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On Writing Block and Writing Process

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Last night, I ran the meeting of our Writing Group. We talked about writing block and had a good discussion. First, we talked about the name. Writer's block sounds like it's part of the writer's personality, some failing of character that you possess. A better term I found is writing block, which takes away any blame on the part of the writer. But I don't like even that term.

To me, "writing block" or getting stuck in your writing is a part of the writing process. As in any art, some days are good days and some days are bad days. The question is, how do you handle being stuck in your writing? The first thing I do, and that has worked for me before is figuring out why you're stuck.

There are several possible reasons for being stuck in your writing. I'll start from the most obvious ones and work my way into the ones that require a bit more unpacking.

1. Depression/anxiety/fatigue/life changes/mental health issues. This is the most obvious one. You can't be productive when you are not emotionally available to your art. Go take care of yourself. The art will be there when you return.

2. You need a break. Sometimes you need a break. I personally find trying to work through it utterly unproductive. Go play a video game or walk outside or get groceries. Put a timer on it and come back to work after the break is done.

3. Lack of confidence. Sometimes it's hard to write because you think your writing must be perfect. Here's the thing. It won't be. Not ever. That's kind of the point of growing as a writer: you improve all the time, which means what you've written before was not as good as what you're writing now. It's actually a good thing. What helps in these cases, I find, is a writers' group or even a writing buddy who can give you feedback and can say to you 'this is good, now send it out'. And then you just have to look at the abyss below and jump.

4. Your story is going the wrong way. The good people at Writing Excuses (the most amazing podcast, by the way) said that sometimes when you're stuck on a story that's your subconscious telling you that the story is not going where it needs to go. In our writers' group last night someone added that you should at least consider the option that your subconscious is telling you this wasn't a good idea for a story. Sometimes you can fix it, sometimes you can't, and you need to move on. Working on several projects helps with that, as you can always work on the project that isn't stuck right now. If you come back to the story and find how to fix it, great. If not, move on.

5. Fear/other negative emotions. Sometimes you have negative emotions about the writing. Putting a task off despite our understanding that this would result in negative outcomes is called procrastination. Procrastination happens when we have negative emotions about a task, and we prefer to put it off and do other stuff instead of dealing with these negative emotions. Sometimes, what you're writing is hitting too close to home, and it's too scary to write about it. Sometimes the lack of confidence is so overwhelming you feel like a fraud (that's called impostor syndrome). Sometimes you think you're not good enough. Sometimes you think art is too hard. Sometimes you're afraid that this story is going to change you and you will lose yourself. In this case, the answer is, of course, deal with the negative emotions. That's easier said than done, but you can start with cutting yourself some slack. Our society doesn't teach us how to deal with negative emotions, probably because the teachers/parents don't know how to deal with negative emotions. But the fact is that if you have no negative emotions, you're either in deep denial or a psychopath. Negative emotions are part of our emotions. And sometimes naming the emotion and looking at it helps, so there's a good start.

And here's what I'd like to leave you with. In my research of writing block, I didn't find a single writer that said, 'I've never had writing block'. I found quite a few who said, 'this is how I deal with (or avoid) writing block'. This, in part, is what made me think that writing block is not something going wrong with your writing, but a part of the normal writing process.


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