Writer’s block is the worst. Whether you’re writing an email to your boss or an academic thesis, getting the words to flow can feel impossible. You’ll waste precious time waiting desperately for an inspiration to hit.
So how do we get ourselves unstuck? There’s no foolproof way to force ideas into our brains. But there are things we can do to make it easier for ourselves.
Let’s examine a few helpful tips for getting your creative juices flowing. We’ll explore some common causes of writer’s block, and how to alleviate them.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
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The causes of writer’s block fall into 4 main categories.¹ Every person’s situation is unique: you might experience effects from just one category or from multiple categories.
Physiological causes of writer’s block involve too much or too little arousal.² In other words, your brain is either too active or too inactive to be productive.³
For example, when you feel stressed or anxious, your mind is overwhelmed by racing thoughts.⁴ On the other hand, when you’re depressed, your mind feels slow and sluggish.⁵ Either way, you’ll find it difficult to generate ideas.
Sometimes we just can’t muster up the motivation to write. For many people, this lack of motivation is a result of evaluation anxiety: a fear of how others will judge our writing.⁶
Evaluation anxiety is distinct from generalized anxiety.⁷ It doesn’t just overwhelm us: it actively depletes our motivation to write.⁸
Even if we don’t fear how others perceive our work, we may still struggle to find motivation. Often, this is because we lack an intrinsic interest in the subject or content we’re writing about.⁹
Many writers struggle with perfectionism.¹⁰ But by setting such impractical standards for your work, you’re also setting yourself up for blocking.¹¹
Any ideas you generate will seem “not good enough”, and you’ll struggle to write anything that meets your unrealistically high expectations.¹²
Procrastination and writer’s block go hand-in-hand.¹³ Failing to stick to a schedule impairs your writing productivity.¹⁴
Behavioral causes don’t directly affect your ability to come up with ideas, but they do affect the quality and quantity of your writing.¹⁵
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Which of these causes might be affecting you? Take a second to really think this list over. It’s essential to know what’s causing your writer’s block before you can fix it. And remember that many people experience more than one cause.
Overcoming Writer’s Block
Hoping to quash that pesky writer’s block? Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to do it! Here’s a list of suggestions and strategies that might help you out.
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- If you’re too stressed to focus: Take a break! Bring yourself to a calmer headspace by going for a walk, exercising, or meditating.¹
- If you keep getting distracted: Your environment might be to blame.¹⁷ Check out this post for ideas on building a distraction-free office.
- If you’re struggling to generate ideas: Talk through your writing topic with a peer or colleague for inspiration and new perspectives.¹⁸ As an added bonus, you’ll reduce evaluation anxiety by accustoming yourself to receiving constructive feedback.
- If you’ve lost motivation to write: Build rewards into your writing schedule.¹⁹ This could include bigger rewards, such as an outing with friends if you meet your daily writing goals.²⁰ Or it could be as small as a piece of chocolate for every page you write.²¹
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed: Break your writing into smaller, manageable tasks.²² Set daily goals to write a certain number of pages, and tackle a little bit at a time.²³
- If you’re a chronic procrastinator: Making a schedule is pointless if you don’t stick to it! Enlist a colleague, peer, or friend to check in with you regularly on your progress.²⁴ They can help hold you accountable and give you reminders to stay on track until you’re able to do so on your own.²⁵
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Ready to beat the block? With these tips, you’re on your way to becoming a more efficient and confident writer. Whether you’re creating a project proposal or cooking up the next great American novel, happy writing!
1-16. Ahmed, S. J. (2019). An Analysis of Writer's Block: Causes, Characteristics, and Solutions. UNF Graduate Theses and Dissertations, Article 903.
17-18. Bastug, M., Ertem, I. S., & Keskin, H. K. (2017). A Phenomenological Research Study on Writer’s Block: Causes, Processes, and Results. Education + Training, 59(6), 605-618. doi:10.1108/ET-11-2016-0169
19-25. Rosenberg, H., & Lah, M. I. (1982). A Comprehensive Behavioral-Cognitive Treatment of Writer's Block. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 10(4), 356-363. doi:10.1017/S0141347300008235