If you’re a writer you’ve certainly heard the term writer’s block because you’ve most likely used it as your excuse for not writing. That’s okay, I have too! Unfortunately, I tend to get extremely overwhelmed with the overflow of story ideas circulating my brain, that it’s easier to chalk up my procrastination to a serious case of writer’s block instead.
But I’m a natural overcomer. I’d much rather uncover the source of my problem and find a solution than to let it continue to drive a stake in my spokes. So, after some deep, intensive self-evaluation, I discovered that writer’s block wasn’t my issue, nor is it for any other writer. Instead, there’s some cause for your lack of productivity that needs addressing, and I’ve experienced all of these at some point in my life.
What is Writer’s Block?
Writer’s block is a term used to describe a condition writer’s experience when they have a lull in creativity. Writers often attribute their lack of productivity to this condition rather than a lack of commitment or writing skills.
Writer’s block supposedly causes the following symptoms:
- Difficulty coming up with original ideas
- Inability to complete writing projects
- Trouble staying focused at the computer or typewriter
- Hard time planting butt in chair
There’s quite a lengthy Wikipedia page about writer’s block and its origins throughout history, but all traces to the routes of the issue is always the same: The writer is struggling with something much deeper and more specific than this empty term.
Why Writer’s Block is a Myth
Depending on what kind of writer you are, it might be easier or much harder to realize that writer’s block is a figment of your imagination. I’ve found that nonfiction writers are far more likely to accept the idea that writer’s block is a myth because they tend to be more in touch with their feelings and internal beings—here’s looking at you poets! On the other hand, fiction writers often sit in a space of denial about this because they sometimes have many deep-seated hang-ups they’ve been avoiding for years! For example, I know that fiction acts as an escape from the darker, internal sides of me. In fact, I love fiction so much because it gives me a portal to another place.
It’s important to understand that writer’s block acts as another excuse not to write, only cloaked in a less threatening sheet called a condition. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, planting your butt in the chair, or following through with writing projects, you’ll need to spend time in self-evaluation to determine the deeper cause. Until you’ve worked out what’s truly hindering your creative process, you’ll struggle to move forward in your career.
5 Reasons You’re Having Trouble Writing
I’ve had the pleasure of workshopping with many different writers at all stages of experience, and the stumbling blocks that have kept them from writing have all been the same. Here’s the list that has plagued the writers I’ve met over the years, and even me!
1. You’re Battling Misconceptions About the Process
Don’t compare your draft to finished, published work! The writing field is competitive and everchanging, and it’s easy to get discouraged after a few revisions or rejection letters. Especially for young writers, it’s easy to look at some of the amazing literature out there and begin comparing your draft to them. If you’re a young writer or just getting started, you’ve probably felt a great deal of inadequacy when surrounded by more experienced writers.
Remember that every first few drafts are rough in the beginning stages of the writing process, even for established writers! It’s dangerous for any writer to compare a first, second, or even third draft to a published piece of writing that’s likely seen five to ten revisions already. Understand that you’ll get there as you continue to work on your piece. Every writer has an ugly first draft. It’s normal. It’s okay. Stop comparing.
It’s okay to use published work as your guide and inspiration for projects, but if they become a point of comparison and discouragement because you’re comparing your draft to them, take a break from looking at them for a few days as you write or revise your work.
2. You’re Not Reading Enough
If you’re having trouble writing or fleshing out ideas, it’s possible that you’re not reading enough books. Think of reading as writing in reverse! It’s an imperative part of the writing process. Imagine if you had to produce a feature film without ever having seen a movie or watched tv. While you shouldn’t compare your first drafts to published work, it’s important to learn tricks from the masters.
As a writer, part of your writing process should include reading at least 1 or 2 full books a month. You could even spend time reading a couple of essays or short stories in literary magazines online, taking note of the creative choices each author has made throughout, and saving them to try out in your writing later on.
It’s a good idea to mix it up between both fiction and nonfiction literature. Try reading books about craft, life, or personal development. This will stimulate the parts of you that crave learning and inspiration. Then, read something that imitates the kind of writing you hope to achieve. This will help you see quality writing in action, and it will push you to challenge yourself. Reading authors who write the kind of books you’re currently writing or hoping to write, will encourage you and prove that it’s possible.
3. You’re Treating Writing Like a Hobby
If you’re having trouble writing, it’s time to have a real talk with yourself. Do you want to make writing your career or do you simply enjoy it as a fun pastime? Either way is perfectly fine, but you need to know because creating a successful writing career is not easy. You’ll see many sleepless nights, rewrites, rejection letters, and criticism from friends along the way. Building your brand as an author is time-consuming, and it takes intentionality and persistence.
