's block, what's important is how you handle it. Don't let writer's block control you. Instead, take charge and overcome it. You *can* do it.

Additional Resources?

Articles on Motivation and Writer's Block

Procrastination and Goals
Self-Motivation for Writers
Seven Surefire Ways to Beat Writer's Block
Blocking Your Writer's Block
Deadlines and Writing
Eight Great Ways to Jump-start Your Writing
How to Vanquish Writer's Block
Writer's Block

Articles on Developing Story Ideas

*MINE* What in the World Will I Write About?
Where Do You Get Your Ideas - Part I
Where Do You Get Your Ideas - Part II

Places to find Writing Exercises

Write List Exercises and Selected Submissions
Mike Barker's Writer's Exercises
Tera's Wish
Creativity Challenge
Lisa's Writer's Block Exercises

Miscellaneous Resources

The Write Site Barnes and Noble Bookstore
Etymology of Names
Schenectady Steeple - Idea Generator
Character Generator