5 Things that Cause Writer’s Block (And How to Avoid Them)

As a blogger, I have run many times into the issue of writer’s block, or when I can’t get myself to write. In 2011 so far, I’ve been blogging far more sparsely and irregularly than I was in 2010. I’m also doing a lot less reading and writing in general. I guess I’m just in a particularly long spell of writer’s block. It began on Jan 1. It ends now. And ironically, the article to end it will be this one, a blog post about the causes of writer’s block.

5. Worrying About How to Write It

Suppose you come up with the perfect idea and it’s Sunday and you have the rest of the afternoon to write about it. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t put your ideas into words. Even though you normally write well, it doesn’t come out right on paper (or on the screen, for bloggers). You spend hours writing and rewriting, but you’re dissatisfied with the result. It’s a week later: the paper is still just sitting there, unfinished.

Finished or not, it is still a product, a work of your own imagination. For a blogger, unless you post it, no one will know that you had ever written it. Here’s my suggestion: If you’re struggling on an article and you’re on the fourth or fifth rewrite, just post it. If you’re rewriting it that many times in the first place, you’re most likely a perfectionist, and your work is bound to be pretty good anyways by others’ standards. I’m not saying that rewriting is bad; if you’re a professional writer, then by all means rewrite as many times as you want! But for a common person like me, after four or five rewrites, it’s time to move on. If you really are unsatisfied, go back to it later, after you have given it a good one or two month break. A lot of times you’ll be able to instantly come up with what you were trying to say before. Overall, this will save time and worry.

4. Worrying About What Other People Will Think

This occurs when you write or want to write about a divisive issue, and you are opinionated on it. Perhaps you don’t want other people to know your opinion or judge you by it. Or perhaps you don’t want people to know that you even had an opinion of it. Or maybe you just came up with an idea, but are afraid that people will mock you for it.

In any case, there exist ways to get around this. There’s no foolproof way, because for anything you might argue, there will always be someone in the world who will vehemently argue the opposite. Nonetheless, here are three solutions, each of which beats not writing anything at all:

  • Write in a less opinionated way, qualifying yourself when possible. Granted, some say that you are either opinionated or not, but I think there certainly degrees of being opinionated. If you qualify yourself in your writing, the reader will know that you at least know what the other side of the debate is, and that you respect it. If you respect them, they will respect you.
  • Go into an all-out rant mode. This is the opposite of the previous bullet, and it works precisely because it is so extreme. If you are just ranting out of your heart, it is again respectable because it is what you truly believe.
  • Just keep it as it is. This is a counterintuitive solution, because it doesn’t solve a single worry you have! Yet that is precisely why it works: it lets the reader know that you are not afraid to state your beliefs.

3. Lack of Motivation

This is pretty self-explanatory: if you aren’t motivated, you won’t feel like writing. And if you don’t feel like writing, it’s pretty damn hard to write anything.

One of the best ways to defeat this is a schedule and a goal. As simple and almost un-writer-like as this may seem, it is extremely effective. The writer Mary Heaton Vorse once said, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

Last November, for example, I participated in NaNoWriMo, which is a contest with oneself to write a 50,000+ word novel in 30 days. For one who is used to writing 2000-word English papers, I found the 50,000 word count daunting, seemingly impossible. What I did was make myself write at least 1667 words every day (50,000 words divided by 30 days is 1667 words per day). Even on the days that I did not feel like writing, I kept on writing. Despite having never written a novel before, I was able meet the deadline.

2. “I’m Too Busy!”

Of course you are. You have other things in your life besides writing, probably. The thing is, it’s always possible to make time. And even when you doing something else, it is possible to write or at least think about writing. “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes,” said writer Agatha Christie.

This one is no excuse for any writer, novice or professional. You just have to set aside time for it. When I was doing NaNoWriMo, on some days I would write both the 1667 words and for example a 1500-word essay. Even on a road trip, I kept up the 1667 words. Right now I’m writing this article on writer’s block while I have an entire math problem set that I haven’t started due tomorrow morning. Sorry, Professor Hubbard. I’ll get started on it as soon as this post is done.

1. Not Knowing What to Write About

If I had a number one enemy, this would be it. You might have encountered this too. A lot of times I would hit the NEW POST button on WordPress and just sit there for the next five or ten minutes not knowing what to write about. Eventually I get sidetracked, maybe check email and Facebook, sometimes StumbleUpon, then abandon the blog post altogether. Even worse, sometimes I’ll think of the perfect idea for an article, then when I get back to my room to start writing, I don’t have the faintest idea what it was.

To avoid forgetting ideas, you should best write them down. To come up with ideas is more difficult. You could try idea-generating sites to start out. WordPress this year started its PostADay project; bloggers try to make a post every day for the year. Each day, the site chooses a topic that bloggers can optionally select for their posts. Today’s topic, for example, is “What’s the most trouble you’ve ever been in?”

There are plenty of other ways to find writing topics. Reading the news is definitely a good way, as there is often bound to be an article that you can write about. Talking with people is great as well. Other people always have great ideas—make sure you cite them though. Other than that, have fun writing!

One thought on “5 Things that Cause Writer’s Block (And How to Avoid Them)

  1. This cracks me up. Why? Because a few weeks ago I also started the 30-day challenge as a way to motivate my writing. But then the worst ice-storm in decades happened (read: kids home for four days in a row one week, and another day the following week) and I had only written 2,000 words. So I gave up. But somewhere in that time my motivation came back, and I’ve been writing steadily ever since. Go figure!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s