By Colleen M. Story
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block!”
No doubt you’ve heard this myth before.
Worse, you may have believed it.
And that’s rarely a good thing, as it tends to keep you where you are—in that stuck place you dare not call writer’s block.
Myth: There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” says writer Leigh Shulman. “It’s an excuse. Your way of telling yourself you have a reason for not writing.”
You’ll find a wide variety of writers echoing this same sentiment. Whenever I heard it, I worried. I didn’t want to be one of “those” writers.
“The secret about writer’s block is that it’s an indulgence,” writes Amy Alkon for Psychology Today. “…The way you end so-called ‘writer’s block’ is simply by sitting down to write—’blackening pages,’ as Leonard Cohen called it.”
Lazy! Undisciplined! We hear it again and again. Stop coddling yourself. Sit down and write!
I vowed to do just that. I wouldn’t be weak. I would be a strong, productive writer.
No writer’s block here.
Then along came my third novel, The Beached Ones. And it humbled me in a hurry.
My Novel Taught Me All About Writer’s Block
Draft after draft, I came up against a wall. No matter how hard I tried or how many hours I put in, I could not figure out how to get past the midpoint of that novel.
Now understand: I was no newbie to the mid-novel struggle. I had gone through it with my other two published novels, but never to this extent.
I bought books. I went to conferences. I talked to award-winning writers. I sketched out the plot. I outlined the chapters. I examined each of the character’s inner and outer motivations.
I did everything you should do when experiencing writer’s block—things that before had led to a breakthrough—and nothing helped.
It was frustrating, to say the least.
I looked writer’s block squarely in the eye and withered. So much for strength and discipline. They weren’t helping me at all.
My Cure for Writer’s Block
I finally had to admit that I was suffering a bad case of writer’s block.
Oh, the shame!
I’ve since learned that other writers—much as they may lecture about there being no such thing as writer’s block—just have a slightly different definition of it.
Says Schulman: “Here’s the thing: Every writer who has ever existed feels stuck at some point. That’s why I say there’s no such thing as writer’s block because it’s part of the writing process.”
Oh. So it is writer’s block. You’re just calling it something else.
And that something else is comforting, isn’t it? Shulman is assuring us that everyone experiences being stuck now and then. Relax. It’s normal.
But I couldn’t relax. The story sat in the back of my mind bugging me day in and day out.
So I kept trying. And now, looking back, I can say that is my solution to writer’s block that I want to share with you: keep trying.
It is the key to finally breaking through.
The Key to Ending Writer’s Block
What does it mean to keep trying?
Don’t Give Up
First of all, don’t give up on your story. I thought about it many times, but looking back, I’m really glad I didn’t. (The book is releasing soon, after all!)
Keep the Story In Mind
Second, keep the story in mind.
Personally, I didn’t have any choice. The story wouldn’t leave me alone. It may be the same for you. But it also helps to find other ways to keep it at the forefront of your thoughts.
Everything I did along the way—starting over, reading books, attending workshops, outlining, researching, sketching, etc.—helped keep the story in my brain. My brain, in turn, continued to work on a creative solution to my writer’s block.
You don’t want to forget what was happening in your story. Even if you’re not writing new scenes and chapters, it’s important to keep the characters alive in your head in some way that you continue to “live” with them in their world.
Find a Way to Think Outside the Box
This is what finally led to a breakthrough for me.
It was as simple as going to a movie.
I went to see Girl on a Train starring Emily Blunt. (Love her!) I was fascinated by how the story was told.
For much of the movie, the main character didn’t know what had happened to put her into her current situation.
It was something I had never explored before: what if my hero was in the dark as to what had happened?
That single idea was enough to send me back to the keyboard. And telling the story from that point of view solved my problem.
No more writer’s block. I sailed through to the end, put the book through several more rewrites, submitted it, and landed a publisher on—get this—April Fool’s Day, 2020.
For you, it’s likely to be something else (besides a movie) that allows you to break through your writer’s block. Maybe it’s an image you see, something you hear, or something someone says.
Here’s a tip: Usually, breakthroughs happen when we step away from our usual routines. Do something different, put yourself in a new environment, and allow your creative brain to play. That’s the best way to inspire it to come up with a solution.
See Writer’s Block as a Gift
Looking back, I can see that writer’s block gave me a gift—it forced me to come up with a more creative way to tell the story. It also taught me that you can be seriously blocked and still succeed in telling a good story if you’re willing to stick with it.
Shulman agrees that sometimes, being blocked can be a blessing:
“When you’re stuck, it’s often because you’re doing something you’ve never done before. That means you’re stretching yourself as a writer. You’re improving, and soon enough you will breakthrough to a new level. You’ll be a stronger, more agile, better writer.”