Have you ever tried to do three or five projects at once? How did that work out for you? You might have finished each project eventually, but you plugged away at each one a little bit at a time. However, if you focus on one project at a time, you’ve probably noticed that you’ve managed to make much more progress.
You win at what you focus on. It’s imperative to maintain laser focus and stay dedicated to the writing projects that mean the most to you. Don’t let your day job, family life, or anything else get in the way of completing that project. The same way you carve out time during the day for a meal, a workout, or house chores, you have to have a designated time for writing. Take your writing seriously as if it were a job you’re getting paid to do because you hopefully will get paid for it later down the line.
5 Tips to Make Writing a Commitment
- Set aside a time to write that stays the same every day.
- Try to get your writing done earlier in the day to minimize the chances of it getting pushed to the next day.
- Set daily word-count goals and always write at least a minimum number of words.
- Remove distractions like cell phones, TV, and even internet connectivity.
- Get your friends or family out of your writing space.
4. You’ve Got Your Audience in the Room
Maybe you have plenty of ideas and inspiration, but you’re still having trouble finishing writing projects. You’ve written the first few chapters of your novel, but you keep going back to revisit and revise them, unable to commit to a single direction for the story. I’ve been there—very recently, actually.
If this is you, stop and evaluate why you’re going back. For me, I discovered that every time I wanted to revise an unfinished project or change direction, I was considering my audience’s reaction to the finished product. I kept imagining what a potential agent or reader would think of each plot decision, and my misguided quest to please my future audience crippled my follow-through.
Get your audience out of the room! Your first few drafts are for you and no one else. Maybe you will uncover a need for a major plot adjustment, or perhaps you’ll have to remove or add a character. The point is that you won’t know for sure until you have at least a rough draft of the entire story. You need to get it out of you so that you can step away and then come back and review the entire piece as a whole. Doing this will help you pinpoint holes in the essay or story, and you can make the necessary adjustments at that point.
Stop feeling insecure about your writing. Stop worrying about what people might think. They aren’t going to read your first draft! Allow the process to be fun, challenging, and therapeutic as you write.
5. You Haven’t Planned Enough
Writers have debated for decades about whether or not outlines and character sheets are necessary to write a book. I’ve done a lot of research and I’ve tried writing both with and without prior planning. Which is better? Well, it all depends on your experience level and how your mind works.
There’s no right or wrong way when it comes to writing because there are so many different methods that have worked out successfully. However, studies have shown that writing things down increases your odds of making it happen. Sure, you can write a full book without prior planning, but you’re much more likely to run into hang-ups or have to rewrite large portions of the piece during the revision process.
In the same way you’d pre-plan a major project or event, you should also consider doing so for your book or essay. This doesn’t have to be an extensive scene-for-scene outline, but it’s a good idea to have at least a basic road map for the story—the main plot and subplots, for example. It’s also helpful to have the characters thought-out, along with some notes about their personalities and why they’re necessary for the story.
Getting these tough decisions jotted down ahead will save you a lot of time during your writing sessions. You won’t waste valuable minutes trying to think of what your characters should do next while you’re sitting in front of the computer. Instead, you’ll already know what’s going to happen and who’s involved, so you can simply enjoy writing out each scene. Trust me, it makes the writing part much more fun!
The next time you’re experiencing a lack of motivation, original ideas, or have trouble finishing a writing project, avoid labeling the situation with an empty term like writer’s block. Failure to step back and evaluate the deeper cause for your stunt in creative flow could result in delayed writing success or keep you from achieving it at all.
Your future audience can’t wait to read what’s in your head, so spend some time pinpointing which of these five stumbling blocks applies to you. Take the necessary steps to address what’s getting in your way, and then move forward! With these ideas in mind, the writing process is sure to become much smoother and more pleasurable.
Mel Beasley has a bachelor’s in creative writing and journalism from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He brings 9+ years of digital marketing and writing experience to the table by writing for publications such as Lumina News and Encore Magazine. He spent 2 years as a college-level writing tutor, and is a certified writing tutor through the CRLA, which is a prestigious cert recognized by the Association for the Coaching & Tutoring Profession. He is a professional SEO blogger with experience writing for brands such as Boardworks Education and The Greater Wilmington Business Journal. One of his latest website and marketing projects has been building the website for the now New York Times Bestselling author, Nina de Gramont.