Writers block: The cause and the cure

#1
Writers block. It's one of the most frustrating things associated with writing but unfortunately something every writer experiences. That being said there are ways to work through it that are specific to each person and also habits that make it exponentially worse. Written below are some sections that will hopefully help. I've broken up advice to help with things that could be causing your writers block into sections about Stress, Concept, Inspiration, Commitment(not in the way of staying committed to projects) and Workload.


The way we think: What I say here will seem like stating the obvious but doesn't hurt to say anyway. People work in feedback loops, something makes you feel good, you like that thing, you keep doing it etc. More importantly though something makes you feel bad, you hate that thing, you want to fix it and writing will usually not be your brains response to that regardless of how logical it seems.

When you have something that's frustrating or generally disheartening it's very easy to cascade into writers block. This cascade can be caused by numerous things and it's important to identify what the cause is to push through, that can be applied to the majority of life but writers block especially. When you feel yourself in a rut or falling into an abyss try stall your thoughts to analyze whats stopping you writing and how to proceed. Recognize the cascade, react to it, analyze the problem and figure out a solution (Recognize, React, Analyze, Adapt). Onto more helpful advice now.


Stress: The antichrist of creation for most people, some embrace it for motivation but only a few. Stress will shift the focus of your brain from creative processes to instinctive ones basically blocking out anything productive, it's just how our brains work. It'll kick you into a 'fight or flight' mindset creating absolute writers block, so your first action to move past it should be to evaluate how stressed you are before and during sitting down to write.

If you find that you are highly stressed outside your writing you should focus on your health. You don't have to abandon your writing but the healthier you are the more you'll be able to focus on what you love, that and it's important to look after yourself, don't burn out because you feel obligated to something (see Commitment for more).

If you're stressed when you sit down to write due to writers block then hopefully what I have below might help you find a way to work through it.


Concept: You could have the most brilliant idea and adept skills for a story this world has ever seen but without a solid structure it'll fall apart at some point. Most stories people write are fantastic ideas but they don't think about either delivery or structure. Your delivery begins with the quality of your work which determines the feedback you receive but your presentation will determine how many people see it. A good cover is a start but if you don't just take off you need to advertise yourself elsewhere. Let communities you frequent know you've written a story, post in forums and chatroom's where permitted and link people to your story. Seek out additional exposure. The second step and possible cause of writers block is your structure.

No written project begins with a plan, it's all from the heart at first spilling your ideas onto the page. That being said it's almost impossible to know whats a good idea and what isn't until spilling those ideas onto paper. If you try make everything perfect on the first go/draft you'll find yourself constantly blocked.

The best way to work around this is to figure out exactly how you want your story to start and exactly how it ends. That alone will build the skeleton for you to work on completing. From there you can add the meat that will make it a story through themes and challenges that arise. Basically what happens after the start at point A to arrive at point B at the end of it all. You need somewhere to start and stop to narrow the scope of what could happen to focus your efforts and inspiration. Some writers can just write with no end in sight and some of those authors are the best on this site but even they know where they want their story to go.

If you want your novels to be the best they can be then just write everything that comes to mind in an offline draft, no matter how terrible. Keep writing till your finished, take a week long break then come back to it and rewrite the entire thing. Yes. Every word. Sounds insane right? There's method in the madness though.

First of all as mentioned before you won't know for sure what the best idea for the story is until you have something you can judge in front of you. With that you'll spot errors and plot holes you wouldn't have seen before as well as coming up with better ideas to replace entire sections. By the end you'll probably have written an entirely new novel leagues above your draft going from great to legendary. If your still not convinced check out this link describing the power of rewriting in more depth.

You don't have to do this and for passion projects, writing from the heart alone is enough but if you want it to be the best it can be or something you could sell around rewriting is entirely necessary to reach the level of editing and reformatting you need after a first pass.


Inspiration: Let me be blunt about it, inspiration is a fleeting b**ch. It's a selfish lover that'll put stars in your eyes only to slip out the door in the morning. It'll promise you boss weapons only to lure you into a dragons lair. It'll sign a non aggression pact while shaking your hand only to rush forces over your border without warning later on. Did I mention inspiration is a fleeting b**ch?

In all seriousness inspiration is the primary tool for writers and unfortunately the hardest thing for writers to hold onto. You could have an IQ level equal to some of the greatest minds in history or be a literary genius but without inspiration you'll find yourself suffering writers block.

