Responding to The Well-Red Mage’s Asking Big Questions Prompt 3: How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?

What’s the deal with writer’s block and how do people overcome it? That’s the question that the Well-Red Mage is asking for Asking Big Questions #3. I enjoyed reading the six tips on overcoming Writer’s Block, along with everyone’s suggestions in the comments. Everyone has had some great advice on this topic. It is a well-timed question, as The Shameful Narcissist points out, considering that NaNoWriMo is coming to a close as we speak.

When I was in high school, I firmly believed in writer’s block. It was an invisible nemesis that stunted productivity and killed fun writing ideas before they got out the door. In college, I came across a piece of writing advice that boldly stated that writer’s block was a myth. I was outraged. How dare they belittle the experiences of so many writers? Who did that person think they were? Did they think they were better than everyone else?

After giving it a good, long thought over the years, I have decided that I agree with that now unknown-to-me writer. There is no such thing as writer’s block. There is, however, such a thing as the idea of writer’s block, and ideas are very powerful.

The idea of having writer’s block is more powerful in preventing writers from getting their words out than any affliction. I came to realize that I often fell back on this idea whenever I felt stuck . Anytime that I couldn’t get the words out and felt defeated or despondent, I could shrug it off by saying that I had Writer’s Block. I wasn’t wrong, but I didn’t realize that falling back on this idea of writer’s block allowed me to avoid asking myself what was going wrong so that I could do something about it.

After realizing what writer’s block was, I became determined to find ways around it. The Well-Red Mage’s list of solutions largely covers some of the best strategies (especially number 1, about getting out and doing some exercise. Stepping away from your project to clear your head allows unconscious parts of your brain to work on the problem. Surprisingly, this is a helpful idea when you’re struggling with other tasks too, such as studying). I do, however, have two items to add to the list of advice on how to overcome Writer’s Block.

First, I recommend just allowing yourself to do a writing-dump. Simply freewrite. Let everything that comes to mind out onto the page unrestricted and unjudged. The rule with this method is that there is no editing and no self-censuring allowed (you’ll get to edit later). Don’t worry about grammar, about something being stupid or unrelated, or about formatting. Don’t worry if it is a huge mess. Just let your brain take control and write whatever it wants. In the end, you might not keep everything that you wrote down during the dump. You might not even keep half of it, but it will leave you with a starting point, and might even clear away or improve some of the ideas you were not sure about before.

The second suggestion is more of a question for yourself. When you’re stuck and can’t put a single word down, ask yourself, is this really what I wanted to write? Sometimes the reason that we are stuck and unable to write something down is because what we are trying to write isn’t what we actually want to write. Now, I’m not suggesting that you should never write about things that aren’t interesting to you. Many times, we have to tackle topics we don’t care about for various reasons that we can’t avoid, and I’m not advocating shirking these situations. What you’re really asking is, is this how I want to say it? What is it that you want to say? Combining this question with any other strategy for overcoming Writer’s Block (including a writing-dump) is a great way to overcome that block.

When it comes to overcoming writer’s block, there are few wrong strategies. What matters is finding something that works for you. Don’t worry if the method that worked for you last time doesn’t seem to be working this time either. Sometimes different situations call for trying out different strategies. If you’re looking for other strategies, check out the original post to see what The Well-Red Mage has to say on the topic, and consider checking out the comments while you’re there. Who knows, maybe someone else will have shared a strategy that will work well for you.

10 thoughts on “Responding to The Well-Red Mage’s Asking Big Questions Prompt 3: How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I wonder if we read the same piece in high school? The ontology of writer’s block and whether it even exists is interesting to me and I think that the term “writer’s block” is only helpful as a phrase we can all relate with in general terms, though the actual experiences vary. My own seems to come and go rather quickly but frequently compared to other writers, but essentially the phrase, I’d agree, doesn’t denote some actual malevolent, metaphysical state that writers mystically enter. Further, it certainly can become a safe zone, a crutch to fall back on. I think Shameful Narcissist’s comment touches on this when she mentioned that her obstruction came about because of preparatory issues. That’s something objective, with an objective outcome and solution so I think that’s vaguely what we generally understand writer’s block to be but it can be overcome in a very specific way.

    I really appreciate your twin pieces of advice! I’ve never been capable of the first one. I can’t ever seem to turn off the analytical side that wants to constantly fix things and reorganize, but on occasion this state of “flow” just seems to happen to me naturally, without warning.

    I definitely dig asking oneself “is this how I want to say it?” That’s a great distinction to make. I wish I’d been clever enough to touch on that difference in my original post! I think that yes we can’t allow ourselves to shirk our duties but at the same time we can ask if our approach must change.

    What seems most fascinating about the writing craft is how different it is for everyone. I read once about how different authors write, the kinds of environments they needed, and setups they used. Some like the noise of music or chatter. Others need absolute silence. I personally can’t have anything going on around me (tough with young kids) but I know plenty of writers who can write to pop music or rap. Weird!

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    1. I’m glad your writer’s block goes away pretty quickly. I used to have huge lengths of time where it was a problem, but haven’t had as much trouble with it once I started thinking of it as a momentary frustration rather than an unexplainable problem. The sheer number of things that can cause writer’s block is amazing to me. It’s why there’s no magic formula for getting past it. That’s why I liked your list– it offers many different strategies to use.

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      1. Block, momentary lapse, lack of planning, lack of enthusiasm… haha whatever it is, sometimes I’ll have it for a day or for a few hours and then it’ll be gone. I got into blogging in order to train myself to write more and write faster so maybe it’s working? I don’t know. I didn’t take good notes on my blockings when I did other writing. Since we’re talking about the sheer number of things that can cause writer’s block, someone else left a link about it always being the cause of a lack of planning, black and white. What are your thoughts on that? I think that’s huge but I think that’s more crucial depending on the type of writing being done. Sorry if that plows over already trod ground. I have a hard time keeping up with who said what sometimes 😀

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        1. It’s an interesting proposition, for sure. I feel like it makes sense that for some people (and certain types of writing, as you mentioned), a lack of planning may very well be the primary (or maybe only, in some cases) cause of writer’s block. I agree with you that it isn’t such a black and white explanation, though. I’ve experienced many instances where an abundance of planning was the real problem because the planning made the task feel overwhelming (quite possibly because the planned content wasn’t really what I wanted to say on the topic). Other times, though, under planning was part of the problem.

          I’m really enjoying seeing what others are saying about writer’s block. It’s very interesting.

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          1. I’ve had that experience with outlining fiction and I know a few friends who have known the same. Sometimes the outlining itself can face a kind of blockage, whatever that actually is, and then is it a case of not enough planning for the planning? But at what point can something be boiled down to be irreducibly complex? It is an interesting conversation and thank you for being a part of it. 🙂

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it (and if you get a chance, I recommend checking out the original; there are many great pieces of writer’s block advice taking place in the comments). If you ever get stuck, try free-writing and see what you think of it. It can be a helpful experience. If I’m especially stuck, I’ll free-write by hand with a felt pen because it makes everything feel even less formal for me (my handwriting is really bad and my spelling isn’t much better, which adds a huge rough draft feeling).

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