The Three Most Obvious (and Fixable) Reasons You Suffer From Writer’s Block
And the simple ways to overcome it.
Writer’s block is what happens when you open a faucet and nothing comes out. You look up to the sky and you can’t see any stars. Your muse has left you, possibly forever, and you don’t know how to get her back.
In other words, writer’s block is when you want to put down words to make a story, the way you’ve done countless times before, but for some reason, today you can’t.
There are many articles devoted to overcoming writer’s block, but I’m a firm believer that when your brain communicates with you, it pays to listen and try to treat the cause rather than the symptoms. To that end, I’ve put together the three most common reasons for Writer’s Block, and their surprisingly simple solutions.
1. You’re tired.
Have you ever seen that pyramid of needs? If you look closely, way down at the bottom are the essentials: eating food. Being hydrating. Getting enough sleep.
Notice what’s way at the top? Creativity, spontaneity, problem solving.
What the pyramid means is that most people worry first about getting shelter before they can get real satisfaction from having a creative outlet.
Of course there will be exceptions, but for the most part, we find it easier to be creative when we’re healthy, happy, and well-rested. They can overlap, but to paraphrase Maslow, father of that pyramid up there, “The lower levels may take precedence back over the other levels at any point in time.”
I’m a prolific writer, personally, and I don’t tend to have problems coming up with ideas or getting my thoughts down on the proverbial paper. I am lucky enough to love writing. So naturally, I was shocked when one day I sat down at my computer, opened a draft, and stared at a blank page. The words came out much more slowly than normal, with a much greater struggle.
It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t effortless. It sucked.
I worried: did this mean I’d failed at writing? Was this because I wasn’t a real author? How could I avoid it?
Then I thought about it. The past week or so, I’d been not eating well, not getting nearly enough sleep, and was feeling under the weather. I did a bit of research, and to nobody’s surprise, it turned out that sleep inspired insight, and lack of sleep was directly linked to a drop in creativity.
I realize that many people will have much more trouble fixing this than me — parents, people with work obligations, and so on. But for a lot of other people and me, it just means we need to prioritize a decent bedtime. I reduced my evening screentime, started getting into bed earlier, and gave myself an extra fifteen minutes the following morning.
2. You’re out of new ideas.
This was a big worry of mine when I first started out: what if I run out of ideas?
And to be honest, it’s happened to me since. I’ll feel like I’ll never find anything as good or as gripping as something I’ve written about in the past, that all my good engagement is behind me. I start to think that all my good ideas have been had. No originality can ever come from me ever again.
Then, of course, I pull my head out of the sand and realize that practically nothing is original. That’s not where the value comes from, anyway. When you have a personal take on something that’s been done before, that’s what other people will be more interested in.
You run out of ideas because you run out of inspiration. And you run out of inspiration because you stop looking for it.
Sometimes you get so caught up in writing that you forget the most important thing for good writing is to consume the writing of others. It doesn’t matter if it’s a classic novel, a Twitter thread, another blog post, or just a meme. Other people’s content will give you new, fresh ideas. It will spark interesting thoughts and concepts in you, which will in turn give you new ideas on what to write about.
The takeaway here is to continue to absorb ideas from others, and you’ll never run out of ideas yourself.
3. You want to stop writing.
This is the scariest form of writer’s block I’ve ever dealt with, and it had the most frightening solution.
You might be burned out of writing.
For whatever reason, you’re suffering from writer’s block because you just don’t want to write anymore.
Not forever, but temporarily. You’re out of passion, verve, spark. Writing no longer brings you joy. No matter how many interesting ideas com your way, no matter how well-rested you are, you just can’t bring yourself to create a story. Your muse is gone.
And if you want to make sure she comes back, that it is just a temprary condition, you can’t keep forcing yourself to write through this kind of a block. The truth is there’s just one possible solution.
Your mind is telling you to stop. If you’ve addressed all the other potential causes, the last one to consider is that you simply need a break from writing.
The only thing you can do is give yourself time and space to remember why you love writing. Maybe it takes a day off, maybe it’s a week off, maybe a month. And you have to just hope and trust that with a bit of a break, that joy will come back.
I’ve seen arguments saying that writer’s block doesn’t exist; I’ve seen others saying it does. I’ve seen endless listicles for generating ideas when you’re clean out, or forcing yourself to put words on a blank page when you feel you can’t possibly.
What I haven’t seen a lot of is the acknowledgement that writer’s block isn’t some mysterious affliction. It’s not a vague malady that strikes you from above. No, like any other problem mental or physical, it has a reason. A cause. And when you pinpoint that, you can address it.
Whether the answer is just getting more sleep, consuming more content, or just walking away from writing for a bit, once you’ve identified the likely cause, you can come up with a solution and keep writing.