You well know the frustration.
It comes time to write, and you can’t produce a single word.
Maybe you’ve tried for weeks, months, or even years. But still nothing comes.
If you don’t find a cure soon, you’re going to give up—and your story will never reach the masses like you hoped.
Good news! I’ve discovered how to crush Writer’s Block once and for all, and my more nearly 200 books, 21 of which have been New York Times bestsellers, prove it.
You don’t have to quit, and if you already have, you can change your mind and get back to writing.
So what’s my secret?
I treat Writer’s Block as the myth it is.
“Wait!” you’re saying. “Foul! If it’s a myth why am I suffering from it right now?”
Believe me, I know what you’re going through. I’m not saying I don’t have those days when I roll out of bed feeling I’d rather do anything but put words on the page.
But I know how to get unstuck.
During my career I’ve learned to turn on a faucet of creativity—even when, in fact especially when, I find myself staring at a blank page.
My approach stops Writer’s Block in its tracks, and it can do the same for you.
How can I call Writer’s Block a myth when you and countless others seem plagued by it?
Let’s think this through.
If Writer’s Block were real, why would it affect only writers? Imagine calling your boss and saying, “I can’t come in today. I have worker’s block.”
You’d be laughed off the phone! And you’d likely be told never to come in again.
No other profession accommodates block as an excuse to quit working, so we writers shouldn’t either.
If writing is just a hobby to you, a diversion, something you can take or leave, it shouldn’t surprise you that you find ways to avoid it when it’s hard.
What Is Writer’s Block? Something All Writers Need to Know…
What we call Writer’s Block is really a cover for something much deeper.
Identify that deeper issue and you can overcome Writer’s Block and finally start writing.
Overcoming Writer’s Block: Confronting the 4 Real Causes
Cause #1: Fear
Do you fear you’re not good enough?
That you don’t know enough?
Do you fear the competition? Editors? Writing itself?
You have big dreams and good intentions, but you can’t get past your fear?
Would you believe all of the above describes me too? Yes, even now, every time I begin a new book.
Let’s be honest: Writing a book is hard.The competition is vast and the odds are long.
That kind of fear can paralyze. Maybe it’s what has you stuck.
So how can I suffer from that same fear and yet publish all those titles?
Because I discovered something revolutionary: After failing so many times to overcome fear, it finally dawned on me—my fear is legitimate.
It’s justified. I ought to be afraid.
So now I embrace that fear! Rather than let it overwhelm and keep me from writing, I acknowledge the truth of what I’m afraid of and let that humble me.
Legitimate fear humbles me. That humility motivates me to work hard. And hard work leads to success.
That’s why fear doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Better to fear you’re not good enough than to believe you’re great.
Dean Koontz, who has sold more than 450 million books, says:
“The best writing is borne of humility. The great stuff comes to life in those agonizing and exhilarating moments when writers become acutely aware of the limitations of their skills, for it is then that they strain the hardest to make use of the imperfect tools with which they must work.”
I’ve never been motivated by great amounts of money (not that I have anything against it!), but that quote comes from a man worth $145 million, earned solely from his writing.
How humble would you be if writing had netted you $145 million? Yet, humility is the attitude Dean Koontz takes to the keyboard every day.
If you’re afraid, fear the “limitations of your skills.” Then, “strain the hardest to make use of those imperfect tools with which you must work.”
That’s how to turn fear into humility, humility into motivation, motivation into hard work, and hard work into success.
Fear can be a great motivator.
Cause #2: Procrastination
Everywhere I teach, budding writers admit Procrastination is killing their dream.
When I tell them they’re talking to the king of procrastinators, their looks alone call me a liar.
But it’s true.
Most writers are masters at finding ways to put off writing. I could regale you for half a day with the ridiculous rituals I perform before I can start writing.
But my track record says I must have overcome Procrastination the way I have overcome Writer’s Block, right?
In a way, yes. But I haven’t defeated Procrastination by eliminating it. Rather, I have embraced it, accommodated it.
After years of stressing over Procrastination and even losing sleep over it, I finally concluded it was inevitable.
Regardless my resolve and constant turning over new leaves, it plagued me.
I came to see Procrastination as an asset.
I find that when I do get back to my keyboard after procrastinating, my subconscious has been working on my project. I’m often surprised at what I’m then able to produce.
So if Procrastination is both inevitable and an asset, I must accept it and even schedule it.
That’s right. When I’m scoping out my writing calendar for a new book, I decide on the number of pages I must finish each writing day to make my deadline. Then I actually schedule Procrastination days.
By accommodating Procrastination, I can both indulge in it and make my deadlines.
By managing the number of pages I must finish per day.
If Procrastination steals one of my writing days, I have to adjust the number of pages for each day remaining.
So here’s the key: I never let my pages-per-day figure get out of hand.
It’s one thing to go from 5 or 6 pages a day to 7 or 8. But if I procrastinate to where now I have to finish 20 pages per day to make my deadline, that’s beyond my capacity.
Keep your deadline sacred and your number of pages per day workable, and you can manage Procrastination.
Cause #3: Perfectionism
Many writers struggle with Perfectionism, and while it can be a crippling time thief, it’s also a good trait during certain stages of the writing process.
Not wrestled into its proper place, however, Perfectionism can prove frustrating enough to make us want to quit altogether.
Yes, I’m a perfectionist too. I’m constantly tempted to revise my work until I’m happy with every word.
As I said, Perfectionism can be a good thing—at the right time.