The first way to find inspiration is to go look at other work. From that you'll expose yourself to other ideas and themes you might not have even known about. From there you can use that exposure as a base to create your own original work rather than start from scratch. It doesn't necessarily have to be something related to your work, just something that your interested in that makes you feel something, anything at all. Music is especially useful to keep things flowing while writing.

Another way to keep inspiration going is to have a notepad and pen on you at all times. In your pocket while you're out, on your desk while your working and next to your bed at night. Always have it within arms reach and whatever random ideas shoot through your mind, write them down, regardless of how out there or ridiculous the idea seems. You might not look back for them and you might even think it stupid but it will keep your brain ticking over while teaching you how to let ideas just flow.

Overall inspiration is something you will need to constantly chase, no artist is perpetually inspired. Some find it comes easily just by admiring a morning, others need to constantly feed themselves ideas and content to keep themselves creative. Regardless of how easy or hard it is though if you manage to keep that spark going your writing will continue alongside it as well.


Commitment: This section isn't about staying committed to your work, it's about being committed for the right reasons. The reason your committed to your project is a vital step in everything mentioned above. It'll be the source of your motivation, stress and even inspiration at times.

The best way to write is to write for yourself, write the story you want to read and that reason alone. When you start thinking about expanding commitment to monetary needs, fans, fame or feedback you have to be careful to maintain your commitment to what you want.

It's completely fine to commit your reason to write to other things than yourself but it can influence your writing immensely. For example if your facing absolute writers block and your sitting down trying to provide writing for fans alone your just going to make the block worse through stress.  In general as soon as you expand your commitment outside of why you want to write it will quickly erode your inspiration and motivation.

If you find that happens just remember that the bottom line is no one can make you write, you don't owe it to anyone to write, you write because it's an idea you want to breathe life into and if you find you don't want to write about that idea anymore, don't. Though it might frustrate people you might already be running the risk of frustrating people further with poor content. There is absolutely no shame or issue with dropping an idea you're done with, you don't owe anyone anything if it's purely a passion project without revenue. Be honest and fair, real fans of your work will stick around for your next project. It helps to try put together a draft first though to avoid this issue altogether, albeit with the substantial amount of work required before.

Workload: This has been slightly covered in commitment but a post by Vze3vdnp brought up a very good quote as well as some other good points that gave me the idea for this to become it's own section. The amount of effort you're throwing at your writing can vastly effect your stamina over the course of the project as well as influence all the factors mentioned previously. Most people have the issue of overworking themselves introducing stress and cascading into a burn out and ending up with writers block trying to get out updates far too regularly. The solution to this is simple: Dial it down. Take a step back and write when you want to write.

Some people however face the issue of not being able to or not putting in the effort required to keep them going throughout the story. One solution to this is Productive Burnout, didn't I just say burnout is bad? It is, and here are the numerous side effects you'll experience if you do: chronic fatigue, insomnia, impaired concentration, anxiety, depression, heightened illnesses, loss of appetite and other physical symptoms. That's a long list of bulls**t to deal with and it's generally very unpleasant. However...

It gets work done. An insane amount of work. Not only that but it breaks you out of a monotonous work rhythm that slowly degrades your motivation. By the end of it you'll be completely exhausted and shattered but it might just provide you with the reset you need and also send you flying ahead of schedule so you can get work done sooner or take time off your project without falling behind. Just remember to give yourself time to recover afterwards and to use this method tactically otherwise you'll just dig yourself into a rut. Also this doesn't work for everyone. If you don't deal with stress well or are mentally unwell, Productive Burnout is more likely to cause a mental breakdown. For more on Productive Burnout check out this link.

The final tip is time management. Some people can just jot down a few things and peck away at their books whenever they have free time. Others need to sit with their work for hours and slog it out. Plan accordingly. Take breaks as necessary from work and writing to remain productive and find out what time frames you work best in. For example I struggle to write 1000 words while the sun is up but once it's late at night to the wee hours in the morning I can pump out 5000 words easily. Take the time to fine tune your schedule and try avoid procrastinating.

As a final note to summarize this section make sure your workload and schedule reflect what you want to produce. If you're simply a hobby writer enjoying your time take it easy, sit back and enjoy the ride, you shouldn't be in any rush. If your dead serious on completing your book or a budding author then take them time to find out what patterns you work best with to maintain that feeling of accomplishment. Either way at the end of the day do what you feel to be rewarding, nothing more nothing less.


