I’ve heard some authors argue that writer’s block isn’t real, that it’s only an excuse to avoid sitting your butt in a chair and getting to work. While I politely disagree, I do believe they’re onto something.
In my opinion, writer’s block is not a cause, but often a symptom of something much bigger going on.
For newer writers, writer’s block is typically a sign of two major issues: a lack of belief in oneself, or a lack of self-discipline.
Other possible reasons for writer’s block include:
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of success
- Lack of passion for the project
- Lack of direction on the project
- Burnout (writing and otherwise)
In fact, there can be just as many reasons for writers block as there are writers. Maybe the story you’re writing is too easy, or too difficult, for your current skill level. Maybe you just need to put it aside for a few days.
Whatever the cause of your block might be, it’s up to you to figure out the reason – which will help you discover the best way to break it.
I’ve suffered from many forms of writer’s block, including several of the reasons I listed above (lack of passion, lack of direction, burnout.) Since I had a book contract and a deadline, I didn’t have the option to give up and walk away.
Instead, I had to dig deep and figure out why I was blocked. You may need to do the same.
To help you on your way: here are some of the most common reasons for writer’s block and possible solutions to get yourself back on track.
Story Burnout: Switch Projects
It’s great to have passion for your project, but sometimes you get so deep into it, you can’t see the story for what it is anymore. You forget what you loved about it to begin with.
I’ve had this happen multiple times… but because I don’t like to walk away from writing, sometimes I’ve pushed myself to keep working and ended up burning out on a story.
If you find yourself lacking the original passion you once had for your book, try switching onto a new story for a few days or switch between two projects every few weeks. This can help keep you fresh as a writer and stop yourself from working on one story too much.
If you don’t have another project to work on, try working on a different aspect of your current novel that doesn’t have to do with actual writing. Research or fact-check any questions you stumbled across while crafting your plot. Look up dates or generate names for potential characters. Work on your query letter or synopsis. Read other books like yours and figure out the best comps.
Lack of direction: Revisit your Story’s Outline
When I first started writing novels, I never outlined a thing. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this. Many authors work this way throughout their entire career.
However, you’re lacking direction or struggling where to go in your story, you might need to sit down and create an outline. Writing out the entire story in bullet form can help you spot the weak parts. Perhaps you’ve made your villain too easy to defeat. Maybe your protagonist needs another struggle thrown at them.
Even if you’ve already planned out your book, try revisiting your outline. Chances are, as you review your story’s original purpose, you’ll put you back on the path, or you’ll realize your story outgrew its origins and needs a shiny, new outline to reflect this new direction.
Lack of Discipline: Create a New Routine (or get back into one)
If you have trouble writing every day, a lack of routine may be to blame. Here’s the kicker though: when most of us create a routine, we set ourselves up to fail.
I’m guilty of this in writing, and outside of it. For example, whenever I’ve tried to eat healthier, I tend make things as difficult for myself as possible. I set up spreadsheets, download apps, and weigh my food. Do I need to do all that to succeed? No. I just need to eat better. It’s that simple.
Stop demanding perfection every day. Set small goals that are easy for you to reach. Just ten minutes a day, or a single paragraph can get you closer to finishing that book. After a week, raise the bar a little higher. Eventually, your routine will become something you look forward to every day.
Personal Burnout: Take a Break
If you’re anything like me, you might be a bit of a work alcoholic. Hey, motivation and ambition is great, but here’s the thing: if your writing habits are negatively effecting your mental or physical health, eventually you’ll wind up hating it.
If you have an insanely busy week coming up: put your book aside or lighten up your daily goals. Just make sure you have a set date in mind when to rev back up again and you’ll find it easier to “slack” for a few days.
Remember: if you end up burning out, you won’t have the energy to finish your book.
Fear of Rejection: Find a Cheerleader
Finding someone who will give you honest, constructive feedback is one of the best ways to become better at your craft. But maybe you’re not there yet. Try easing into letting others read your book by finding someone who will cheerlead you across the finish line.
Seek out a friend or family member who is willing to read your material and tell them you need to only hear positive things from them. When they come back gushing about their favorite line, scene, or character, the walls you’ve built up around your writing will start to fade and you’ll want to share more.
It can be a slow process, but it gets easier as you go.
Fear of Success: Be Realistic and Reset your Focus
You want to be a published writer, but you’re terrified of fame or anything else that comes with being a huge bestseller. But let’s honest here. Most authors spend a decade or more working their way onto the bestseller charts.
Chances are, you’re not writing the next Harry Potter. Even if you are, focus on the positive things you could do with your newfound influence and financial independence. You could donate to charities more, help out a struggling family member, or inspire a young kid to write a book of their own.
Before you sit down to write, give yourself a few minutes to focus on the positive. Be thankful that you have the time to write, that you live in a country where free speech exists, and that you can publish a book regardless of gender, beliefs, identity, and so on.
In short: shift your mindset from fear of success to gratitude for even having the chance.