Monday, September 1, 2014

Is it writer's block... or something else?

I've suffered from? with? writer's block since March. I have a "to do" list of stories to write, as well as work on my second novel. However, every time I sat down to my computer and opened a blank document, my mind went blank and remained that way until I gave up, shut down my laptop and walked away, silently berating myself about my lack of motivation or downright laziness (depending upon what day it was). 

I know I'm not the only one afflicted with writer's block. People have written about this affliction for centuries, which made me wonder what causes it? I took to Google to find out. Maybe by researching and writing about this, I might find some way to break through my inability to create, and maybe even help someone else along the way.

Here we go.

According to the Random House Dictionary, "writer's block" is defined as "a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play or other work." The website "" says "the expression 'writer's block' was coined and popularized by American psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler in the 1940's"

So, we know the meaning and apparent origin of the phrase "writer's block;" now, on to what may cause it. Google has more than ten pages of links containing possible explanations, as well as ways to overcome it. I decided to begin with a post on Yale University's website. As I read the post, I realized this pertained to the writing of term papers. You can read all of the tips by clicking on the link, however, two causes and solutions caught my eye:


  • You're anxious about writing your paper


  • Focus your energy by rehearsing the task in your head
  • Consciously stop the non-productive comments running through your head by replacing them with productive ones
  • If you have some "rituals" for writing success (listening to classical music, etc.), use them


  • You are so stressed out, you can't seem to put a wordon the page


  • Stretch! Stretch as many muscle groups as possible
  • Breathe deeply. Close your eyes; fill your chest cavity slowly by taking four or five short deep breaths. Hold each breath until it hurts, and then let it out slowly
  • Use a calming word or mental image to focus on while relaxing. If you choose a word, be careful not to use an imperative. Don't command yourself to "Relax!" or "Calm Down!"

The University of Illinois at Urbana offers a broader explanation of possible causes and tips to overcome writer's block. The article also illustrates "Weak strategies for dealing with writer's block," and offers more effective ways to get back on track. The bullet points are below - click on the link above to read the complete article.

Here are the "weak" strategies:

  • Using trial and error
  • Insisting on a "perfect" draft
  • Waiting for inspiration
  • Using words looking for an idea

Here are the "strong" strategies:

  • Taking notes
  • Freewriting/Brainstorming
  • Piecework
  • "What I Really Mean Is" (WIRMI)
  • "Satisficing" (satisfy + suffice)

A website called "io9" offers this ambitious headline: "The 10 Types of Writer's Block (and How to Overcome Them." Here's the list. To read each explanation, read the story by clicking on the title.

  1. You can't come up with an idea
  2. You have a ton of ideas but can't commit to any of them, and they all peter out
  3. You have an outline but can't get through this one part of it
  4. You're stuck in the middle and have no idea what happens next
  5. You have a terrible feeling your story took a wrong turn a hundred pages back and you only just hit a dead end
  6. You're bored with all these characters, they won't do anything
  7. You keep imagining all the reasons people are going to say "your story sucks," and it paralyzes you
  8. You can't think of the right words for what you're trying to convey in this one paragraph
  9. You had this incredibly cool story in your head, and now you're turning it into words on your screen and it's suddenly dumb
  10. You're revising your work, and you can't see your way past all those blocks of text you already wrote

Then, there are others who believe "writer's block" doesn't exist or is a poor excuse for some other, underlying problem. At the website "Writing World," David Taylor starts out claiming he doesn't believe in writer's block, then goes on to describe what looks suspiciously like possible causes for writer's block and suggestions as to how to overcome them.

So far, I haven't found anything to help overcome my particular brand of "writer's block," real or imagined. So... maybe there's another type of malaise plaguing my creative mind. If there's a bright spot in all this, I guess by researching this topic and posting the results, I've technically written something.

Perhaps all is not lost, after all. I'll leave you with these wise words by the extremely prolific Stephen King: