Most of us have experienced writer’s block. We sit in front of a piece of paper and don’t know where to start and what to write. Or we sit at our computer, stare at the screen, and although we know what to write, we somehow lose the ability to type. The longer writer’s block lasts, the more frustrated and stressed we become. We force ourselves to start writing and then we criticize ourselves on the idea we have; or we are dissatisfied with the sentence we just wrote. And the spiral of denigration continues.
Writer’s block means not knowing what to write. It can refer either to the content (i.e. not coming up with the right ideas), to the creative part, or to problems of adequately expressing ideas in words (i.e. technical aspects of writing).
Writer’s block can be expensive. According to Statista, the net revenue generated by the US publishing industry was $25.71 billion in 2020. There were over 200,000 writers, authors and technical writers in the US (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2020 ), not to mention the millions of students. , teachers, professors and many other professions who have to write almost daily. Writer’s block can directly affect their performance and revenue.
What are the main causes of writer’s block? How do professional writers deal with writer’s block? What successful strategies have they developed? The following conclusions are based on the results of a survey of 146 professional writers as participants (Ahmed & Güss, 2022).
In research, the main causes of writing blockage were physiological: not having a “free” mind due to stress, intense emotions, or illness. A second reason was motivational: fear of criticism (“I feel pressured to perform well”) and procrastination. A third group was cognitive reasons: perfectionism and planning errors.
What strategies have professional writers developed to overcome writer’s block? We list them here according to how often they were mentioned in our research:
- Take a break from writing: “Stop writing, decide that tomorrow is another day, and stay away from the computer until the next day.”
- Work on a different writing project: “Move from work I’m currently committed to onto another project.”
- Keep writing: “Forcing me to write on a certain page number.”
- Read a book or watch a movie: “I read the work of authors I admire to inspire me.”
- Revise or proofread the work in progress or skip to work on a later section: “Review notes or drafts”.
- Discuss ideas with others: “Ask for advice. See what others think. Although you don’t usually use what they suggest, their ideas can stimulate your brain.
- To take a walk.
- Change the location or method of writing: “Write using a pen, typewriter, etc.”
- Eat or drink something, like coffee or a snack.
- Meditate or do yoga.
Most of these strategies can be traced back to mindful living – the mundane, everyday self-care that opens the mind and opens the soul. Many of these strategies seem obvious and we could have applied them ourselves when we encountered writer’s block; but this list of solutions may provide new suggestions to experiment with.
Try it the next time you’re stuck with writer’s block. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”.