Blank Pages: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Picture of By Rita Alves

By Rita Alves

At some point, after being tasked to compose an essay or an article enough times, one is likely to face writer’s block. Despite debates over its cause or to what extent it is an actual issue, many have reported experiencing frustration over the inexplicable inability to write. So how can we overcome it?

 The blank page

Writer’s block seemed like the ideal topic for this article. I have experienced it. I have heard many others express their frustrations about it. Hence, an article exploring the causes for it sounded not only logical but helpful.

The issue with writing about what you know, however, is that it sometimes hits too close to home. So, about two days before my deadline, I found myself staring at the same blank document for about an hour, slowly losing my mind in monologues debating the meaning of life, and whether or not blue light glasses are a good investment. 

With the pressure of the imminent deadline, I scoured the web not only to try to understand writer’s block but ultimately, how to overcome it. And so, this article was born. 

The block

There isn’t a clear consensus about whether or not writer’s block exists. Many question its legitimacy, often referring to the fact that people in other fields do not seem to face this issue. Teachers do not get teachers’ block, nor do baristas get barista’s block, for example. 

However, numerous people object to this line of thought, citing that a writer’s job heavily involves creativity, which in turn requires inspiration, which if not found, becomes a roadblock. But then again, painter’s block or sculpture’s block, for example, are not terms we hear thrown around often.

And perhaps, writer’s block is a specific sounding term, for a rather universally applicable experience?  

Perhaps inspiration is not the only issue. And perhaps, writer’s block is a specific sounding term, for a rather universally applicable experience? 

The cause

By definition, writer’s block is “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece”. Many treat writer’s block as a cause of the inability to write. It appears to be a given that writers will inevitably face writer’s block and that it is this block that prevents them from starting or completing their work. In reality, we should look at it more as a consequence of diverse internal and external challenges.

Apart from the commonly mentioned lack of inspiration, another cited cause of the issue is previous praise. Although compliments can encourage, they can also unintentionally create pressure. A higher bar could be set each time a writer is complimented, making the idea of surpassing the previous success a stressful challenge.

Connected to the pressure of previous praise is fear. Fearing of not being as good as the last piece one wrote, or not being good enough in general, can create self-doubts or even anxiety, which subconsciously stops you from proceeding to write. You cannot fail if you never try?

Similarly, perfectionists can often get in their own way, as they get stuck struggling to find a sentence or word which perfectly elevates their writing. 

Another possible source of the problem is distractions. These could be environmental or even connected to mental health. Different conditions and disorders can make focusing on any given task extremely exhausting, hence not ideal for writing. 

The causes for the issue are diverse, but the key is to determine the root of the problem to identify the best solution. 

The solutions

Advice commonly given surrounding this issue comes in lists of anywhere between 5 to 36 different suggestions. However, it can be summarized to the following: 

  1. Identify the underlying issue

As mentioned, writer’s block isn’t the cause of the issue, but merely a consequence. Understanding this and identifying the actual cause is crucial to determine which coping skills will be most useful.

  1. Time management techniques 

Techniques such as the Pomodoro technique help to break down the writing of longer pieces into smaller tasks, thereby increasing your ability to focus and making the tasks seem more manageable.

  1. Writing Prompts

Whether related or not to the topic of your text, writing prompts can be used as a warm-up to encourage creativity.

  1. Brainstorm and debate

Whether by yourself or with others, brainstorming or debating the issue you are covering can help you explore different angles and understand it better. This can help create a skeleton for your piece and make writing it less overwhelming. 

  1. Keep writing

Even if you can’t quite find the right words or tone, at times it is best to just keep writing. Remind yourself that you can save your text during the editing phase. This will make the writing process less daunting.

Many of the solutions may appear quite obvious, but the truth is, they work. The key is to tailor them to the causes of your writer’s block and to keep trying different solutions until one sticks. The fact is, if it worked for me, it could work for you. Good luck.


Cover: Steve Johnson

Edited by: Sofia Neumeyer

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