Writer’s block is a common experience where you feel like you can’t write. I see it as a symptom rather than a problem. Here’s some advice for getting past it.

Remember that the world is not set up to support your writing. You have professional and personal commitments that can get in the way of your personal goals, of course you do. Writing is not easy. People often say, “Oh, I wish I had the time to write,” as if those of us who write somehow have more time or fewer responsibilities.

Not true.

A writer finds ways to commit the time to write. Writers get exhausted and distracted because we’re human. It might take us seven years and six drafts to write a good novel, even professional writers. So be aware of when that exhaustion starts to visit you, and don’t let it talk you out of your goals. Sometimes you can’t write because you need a break to recharge. Take a nap, go for a walk, talk to a friend, and let yourself off the hook. Then get back to work.

I think writers’ block also comes from unrealistic expectations. If you tell yourself, “I need to get this book published or I’ve wasted my time,” you’re setting yourself up to feel bad for no reason. There’s a saying that you have to write a million words of crap before you become a master craftsman. You might accept the premise but it’s a rare person who accepts that this rule applies to them. A lot of successful writers didn’t publish their first novel, or even their second or third, because it wasn’t good enough. Stephen King kept his rejection letters on the wall using a rail spike because a regular nail wasn’t strong enough to hold them all up.

In this era of self-publishing and seemingly overnight successes, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking you ought to be able to build a career as a writer almost overnight. If you put that kind of pressure on yourself, it can squash your creativity. Why do you write? Because you enjoy it, because you have something to say, because the act of writing gives you a fierce pleasure that nothing else can touch? Those motivations will carry you further than the need to be published. Being a professional writer requires a spiritual hardiness that no amount of encouragement or advice can give you, you have to have it within yourself.

Writers’ block may also be a sign you are going in the wrong direction with a story. Be willing to listen to that voice. Maybe instead of killing that character, you have their mother come over for a cup of tea. Maybe you’re staring down the blank page and don’t know where to start. Back off and think about something that bothers you, say, cruelty to animals or the price of organic food or white collar crime or police brutality. Think about a person that this issue affects, and what they might do about it. Build the story around that. Let your passion fuel your work.

It might be that you are stuck because you intuitively know that in order to tell a good and satisfying story, you have to work a bit beyond your current skill. That’s a great sign for your writing, but it can be scary and confusing. Plot in popular fiction is an intense and heady mix of human motivations and problems that has to resemble real life enough to be believable. At the same time, a good plot must follow a specific structure (e.g. hook, buildup, climax, and denouement) that it needs in order to be a satisfying story. That’s a lot of work. Any ambitious writer is going to feel daunted from time to time. So talk to friends, or find a good independent editor to help you see your opportunities. Writers’ block can be excruciating but you can get through it.

Amelia Beamer
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