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Writer's Block: The Writer's Arch Nemesis

The causes of Writer's Block and how to overcome it.

pencil in a knot

Have you ever thought of a brilliant ending to an unwritten poem floating in your mind while you run errands at the mall? You can’t wait to get home to put pen to paper and expound on this idea, only to open your book and have the blank page mock you?

Or… did you ever have to write an essay about your favorite subject, but you have not the slightest inkling of where or how to start, while the submission deadline looms over your head?

If that’s you, then we might have more in common than you think, because you, my friend, are experiencing the writer’s arch nemesis called “Writer’s Block”.

What is Writer's Block?


-          Writer’s Block is a non-medical condition, primarily associated with writing, in which the author either struggles to articulate their own ideas or is unable to produce original work. With degrees of severity, this creative block can last anywhere between an hour to a year or more without producing any new work.

Other definitions:

-          The inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than lack of basic skill or commitment – usually temporary

-          The unsuccessful attempt to put pen to paper while experiencing little or no meaningful engagement with the subject

What causes Writer's Block?

Before we delve into what causes writer’s block, let me stipulate that writer’s block is not a result of a lack of ideas or talent, as some may be led to believe.

In the 1970’s, two researchers from Yale, Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios, studied professional writers experiencing writer’s block in various literary disciplines ranging from screenwriting to poetry, etc.

Over several months the researchers documented four main triggers for writer’s block:


·         Apathy. These writers felt constrained by the “rules” of writing and struggled to find their creative spark.

·         Anger. These writers were often narcissistic and would get angry if something they created went unnoticed.

·         Anxiety. These writers worried that they weren’t good enough.

·         Issues with others. These writers didn’t want their writing to be compared to others’ work, resulting in a fear of writing anything at all.


Let us entertain the premise that these are the four official causes of writer’s block. We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that the causes of writer’s block are essentially psychological or emotional responses, which tends to make writing a fearful exercise.


Writer’s Block is psychological. Let me try to unpack it a little more. When forced to confront the issue of Writer’s Block in my own life, I always find myself having to deal with anxiety because I’m so critical of myself, to the point where I end up paralyzed and not able to think or write, then, I’d get angry because I tend to project my own dismissive attitude concerning my work, onto others without giving them the benefit of the doubt.

My social hostility is aroused because people tend to compare my writing to well-established writers, making my creative effort seem mediocre. Then, I’d throw my pen down, close my book in frustration, and vow never to attempt writing again. And here’s where apathy enters the proverbial WhatsApp group chat and all my confidence leaves.


I can personally identify with all four of the above-mentioned points. However, I would propose that we not belabor the fear factor and sum the causes of writer’s block up in two points, namely: Fear and Apathy.

The fear of my work being subpar among my peers causes my anxiety. The fear of my work being rejected riles me up. And the fear of scrutiny and comparison leads me to be indifferent towards the very people I intend to reach with my writing. So, shall we proceed with my premise of two points instead of the initial four? Good!!

Writer's Block: Beyond The Surface

The inability to begin writing, or to continue writing, is but a symptom of a potentially serious and underlying issue. So, allow me to pose my presupposition as to why I believe writer’s block is not about writing. Based on the research cited, following the pattern of logic and rules of deduction, I have simplified and summed up the four causes of writer’s block into two, and fear is the common denominator causing writer’s block.


Fear, in this context, is an unpleasant emotion caused by perceived threats or danger. If we look beyond the surface, we discover that writer’s block exposes parts of our psychology that make writing an unpleasant experience.


Fundamentally, writer’s block occurs when we unconsciously fight to protect our inner, most vulnerable selves from exploitation by the outside world.

Writer's Block: A Personal Example

The role of writing was always to explore the crevasses of my own heart in search of hidden emotions and attempt to express them through storytelling in poetry. It’s an unburdening process where I confront myself and work through what I’m feeling in a healthy way, as opposed to projecting and bleeding on those who didn’t cut me.


The goal of writing is to trigger emotions in others. When in the process of writing, I trigger painful and dark emotions, and cannot proceed from that point, that is in essence what we call writer’s block.


When my neighbor and best friend was killed in 2014, I was in emotional turmoil. I was still writing topical poems, but when it concerned how I felt about the loss of my friend, I would shut down for months not touching the pen. Only 9years later did I attempt to write about it and it happened organically because I changed the approach and avoided triggering my raw emotions, which would probably have led to writer’s block again.

Writer's Block: A Mental Health Issue?

If we were to examine Writer’s Block a little deeper, we would soon discover that some of its symptoms are addressed by psychiatrists, and thus, by merit, should make writer’s block a topic within the discussion surrounding mental health.

How did we go from simple writer’s block to mental health issues? Isn’t that a reach? Well, writer’s block is but a symptom; an indicator that there is a problem somewhere else.

Writer’s block is not about writing. It’s not a simple problem with easy solutions. Writing is a medium of expression; how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the world around us.

Our outlook on ourselves is more psychological than anything else because no one can give us a better outlook on ourselves. It is an internal issue that we need to confront. Writer’s block originates from that very struggle. Writer’s block is a reflection that our inner well-being has, to a degree, been affected adversely; that’s why our attitude and behavior start to change. And that is what psychology is: the study of the human mind and behavior.

Overcoming Writer's Block

·         Rest your mind: when you’re thinking and writing too much, prolonged periods of working without rest will take a toll on your body, mind, and, ultimately, affect your creativity. Try an activity completely unrelated to writing.

·         Work your mind: keep challenging yourself to write. Do not remain idle. Keep your mind busy with non-strenuous, but mind-building exercises.

·         Fill your mind: when does anyone not have something to say? Strange concept, right? Not at all. You may have a lot to say, but it’s all unoriginal and uninspired. Reading a book, engaging in solid conversations, and doing research can really help in filling your mind with new information.

·         Free scripting: I write every day. That’s not a euphemism for ‘regularly’. I mean that I write every single day. It may not be the inspired pieces you hear or read, but I’m always writing. Even when I’m experiencing writer’s block, I exercise free scripting. It helps me sharpen my skills until such a time when I am able to continue writing inspired pieces again. One of the things I enjoy doing when I’m experiencing writer’s block is practicing writing topical or structured pieces, like poetry in prose or sonnets.

·         Eliminate distractions: the easiest thing to do while writing is to get distracted. Try turning off your internet for about 20 minutes at a time to focus on writing.

·         Establish a ritual: whenever you’re getting ready to write, meditate, stretch, listen to your favorite Playlist that gets you in the mood to write.

·         Affirmation: instead of criticizing yourself, affirm yourself by focusing on the parts of your process you excel in.

Final Thoughts

When we suffer writer’s block, we tend to ask how we could get rid of it, understandably so. However, seeking to “cure” a severe case of writer’s block without addressing the underlying causes is like sweeping dirt under the rug to hide it from visitors. You may succeed at first, but the more dirt you try to hide, the more uncomfortable it becomes to walk over the heap of dirt.


This article highlights some of the most common causes of writer’s block and some of the ways I think could help you as you seek to address them. Use the tips given to deal with the mild annoyance of not being able to write, but for the more severe cases, try a more therapeutic approach. In so doing, you could spark a flame of creativity within and you might find yourself healing other deep-seated issues.


I hope this helps you find ways to deal with your writer’s block so you can get back to writing inspired pieces again.

Let us know your experience with Writer's Block and some of the ways you overcome it.

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