Prahlad Yeri

Freelance Programmer and Writer

Dealing with writer's block: The ultimate checklist


Writer's Block is something that even the best among us struggle with occasionally and there is no easy answer to it. I've been following techniques such as the 10 content-types method to brainstorm and come up with ideas but all such techniques have a limit, eventually the block finds some way or the other to creep in.

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There is no easy answer to the problem of Writer's Block because it's almost a "Wholesome Evil"! It's not an easy thing to diagnose because there could be several reasons causing it. You could be stuck at home during a lockdown and having missed the familiar places you often keep visiting, your mind may not be giving you it's usual supplies of ideas? Maybe you are suffering from depression which is acting as a blocker that keeps ideas from sprouting up without you knowing? The possibilities are almost infinite, Writer's Block almost feels like a mystery because the subconscious mind is a mystery.

Perhaps that's why when I posted this question in front of all writers in the "Creative Writing" Facebook group, the answers I received were as diverse and unique. In this post, I'm attempting to create a checklist of such reasons, so if you happen to be a writer who is currently suffering from a block, it may help you to go through each one and then who knows, you might stumble across a few that will give you the Eureka moment and diagnose the cause of your block in an instant!

  • Procrastination. I think procrastination is easily one of the commonest reasons for a block in most people. In fact, most writers themselves admit it as this is the top voted answer! However, what causes procrastination can also be an unsolvable mystery sometimes as it could be happening due to some other unknown reason (such as a need for perfection or even depression).
  • Lack of creative ideas. This the second voted answer and also very common among writers. This problem may not be easy to solve as you may have to study and do some reading of your subject matter in order to come up with more ideas (at least in case of non-fiction writing). In case of fiction writing, it's not so straightforward. But again, visiting new places, meeting new people, and even doing something differently from your daily schedule that breaks the monotony can often trigger distant memories which might act as a catalyst for generating new ideas.
  • Imposter syndrome. This third voted reason is also quite common today, especially in young engineers. The need for perfection becomes so urgent and chronic sometimes that your very belief system takes a hit, you fail to even acknowledge the possibility that you can produce great works of writing. And on those rare occasions when you do write something good, this sly and cunning mental force succeeds in convincing you that it wasn't really you who did that! That's what Imposter syndrome really is. "You are just being an imposter after all, how can do accomplish such a great thing", is what your mind says. Very often, this is the real reason behind what appears to be procrastination and we don't know that consciously. As one comment rightly says, "Writers need to give themselves permission to suck".
  • Need for Perfection. This very much relates to and is sometimes linked to imposter syndrome. But regardless, the need for perfection often prevents any creative endeavor from progressing, it's not just about writing. Almost every IT Project has a project manager sitting on top of a programmer, do you know why? Coding is a creative endeavor and left on their own, programmers have the tendency to keep on churning builds after builds of an app just to "perfect" some features! But the manager has to worry about deadlines too, so they keep nudging the programmer every now and then to just get it done soon! In case of a writing project (where we are the manager ourselves!), we must keep reminding ourselves that it's better to have a slightly less than perfect plot or scene and move on than keep "perfecting" a particular plot or scene until all Eternity!
  • Busy schedule. Though it's less common, writers often miss this unknowingly. Have you considered the possibility that the reason you're unable to write is that you're not dedicating enough time to the writing process itself? While writing can often times be a creative and liberating process, it isn't always easy. Depending on the kind of writing you're doing, you may have to spend lots of time on research, character building, plotting, outlining, etc. And to be honest, once you actually start doing it, the nitty gritty of it may well turn out to be more mundane and monotonous than creative. Is it the case that the very dread of it is causing you to not allocate enough time for writing in the first place? Ask yourself.
  • Distractions. Based on a good number of comments, this seems to be a cause too. Many writers are unable to focus or pay attention to their writing due to mundane distractions like loud noises of TV or music systems, road traffic, loud speakers, etc. And while a lot of these can be fixed to a certain extent like using ear-plugs, going on a retreat or cafe to write, etc., the real solution is to change ourselves and increase tolerance. Intolerance towards external noises is a relatively new phenomenon largely induced by modern technology which is designed to encourage a lifestyle of constant divided attention (through notification sounds, multiple app windows and workspaces, etc). A regular practice of mindfulness meditation is, in fact, a great way to counter this.
