The Six Emotional Pitfalls That Form Writers Block

Writers block is not just a failure of discipline or will, but an accumulation of feelings. Writers tackle tough emotions and insecurities when they write. These strong feelings can overtake writing time and, unless writers find ways to handle them, the six emotional pitfalls — doubt, shame, yearning, fear, judgement and arrogance — can sabotage the work.

The emotional distractions present themselves as mechanical ones. Writers set unrealistic goals, underestimate the time tasks take, and fail to account for how their jobs, their houses, their relationships, and the many machines and pets for which they were responsible competed with the commitment to write. In Finishing School: The Happy Ending To That Writing Project You Can’t Seem To Get Done (Penguin/Tarcher/Perigree January 2017) Cary Tennis and I explore these the six emotional pitfalls that keep you from finishing your work.

DOUBT — I can’t do this. I’m a terrible writer. No, I’m a good writer, better than most people I know, but I’ll never be like Flannery O’Connor. My ideas are not that original. I’ll never finish, so why go on?

SHAME — I’m a loser. I never finish anything and now I’m not going to finish this. I’m ashamed to even look at the writing I did two years ago. Where did I get the idea that anyone would want to read my stupid words?

YEARNING — This has to be perfect and good enough to make me famous. I’m going to write something beautiful and perfect, and everyone will know that I am perfect too. I cannot make a single mistake. And unless every sentence is perfect, it’s not worth doing.

FEAR — If I do finish, it will be a failure. Getting rejected will be so humiliating that it’s better not even to try. If I never finish, at least I’ve never failed.

JUDGMENT — My writing sucks. I’m scared to let other people read it because I don’t want to be discovered as the mediocre person I know myself to be. If I finish, I’ll be banned from family gatherings because of the things I wrote. The idea of sending my work out to agents, makes me sick to my stomach.

ARROGANCE — I don’t need any help to get things done. I just do it. That’s what I do. I get so annoyed by writers’ groups, those losers. None of them has ever published anything. My pain is so much more exquisite than the pain of losers. I am not a loser and I do not want their unexceptional support.

How can identifying these be useful to you? Creative people need a way to speak about these without fear.

All writers who have written about the difficulty of writing cite these emotions, be they famous and successful, or people writing just for themselves. These emotions are real. They reflect the seriousness with which you take on the task, but they are not a verdict. They are, like all emotions, something that comes and passes. If you have a way to discuss them, you may find the process of recognizing and releasing them easier, and because of that, you will get back to work.