Well those are all the ways I and any others have to deal with creative slowdown. If anyone has any questions or suggestions for topics that also influence writers block please let me know in the comments. Hopefully that offers some hope on breaking through the curse of which is writers block. All the best with your work!

Guide contributors (Want to be in the list? Leave any tips you might have!)
- Mage of mess
- Vze3vdnp

RE: Writers block: The cause and the cure

#3
@Media, could be writers block, might not be. I think what your describing is more of a motivation or inspiration issue in that I have no doubt your motivated to write a story but the thought of writing in itself drains you. If it's a problem with inspiration try out some ideas in the inspiration section. If it's motivation you might have the same problems I do in that I really want to continue my stories but the thought of writing feels like more work killing inspiration/ideas.

If you feel blocked as soon as you open the document the way I get through that is I just try to write whatever comes to mind at first to push through the block. It results in a real mixed bag of quality but I find once I start writing I just keep going and my motivation kicks back in after that initial 'Oh god not more work' reaction. Then once I have my draft I find it's easy to write off that because the hard part of where to start is already done and I can build on the foundation I already have. If your trying to immediately post your work that might be the problem in trying to achieve an exception level of quality in the first go and finding it's just too daunting (it takes a draft first at least for most people before they reach exceptional quality).

If it's struggling to stop what you're doing to start writing I couldn't give you any straight answers other than to identify things that sap your motivation or take all your attention. In my example I find video games are a great source of inspiration but utterly crush my motivation. After playing for just a few minutes any drive I have just leaves me. My advice would be to try identify what activities just make you want to sit and not do anything else (i.e. watching tv/movies/shows, binge reading, having a drink).

Also although it doesn't sound like what I'm about to say is the problem with you mentioning you know where you want the story to go but you might be struggling with letting creative ideas just flow. My advice would be to keep a notepad and just write down any ideas you have as soon as motivation/inspiration hits you. With that you might find it easier to start writing going back to ideas and starting from something you thought of previously while training yourself just to write whatever comes to mind.

If all else fails, take a break. Sometimes what you need is some distance from your work for awhile or something new to kick you back into gear. Try writing some character bio's, creature reports or simply writing about the world's locations/ecosystems and see if that gives you the drive to get back into your main project. I found it worked wonders in getting me through the last few chapters of my book while also giving me some extra content to share once it was finished.

If any of that helps let me know in the comments, if not pm me and we'll see if we can find the source of whats stopping you. I might add a motivation section to the guide if you feel like that was the issue. Best of luck with your writing!

RE: Writers block: The cause and the cure

#4
I don't remember whether I heard it from Neil Gaiman, Stephen King or Harlan Ellison but one of them said something along the lines of, "People used to ask me how to get over their procrastination, get their asses in their chairs and write. When I told them that if it was that hard for them to sit down and write, maybe they should be doing something else, they stopped asking me."

Cold, right?

But kind of true in a way. I used to write slam poetry. I'd spend months coming up with a good idea and then writing it, memorizing it,  and performing it. I tried to quit writing for a year or two. Had to get back in the game though. The ideas wouldn't stop coming and the people I tried passing off the ideas to never...quite...got...it...right. At one point I realized that poetry was kind of like a smart artist doing their best to stay poor. At the highest heights of the poetry game you are allowed to teach poetry classes, perform poetry readings, submit grants, and write. At the height of the screenplay game or the novel game, all you have to do is write.

The other thing that keeps me from procrastination are the people who told me I couldn't do it. The people who didn't believe me. I remember one girl who wasn't even being mean about it. I told her I was thinking of writing a book and it came out of her very calmly and naturally, "You can't do that."
That was a bad date.
But every time I think of not writing I remember how easy it was for her to believe that I was incapable of doing it. There are other people I think of: the condescending look on my ex's stepfather's face when I told him I was trying to write a book; the looks of pity from several people's faces when I told them what I was trying to do.
Fuel for the fire.
Then I think of the people who believed in me from the beginning and still do. People who if I never wrote a word world say it wasn't because I lacked the ability, it was because I simply didn't feel like doing it.

So basically I keep writing because I have to and because I have a chip on my shoulder that a few good people I know are encouraging me to keep carrying. And to spite my enemies.
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