What is writer's block?

If you're wondering what is writer's block, the answer is this: it is the condition whereby the writer cannot summon up the creativity to continue writing. The ideas are completely stalled. The brain is totally empty. Nothing comes. The mind is a desert with nothing growing or flourishing. Bad enough, but worse - there is no sign that this can end, and no control over when it will end. It’s scary and frightening and frustrating in the extreme.

What causes writer's block?

I believe there are two main causes of writer's block:

  • Fear, and
  • Limiting beliefs


It’s totally understandable. We risk so much when we begin to write. Here are some of the things we face:

  • What is writer's block: Fear of showing our vulnerabilities.Think about it: every time we describe our character’s fear, or sadness, or rejection etc, we’re really describing our own. That takes huge courage to expose that to the world. The writer Goethe said: Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.


  • Certainly there have been many times when I’ve had a character say something like: “I hate throwing parties, because I’m terrified nobody’ll turn up”, and even as I’m doing that I’m thinking, Maybe I’m the only person who worries about that. Maybe when my readers see this they’ll think, how strange that somebody should experience that. Obviously Tracy thinks that - I’d never have thought that of her.

    Yes, at some level I know that most people are vulnerable, and that surely I’m not the only person who feels that. But I might be!

    So that’s scary. It requires so much courage to write that down. But it’s essential. The more your character shares her vulnerabilities and fears, the more the reader will identify with her (caveat: within reason, done well. Nobody wants to read about a total jellyfish of a wimp!). A character who breezes through life, totally confident, never a concern or a worry, will never engage your reader. (And it’d be a pretty boring story too, wouldn’t it?)

  • What is writer's block: the fear of feeling strong emotions.To write well about our character's fear or anguish, we have to feel those emotions. And when you think that humans regularly do all sorts of things to avoid strong emotions (such as smoking, drinking, over-eating, shopping, watching television etc), then you'll see how courageous it is that we fiction writers are diving willingly into the depths of strong emotion. The strong desire to avoid that is surely another strand in the answer to what is writers block.

  • What is writer's block: the fear of rejection.Another issue facing fiction writers is that we’re risking rejection. Actually, we’re all-but guaranteeing rejection, and it takes courage to accept that and live through that.

    For a start, as beginning authors (and we all have to start off like that), we have to submit our manuscripts to agents and publishers, and it’s the rare writer who gets accepted straight away. The rest of us are going to get rejected to a greater or lesser extent.

  • And then, even when we do get published, we are risking nasty reviews. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve only had positive reviews, but I still recall one stinging comment within an otherwise positive review. I can only imagine what a rough review would be like.Then there’s the risk of not having your contract renewed by your publisher - that’s very real, and happens often. It’s a tough one, because that failure is very public.

  • What is writer's block: the fear of success.This might sound suprirsing, but it makes perfect sense. Success = change, and change is scary for us.

    Actually, fear of success is partly another aspect of fear of rejection - there is a fear - often a valid fear - that if we become too successful, people won't like us any more. No wonder we don't want to risk that.

    I need to tell you though that, yes, if you become successful there may well be those who begrudge that success and lose touch with you because of that. But you need to know that that is all about them, not you.

    It's about their own fears and their own doubts and their own certainty that they'll never succeed and the only way they can feel good is by making sure people around them don't succeed either. They are no loss in your life.

    Also, you cannot become a success in any field without other people coming into your life - often people who have had the same success and aren't scared by it. So you will find - I promise you - that any gaps in your life will soon be filled, and filled by people who are more positive and higher-energy than any sad losers who reject you because you succeed.

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Limiting Beliefs

  • As infants and young children, our main job is to figure the world out. So, we're constantly gathering evidence and coming to conclusions.

    We are apt to generalise, which is hugely beneficial to us. That's why you can see a chair or a cup that you've never seen before, and know that it's a chair or a cup, for example.

    However, sometimes that generalisation works against us. We take an experience that happened once (and perhaps even one we misunderstood, and took the wrong conclusion from), and make it part of our truth/reality/belief/paradigm that that experience is the way things always are.

    For example, say there was a little girl, aged about five, who had finished a beautiful painting which took her hours and of which she was so, so proud. She stood up to rush off and call her parents to come and have a look at it - but in her hurry and excitement she accidentally knocked over the dirty paint water and ruined her painting. Her subconscious may well have thus internalised the truth/reality/belief/paradigm that: Finishing projects causes them to be destroyed, so it’s not safe to finish them.

    Or, a similar scenario - maybe she didn’t spill the water, and did run off and fetch her parents. But they, for whatever reason - their own pain and worries and problems perhaps - took one look at it and sneered, ‘Is that the best you can do?’ The truth/reality/belief/paradigm would be similar though: It’s dangerous to finish things.

    Our fictional girl wouldn’t even know that she was carrying this belief! It would be so deep down in her subconscious that it was outside her conscious awareness. But yet, the belief would be there, and her subconscious would act always with regard to that belief.

    And so, because there is a danger inherent in finishing projects, her subconscious, whose job - above all - is to keep her safe, would try to stop her finishing any projects.

    Therefore this girl would find it hugely difficult to finish projects, possibly for the rest of her life. If she did manage to finish anything it would only be through a huge application of willpower and a strange stressed feeling. And she would find that the effort would exhaust her, and she would have many unfinished projects for every one she managed to finish.

    So, if that girl, as a grown woman, tried to write a novel - what do you think would happen?

    She would get blocked, that's what.

    She would want to finish her novel, but it would be (in her belief system) dangerous for her to do so, and so her subconcious would come up with the only way it knows to save her from that danger - by blocking her from writing.

    Do you see how this works?

    We all have all sorts of truths/realities/beliefs/paradigms. Many of them serve us well - but others don't.

    So, now that you know what is writers block, I invite you check out the cure for writer's block.

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