  • Depression or ADHD. One of the most downplayed reasons of writer's block is depression. Depression is a far more common malady in society than most people seem to think it is. Fear of writing (or achieving success through writing) is also a manifestation of depression. It's a taboo in the society (at least in India) to even acknowledge that one has depression, it's perceived to be some kind of weakness in humans instead of just another problem to be solved. This, in turn, causes people to consciously keep suppressing its existence in the mind. Many a times, you may not even know that your depression could be preventing you from writing unless you actually sit and ponder about it.
  • Lack of Confidence. This generally relates to either Depression or Imposter syndrome described above. If you're not feeling confident enough to write, it's generally because of these two reasons, go ponder about it and think what you can do about it.
  • Ditz Factor/Cluttered Thoughts. This reason stated in the comments section sort of opened my eyes! The dictionary meaning of "ditz" is A flighty and disorganized person. And indeed, like in any other endeavor, planning and organization should be a prerequisite before you start writing, perhaps even more so in this case as there could be so many impediments to writing in the first place (as this list suggests!). Maybe stop all your activities and just think for a while about what you want to write, then organize by outlining or making bullet points or doing some brainstorming? There are modern tools available for this today such as Google Trends, Answer The Public and the Google Keyword Planner Tool.
  • Need to think "outside the box". Out of box thinking is a major component of creativity, that's how you manage to stand away from the crowd and bring new ideas to the table. But what will cause you to think more out of the box, or what is preventing you from doing so is not a very easy question to answer. One thing you may want to do is keep going through this checklist again and again until you find it.
  • Lack of Passion. Have you considered the possibility that you're writing about the wrong subject? Writing flows naturally when you're interested in a topic, that's when it's easy to focus there. Mind you, passion can also be "generated" or "feigned" initially until it comes naturally with the "zone factor". But if you're writing about a topic for a very long time and still facing a block, then it's time you ponder on this point. Are you even passionate about what you're writing? If not, maybe try writing about something else for a change? Even writing about general non-fiction things (such as this blog post) can help you a lot until you find your exact passion.
  • Lack of Enthusiasm/Energy. Sometimes, you're passionate about a subject and you want to write passionately but you don't find the energy or enthusiasm to sit on the desk for a few hours and actually do it. Ask yourself what's causing this to you. If it's a question of loss of focus or fickle mindedness, you can try focus meditation.
  • Lack of Discipline. The creative people of present age seem to have a general distaste for the concept of discipline! But we are not talking about authoritarian regimes here, self discipline is a structure or format of rules you subject yourself to and it might actually be a good thing. Discipline will help you in those darkest of hours when you're engrossed in the nitty gritty of research/outlining/plotting, when writing has suddenly turned from creative to mundane and you feel like just stopping it. At this point, it's a good question to ask yourself - Is lack of discipline causing your writer's block?
  • Creative Exhaustion. This is very much a thing, isn't it? There is only so much you can come up with on a given topic in a given span of time. And this applies to both fiction and non-fiction. Are you trying to churn out too much writing than you can handle? If so, maybe take a break and come back. It's also not necessary that you should write about only one topic. You can write both fiction and non-fiction, you can even write journals or blog posts, you can even write self-notes or poetry for a while until you get back to your primary domain.
  • Failure to Walk. Seems like a very silly reason but still included for the sake of completion. But then again, you can also apply the trial-error method to writing process and if all else fails, why not just go out and take a walk? Maybe it'll actually work out for you!
  • "Other Mysterious Force". If you sincerely tried out or at least pondered all the above points and still suffering from a block, then it'll be due to some other "mysterious" reason but rest assured that it'll still just be mysterious, not supernatural! In this case, you can use the "trial-error" approach, see what works best for you and what doesn't. In general, going through your daily schedule and making adjustments to it usually helps. The primary agenda should be about allocating more time for writing and also more reading.

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