Writers Block

I never used to believe in writers block. Writers write, and if they can't think of anything to write about, they write a list, write their goals, write gibberish—until the words flow again. The writing doesn't have to be good in the beginning; it need only be words on the page.

I stand by that. There is always a way to write. But feeling blocked isn't about the ability to write just anything. It is the polar opposite of what Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow," when writing becomes effortless. It is a state of mind that can prevent the most accomplished writer from starting or finishing a work he or she should be capable of writing, and the condition can be severe enough to end a career.

Causes of Writers Block

Ill health—physical or psychological—will cause a writer's words to dry up. Pain is seldom conducive to anything positive, and contrary to popular myths about the motivational power of misery and want, writers are like most people—they will be more creative when they are not unhappy, worried, or in dire need. It is absurd to suggest that writers function best when bills are pressing or the cupboards are empty. And, as with the general population, pain and depression normally inhibit productivity, they do not promote it.

Scientist Alice Flaherty, author of the fascinating book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writers' Block, and the Creative Brain writes that some psychiatrists believe that depression is especially "intertwined with and harmful to language because of the way depression drains away meaning." She also argues that the manic urge to write known as hypergraphia occurs a specific area of the brain, and that trauma or disease in that area may also cause creative blocks.

Debilitating lack of confidence, or fear of failure, separate from depression, is another cause of creative block. Sylvia Plath once wrote, "the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." Many other writers have echoed this sentiment. Fear will cause writers to sabotage themselves, to not write a book or an article even when an editor is waiting for it. Poor sales, harsh critics, or reader indifference will convince even the most courageous writer that no one cares about his work. Others will persuade themselves that nothing they write will ever be as interesting or as accomplished as what has already been written. We convince ourselves that we have nothing of any importance to say, that everything we write is mundane and trivial.

Overcoming Writers Block

Serious cases of writers block require treatment from a doctor or psychotherapist, and while many of those who suffer from depression report that antidepressant medications lessen their desire to write, others persevere and find a medication that corrects depression without diminishing their ability to write.

If medical intervention doesn't feel necessary, the following practices can be helpful:

  1. Write at a different time of the day than you do usually

  2. Make a habit of writing every day

  3. Set a timer and write in ten or fifteen minute blocks

  4. Exercise before writing to increase blood circulation to the brain

  5. Drink plenty of water and be sure you are not low in iron, as both carry oxygen to the brain

  6. Meditate

  7. Drink a cup of coffee for stimulation

  8. Work from scene or chapter outlines

  9. List character traits, actions and lines of dialogue to be expanded on later

  10. Repeat self-affirmations such as "I am a brilliant creative writer" as many times as possible throughout the day

  11. Read for inspiration

  12. Type a page or an entire scene from a published novel and pay attention to sentence length and density, diction, etc., then write something with similar patterns

  13. Go through your notebook or journal and find an idea to develop

  14. Give in to the avoidance, and allow yourself to take a break from writing

  15. Find a "writing partner" and write to share your work

  16. Take a writing class or hire a writing mentor for encouragement and guidance

Famous Writers Who Suffered from Writers Block

So many writers have claimed to suffer from writers block that no list will ever be comprehensive, but some notable names are as follows, most of whom went on to write a significant body of work:

  1. Samuel Coleridge
  2. F. John Fitzgerald
  3. Ralph Ellison
  4. Leo Tolstoy
  5. Virginia Woolf
  6. Ernest Hemingway
  7. Joseph Conrad
  8. Katherine Mansfield
  9. Philip Larkin
  10. John Fowles
  11. Henry Roth
  12. Andrew Motion

Films About Writers Block

  1. Wonder Boys (2000)
  2. Throw Momma from the Train (1987)
  3. Finding Forrester (2000)
  4. Adaptation (2002)
  5. Secret Window (2004)
  6. Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
  7. Writers' Block (1995)
  8. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
  9. Ask the Dust (2006)
  10. Barton Fink (1991)
  11. The Shining (1980)
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