While writing your first draft, take off your Perfectionist cap and turn off your internal editor.
Tell yourself you can return to that mode to your heart’s content while revising, but for now, just get your story or your thoughts down.
I know this is counterintuitive. When you spot an error, you want to fix it. Most of us do.
But start revising while writing and your production slows to a crawl.
You’ll find yourself retooling, editing, and rearranging the same phrases and passages until you’ve lost the momentum you need to get your ideas down.
Force yourself to keep these tasks separate and watch your daily production soar.
Cause #4: Distractions
It’s like clockwork.
Every time you sit down to write, something intrudes on your concentration.
Whether it’s a person, social media, or even a game on your phone, distractions lure you from writing.
How serious is your writing dream? If it remains your priority, It’s time to take a stand.
Establish these two ground rules to safeguard your work time:
- Set a strict writing schedule.
Tell anyone who needs to know that aside from an emergency, you’re not available. That should eliminate friends and loved ones assuming “you’re not doing anything right now, so…”
It’s crucial you learn to say No. During your writing hours, you’re working.
- Turn off all other media.
That means radio, TV, email, or social media.
When we feel stuck, our inclination is to break from the work and find something fun to occupy our minds.
That’s why Facebook, online shopping, and clickbait stories and pictures can keep us from writing.
When we should be bearing down and concentrating on solutions, we’re following links from the “10 Ugliest Actors of All Time” to “15 Sea Creatures So Ugly You Won’t Believe They Exist.”
Before you know it, your time has evaporated and you’ve accomplished nothing.
A Writer’s Block App I Recommend
To stay focused on writing, use a distraction-blocking app called Freedom. (This is an affiliate link, so I earn a small commission at no cost to you.)
Freedom allows you to schedule your writing time and blocks social media, browsing, and notifications on your devices till you’re done.
You set the parameters and can override it for emergencies, but it’s a powerful tool.
Other Strategies to Overcome Writer’s Block
1 — Just write.
You don’t get better at anything without practice. Writing is no different.
John Grisham established his writing routine long before he became famous. He got up early every morning and wrote for an hour before work.
“Write a page every day. That’s about 200 words, or 1,000 words a week. Do that for two years and you’ll have a novel that’s long enough. Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.”
2 — Lower your expectations.
You aren’t going to do your best writing every day. Show up anyway, do the necessary research, and write. Even when it’s not your best work.
“Never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.” ― Malcolm Gladwell
3 — Get to know your characters.
Instead of focusing on the big picture, the late bestselling author Tom Clancy thought about his characters:
“ … and then I sit down and start typing and see what they will do. … It amazes me to find out, a few chapters later, why I put someone in a certain place when I did.”
4 ― Read.
Writers are readers. Good writers are good readers. Great writers are great readers.
Read at least 200 titles in your genre.
Read everything you can get your hands on.
It’ll help you grow in your craft and inspire you when you come up empty.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” — Stephen King
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” — William Faulkner
5 ― Give yourself a break.
Sometimes you need a break. Sometimes your best writing ideas come when you’re not in front of the computer.
“Plots come to me at such odd moments, when I am walking along the street, or examining a hat shop … suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head.” — Agatha Christie
“Some days all I do is stare at the wall. That can be productive, too, if you’re working out character and plot problems. The rest of the time, I walk around with the story slipping in and out of my thoughts.” — Suzanne Collins
6 ― Start at the end of your book.
John Grisham finds it helpful to begin at the end.
“Don’t write the first scene until you know the last scene. If you always know where you’re going, it’s hard to get lost.”
7 ― Brainstorm.
Set a timer and throw caution to the wind.
Think of ideas for a short story or novel.
Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or spelling.
Imagine great characters, names, traits, story settings, themes … anything that comes to mind.
All you need is the germ of an idea to start creating a story.
“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” — Orson Scott
8 ― Get a change of scenery.
While having a space set aside for writing is important, sometimes what you need is a change of scenery.
Write in a coffee shop, the park, get away for the weekend by yourself. That may be just what you need to get your creative juices flowing.
9 ― Stop while you’re ahead.
Ernest Hemingway loved to stop when he was on a roll.
“Always stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. ”
Writer’s Block Quotes from Bestselling Authors
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us get up and go to work.” — Stephen King
“My cure for writer’s block? The necessity of earning a living.” — James Ellroy
“Writer’s block is just another name for fear.” — Jacob Nordby
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Just pick up a pen and physically write.” — Natalie Goldberg
“If I waited till I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.” — Anne Tyler
“If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. ‘Count on me,’ you are saying: ‘I will be there to write.’” — Norman Mailer in The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing
“The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain
“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?” ― Phillip Pullman
“The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” ― J.K. Rowling
“I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me. I keep working steadily, because I believe it is our privilege as humans to keep making things. Most of all, I keep working because I trust that creativity is always trying to find me, even when I have lost sight of it.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ― Jack London
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’” — Maya Angelou
“It doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90 percent chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating. I also like to remind myself of something my dad said in [response] to writers’ block: ‘Coal miners don’t get coal miners’ block.’” — John Green
“If I waited for perfection, I’d never write a word.” — Margaret Atwood
“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” — Barbara Kingsolver
“Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.” — J. Jackson Brown, Jr.
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” — Jodi Picoult
“I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen–whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book–it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.” — Jeffrey Deaver
You Can Defeat Writer’s Block
- Stand up to it the way you would a bully
- See it for the myth it is
- Turn your fear into humility and humility into hard work
That’s how to defeat Writer’s Block once and for all.