Why writer’s block is a figment of your imagination

How to take big leaps, overcome fatigue, & recover your creative spark

You hear a lot of talk about writer’s block — that moment when you sit down at the computer and the inspiration just isn’t there, and the fear gets the best of you. Here’s the thing: I don’t really believe in writer’s block.

Sure, writing is about inspiration, but it’s more about persistence. It’s about sitting down, putting your fingers on the keys, and pounding out the words. It’s normal to feel uninspired. When that happens, your job is to work at it, the way you’d work at any job, rather than waiting for some signal from the muse. You can’t experience writer’s block unless you allow it. If you simply write the words, no matter how dull they may seem in the moment, you are effectively beating back the imaginary monster we call writer’s block. Because it is imaginary. Unless someone is physically holding your hands behind your back so you can’t write, that monster is a figment of your imagination.

Will the words be brilliant every time? Of course not. Should you write them down anyway? Definitely. That’s how novels get written. That’s how anything gets written — whether it be a short story, a novel, a memoir, or a blog post.

Writer’s block vs. writer’s fatigue

While I refuse to let writer’s block be a part of my writing life, I have experienced my fair share of writer’s fatigue. It’s that sluggish feeling when you just don’t want to do the writing. Those days when you’d rather be doing anything else. Those days when the novel seems pointless or the outline isn’t working or the characters don’t feel real to you.

The Squegee-til-you-make-it principal

On those days, I think of my first “real” job (meaning my first non-babysitting job): Mountasia Fantasy Golf in Mobile, Alabama, when I was 15 years old. Did I like squeegee-ing the astroturf? No. Did I feel inspired to dip my hands into the freezer and scoop rock-hard ice cream out of the big bins for impatient customers? No. Did I ever tell my boss, “I’m blocked. I’m not going to do it”? Of course not. It was my job. No matter how uninspired I felt, no matter how boring it was, I got my ass out there and squeegee’d the astroturf. If I hadn’t, I would have been fired, and I would have had to go find another minimum wage job, one that didn’t involve free ice cream during the slow periods.

Be harder on yourself (really)

If you find yourself complaining of writer’s block, you need to be a little bit tougher on yourself. You need to say, “I may not want to write today, but I’m going to do it anyway.” And if you’re feeling fatigued, just know that it’s normal. You can give yourself a break from the project that’s getting you down and write a flash fiction or a short personal essay instead. Or a blog post. Anything. Just get down some words.

Need some tough love? Hire a writing coach!

I rely on deadlines from my publisher and conversations with my agent and editor to keep me on track. If you don’t have publisher deadlines, how do you stay motivated? A writing coach can help! A writing coach can help you move past the fatigue, the fear, and the procrastination, and basically get your butt in gear.

Need a writing coach? Work with me.

Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of five novels and two award-winning story collections, the founder of Ficiton Attic Press, and the creator of The Paperclip Method for Writers. She has taught in the MFA programs in creative writing at the University of San Francisco, California College of the Arts, and Bowling Green State University, and has taught novel writing for Stanford Continuing Studies. Michelle helps writers find their writing rhythm at BayAreaBookDoctor.com.

image courtesy of Joshua Earle via unsplash.