How I Finally Obliterated My Three-Year Writer’s Block

Racing down the highway of creativity with no more obstacles on the road.

Paulo da Silva
Feb 18 · 8 min read
Close-up of car side mirror, racing down the road, sun in the foreground, fantasy-style lighting
Close-up of car side mirror, racing down the road, sun in the foreground, fantasy-style lighting
Photo licensed from Adobe Stock

Between 2013 and 2016 I published over a million words of fiction and wrote over thirty books. I received fan mail, garnered hundreds of five-star ratings and dozens of glowing reviews. I earned some money and was having a ball as a writer.

Then it all came crashing down.

The reasons for this were complex and involved. Part of it was that, despite my high wordage and good reviews, I felt like a failure as a writer. After writing so many books I really did expect to be living in a mansion in Malibu. Silly me.

Suddenly writing became hard. I mean, it became excruciatingly hard.

Not all the reviews were good, of course. There were plenty of bad ones, too. Those bad reviews ate away at me, some more than others.

And there were other reasons things got worse with my writing, too many to name here. But all that matters is this: Suddenly writing became hard. I mean, it became excruciatingly hard.

I started writing short stories in an effort to get my groove on as a writer again. Stephen King says in On Writing that that’s the way to do it — get some stories written, get them published. That’s how you make it big.

I really did need to make it big, so I took his advice.

But writing those short stories was exceedingly difficult. It would take me a month to churn out something decent. I was spending more time researching than writing. I would dig myself into a rabbit hole of facts that I couldn’t get out of.

Gone was the joy, the flippancy, the sense of confidence at the keyboard.

What I was writing wasn’t crap, you understand. Many of those short stories received very positive feedback from magazines. Two of them were even published, at professional rates.

But they were an agony to write.

Gone was the joy, the flippancy, the sense of confidence at the keyboard.

In my constant efforts to find out what the hell was wrong with me as a writer, I went back to novels again. I wrote a hundred-thousand-worder and then scrapped it completely because I had lost the plot so badly. I took that 100K story and rewrote it entirely so that it was now 80K.

Then I abandoned the whole thing.

I wrote a forty-thousand-worder — which might’ve amounted to something if I had just persisted — and abandoned that, too.

I just couldn’t get comfortable with anything I wrote. I struggled, I fought. I started to loathe writing. Hell, I even took up the piano because I thought it might be easier to learn to play a musical instrument from scratch than to write another decent word again!

Either I wrote at the pace of a snail, or I wrote at my usual, high-fire pace but ended up throwing it all away.

That’s writer’s block.

And it went on for three agonizing years.

For those of us who write best when we write fast, it feels almost like admitting you have an STI at a party. You just don’t talk about it in writing circles.

I’m a high-wordage guy. That’s the only way I know how to write. I’ve felt bad about this and kept it mostly to myself because fellow writers are quick to label you a hack. For those of us who write best when we write fast, it feels almost like admitting you have an STI at a party. You just don’t talk about it in writing circles.

Dickens wrote fast. He wrote like lightning, and he made a living from his writing. I’m not comparing myself to Dickens, I’m pointing out that speed has little to do with quality. Some artists like getting into a racing car, others prefer a leisurely walk, yet others enjoy taking a brisk run on the beach.

It’s art. It shouldn’t be hindered by rules.

I admire greatly any author who plots methodically, precisely, neatly, almost scientifically. I laud sincerely the author who outlines, makes notes, keeps character sketches, and knows their story even before they sit down in the chair. I’m not being ironic. I honestly consider these people akin to gods. I’m being utterly and completely sincere. If you are such a writer, I bow down to your skill.

Because I can’t do it. I’ve tried, but I just can’t.

And I don’t want to learn to do it, either — not anymore. Because when I try write that way, whatever I write comes out reading like crap.

There is no right or wrong way to write, there is only your way.

The first thing that started chipping away at my three-year block was understanding that there is no right or wrong way to write, there is only your way. If people put you down for writing that way, then keep it to yourself initially.

All that matters, in the end, is the stories, the text, the words which make people smile or laugh or cry. How you got there is nobody’s business.

That got me started on the road to obliterating my writer’s block, but what finally smashed it into tiny smithereens was something else entirely.

All that matters, in the end, is the stories, the text, the words which make people smile or laugh or cry. How you got there is nobody’s business.

What annihilated my writer’s block was this: I was trying to write in the completely wrong genre for me.