Writer’s block? It’s no myth, but if it’s plaguing you, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Instead, celebrate. Welcome your confusion. Allow your frustration. Bang your head against the wall and keep going.
If the story matters, you’ll find a way.
Note: The Beached Ones is forthcoming from CamCat books in June 2022. Get your FREE excerpt here, or preorder now! (Links and book trailer here.) Get FREE chapters of Colleen’s books for writers here.
Colleen M. Story
Resident Writing Coach
Colleen M. Story inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment. Your Writing Matters helps writers overcome self-doubt and determine where writing fits in their lives. Writer Get Noticed! was the gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards. Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018, and her novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner. Find out more at these sites:
Writing and Wellness | Life and Everything After | Teachable | Author Website | Twitter
V.M. Sang says
A valuable post. I have a novel where I’ve written the beginning and the end, but just can’t get the middle. It’s been a couple of years since I put it in the proverbial drawer, but nothing has helped as yet.
I’ll return to it, and refresh my memory of the story and characters.
Then I’ll try to think out of the box, as you suggest and see where I get to.
I like the way you think, Colleen.
Ha ha. Thanks, Lydia! :O)
Leigh Shulman says
Thanks for including my link about writer’s block in your post. It does seem a bit that you’ve maybe taken it out of context.
You quote me and then add: “That’s why I say there’s no such thing as writer’s block because it’s part of the writing process.” Oh. So it is writer’s block. You’re just calling it something else.”
What I’m suggesting is a mindset shift, and there is something very powerful in choosing the way we view the things that challenge us. My work with writers is based on neuroscience and using how the brain works to change happens.
The words we use have a powerful effect on mood and action. Even more so for writers, right?
And again, thanks for the mention.
Oh I totally get what you were saying, Leigh. Yes, it’s a different way of looking at it. And yes, it does help to see it as something that is “normal” and to be expected. (As I said, calling it something else can be comforting as it does help you look at it differently.) But for so long I heard that there “is no such thing as writer’s block” that it made me feel like something was wrong with me if I was experiencing it. I thought your post was a good example of how we can hear those messages, perhaps even when that’s not what the messenger meant! I think your post was a great on on the topic, and I loved what you said about writer’s block stretching you as a writer.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
I am so glad you covered this, Colleen. I think there are a lot of writers who hear, “Writer’s Block doesn’t exist” and they feel defective because they are experiencing a point where they are stuck. It’s important to validate the struggle over getting words on the page, because creativity isn’t a constantly flowing tap. Some topics are hard to write about, some story problems are harder to solve, and sometimes self-doubt just gets into our head a bit too much. No matter what the reason, our ability to push words out can be impacted. This is something every writer I know experiences at times, no matter what it’s called.
These are great tips for encouraging a way past this point to get words flowing again – thank you!
Yes, exactly, Angela. That’s how I felt! Oh no, I’m blocked. Must mean I’m doing something wrong! Love what you said about creativity not being a “constantly flowing tap.” We expect that, don’t we? But the muse doesn’t quite work that way! Some problems are harder to solve, as you say. Thanks again for hosting me here and the great work you and Becca do for writers!
Sue Coletta says
Excellent tips, Colleen! Many writers experienced a total creativity block when the pandemic hit. I had a delayed reaction. It hit me hard in 2021 (my worst writing year in a decade). But I did the same as you. Each day I showed up, ready to work, and slowly pushed through to the other side.
I have heard that from other writers too, Sue, that the pandemic hit them in unexpected ways in terms of their creativity. I’m glad you were able to work through it!
BECCA PUGLISI says
This is awesome, Colleen! I love the idea of embracing writer’s block as part of the process. That takes it from some boogeyman-type thing that we dread and fear to just a challenging part of the job that has to be dealt with. I’ve had to deal with this the past few weeks (yes, writer’s block is part of the non-fiction process, too). I started no less than 4 posts, and none of them went anywhere. Fifth time is the charm, apparently, because for that topic, the words just poured out. “Keep trying” is good advice :).
Ha ha. Yes, banish the boogeyman! Oh no! Four posts is quite a lot! So glad the fifth one broke through for you. You just never know how long it’s going to take. I guess the key is to have faith you WILL eventually figure it out!
Mindy Alyse Weiss says
Thanks for all these great tips to beat writer’s block, Colleen.
I have my biggest breakthrough moments when I’m away from my laptop–especially if I’m doing something like driving or showering. It’s amazing how much work we can do when we’re not forcing ourselves to type while stuck.
So true, Mindy. And yes, that usually works for me too. Though in this case I had to repeat the stepping away ad nauseam before it finally came through for me! :O)