Writer’s Block: Name It and Tame It

Jul 10, 2024 | Better Writing

When my friend Rick asked me if I ever had writer’s block, I gave him my standard response: “No, not really.” Then I thought about it for a bit. Some knowledgeable people don’t believe there’s such a thing as writer’s block.

Dr. Robert Boice spent a career studying writers and how they work. He said writer’s block was a form of procrastination.

Many other famous writers and writing experts don’t think there’s such a thing as writer’s block. Toni Morrison said, “I disavow the term.” Judy Blume doesn’t believe in writer’s block.

Some writers have alternative definitions. Tom Wolfe, for example, says, “It’s the fear you cannot do what you’ve announced to someone else you can do, or else the fear that it isn’t worth doing.”

That’s all great, but try telling any of it to a writer staring at a blank screen with no idea what to write.

Other crafts don’t have anything like writer’s block. You never hear of plumber’s block or chef’s block or gardener’s block. But plumbers, chefs, and gardeners all have times when they’re unsure what to do next. Only writers have raised that situation to an exceptional condition. One day, there may even be a psychological diagnosis for it. While we’re waiting, here’s how to tame writer’s block.

Name It and Tame It

No matter who thinks writer’s block doesn’t exist, here’s what to do if it exists for you.

First, name it. You can choose anything you like, but writer’s block will do. When writer’s block shows up, name it. Saying, “Oh, it’s writer’s block,” will knock out some of the emotional power and allow you to get on with the taming.

Two Ways to Tame Writer’s Block

After you name it, activate a simple if/then plan. If it’s writer’s block, then I do this. There are two proven ways to tame writer’s block and get on with your writing.

Do something else. You can’t write, and sitting there staring at the blank screen doesn’t help much, so leave your project alone and do something else.

You can do a chore that needs doing or switch to another project for a while. A great choice is to do something where your body is on autopilot and your mind is free to roam. That encourages your brain to generate the ideas that may tame your writer’s block.

Taking a walk is something writers have loved for generations. Walk in nature if possible. Leave your phone behind. Be sure to have a way to capture the good ideas you’ll get while you’re walking.

Just start writing. Just start writing about anything. It can be your project, it can be your thoughts on where to go for lunch, it can be your plans for creating world peace. It doesn’t matter. Start writing. In a few moments, you’re likely to find yourself writing something related to your project. Then, you can switch over to productive writing.

Both methods work, but most people find that one works much better for them. Once you figure that out, make it your go-to.

Taming writer’s block is great, but it would be even better if you could prevent most writer’s blocks in the first place. Good news, that’s possible.

Preventing Writer’s Block

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, an ounce of review and planning is worth a pound of struggling with writer’s block.

Always know what’s next. You won’t spend time figuring it out if you know what’s next.

Before you finish writing today, decide the first thing you’ll write about in your next writing session. Ernest Hemingway said, “Always quit while you’re going good.” Other writers who’ve discovered the magic of this technique suggest you “always stop in the middle of something.”

If you always know what’s next, you should never worry about writer’s block. But if writer’s block shows up, name it and tame it.

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