I became wise to this fact when I noticed that I constantly stopped myself while I was writing. I would write a sentence, then rewrite it, then think, “No, that wouldn’t fit for this genre,” and rewrite it again, on and on and on.

You see, I was trying to write stories aimed at a younger crowd because that gave me a wider market to send my short stories to for publication.

There is a dearth of markets to send short stories to these days. You just can’t make a living at it today like you could in the thirties. To make matters worse, several of those markets will not accept stories with profanity in them, or material aimed at adults.

Well, therein lay my problem: Because I write stories for adults.

It took me three years to figure out what genre I was most comfortable in. That’s a big step as a writer. It is a step you must take.

Let me rephrase that, I know now that I write stories for adults. I didn’t during my three-year block. It took me three years to figure out what genre I was most comfortable in. That’s a big step as a writer. It is a step you must take.

My stories contain adult topics, they contain the emotions felt by people over a certain age — a certain sense of failure mixed with a lingering taste of hope, a sharp eye to the lies of the world, an unavoidable tinge of cynicism.

And they contain the F-word.

I cannot write for hope-filled teens.

My stories contain these things because that’s where my fingers take me when I start hammering away at the keyboard. And when I let my fingers control the story and not my conscious mind, that’s when I write best.

There are few things that come close to the joy one feels when a story really gets going and you can hardly type fast enough to get it all down. It’s like hitting the highway at 100 mph with no one else on the road.

Well, imagine suddenly finding a ton of obstacles on that road with labels on them saying “Don’t use the F-word!” or “Don’t break this writing rule!” or “You always have to plot BEFORE you write!” or “Good writers are slow, methodical writers!” or “You can’t do THAT in this genre!”

You’re going to crash into one of those obstacles sooner or later.

Like I did.

Fuck the rules! You’re a writer, just write! Your story is your highway! It’s an open road with no obstacles, no barriers, no other vehicles. It’s a race to the finish — that wild, exhilarating thrill of creating something which is yours and which you hope to share with someone else.

Fuck the rules! You’re a writer, just write!

You share your creation with people at the end of the road, but the journey of a writer is one taken alone.

I started writing fast again when I started trusting myself.

If I had not been so completely desperate as a writer, and in my life, I would’ve never figured this out. And I know now that I’ll never hit that kind of writing block again.

I went through a lot of emotional hell in the three years I could not write: Despondency. Extreme depression. A sense of terrible hopelessness. I will not share with you some of the things which crossed my mind regarding my life — regularly — but I think you can guess what they were.

I was so desperate to make it.

There are only two ways out of that kind of desperation. It either crushes you until you breathe your last breath, or you come out of it swinging so blindly and furiously that you finally, blessedly connect with something.

Two boxers in ring.
Two boxers in ring.
Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

I have to thank my daughter for motivating me to come out swinging. When you’re a parent, you just don’t have the luxury of giving up.

So there I was at my keyboard, fingers raw to the bone, one eye swollen and shut from the beating this writer’s block had given me, struggling to breathe from exhaustion…

And I finally wrote what came to me.

It was my final swing.

And it connected.

I ignored all the obstacles on the road — the constant rules — and I just slammed my foot down on the gas, closed my eyes, and let the clanking jalopy which was my writer’s vehicle take me where it would.

Damn, it was exhilarating. My jalopy became a Porsche, became a freaking hovercraft with jet engines on it. For the first time in three awful years(!!) I was writing comfortably again. I was writing better than I had written before, because I had also grown from my experience.

The book I wrote got good reviews, so I wrote another one, and it got better reviews.

I got on Medium and started writing here as well. This is another genre I seem to have a penchant for: Short non-fiction articles.

I’m writing again. I feel like my old self again. There is hope.

I’m also happy again. Because writing brings me joy.

All it took was realizing that I had my foot on my own brakes, and that I was the one secretly putting the obstacles on my own road to creativity.

It sounds easy now that I figured it out, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. And if you’re blocked and desperate and struggling, and that’s why you’re reading this, know this: I understand your pain more than you can imagine.

It’s not easy.

But know this as well: You can breakthrough. You can. Believe me. You can.

Find your genre. Slam your foot down on the gas and just write what comes to you. Write it for yourself if you must, share it with no one. Do that as long as it takes for you to say, “Yeah, this is my genre. This is what I like writing!”

Then publish it.

The Brave Writer

The next generation of writers breaking barriers together.

Paulo da Silva

Written by

Loving Dad. Mostly mediocre. Totally not famous. Writes for a living. https://uk.authorpaulo.com

The Brave Writer

The next generation of writers breaking barriers together.

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