We’ve all been there as a writer – staring at a blank page, willing the words to write themselves. Writer’s block is one of the most frustrating aspects of being a writer. Many famous and well-loved writers have admitted that it took them hours, days, months, or even years to get the words on the page. Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal, “Prose writing has become a phobia to me: my mind shuts & I clench. I can’t, or won’t, come clear with a plot.” Virginia Woolf, from A Writer’s Diary, wrote, “And I ought to be writing Jacob’s Room; and I can’t, and instead I shall write down the reason why I can’t.” Finally, Iris Murdoch, in a 1943 letter, wrote, “Do I write? I’ve written only three poems & no prose in the last year. Just before that, I wrote quite a little prose…But at the moment I’m writing nothing nor do I feel the urge to write.”
Pretty dramatic, right?
The point is, every writer gets writer’s block, but it’s absolutely essential that you continue writing in order to produce a story that you can edit and improve upon. Some common causes of writer’s block include fear, timing, and perfection.
Once you put these feelings aside, you’ll have a better idea of where you want to take your story. Remember, write for yourself first, make time every day to write (developing a schedule or routine will help you overcome writer’s block), and know that your first draft will not be perfect.
Read books you enjoy
Many writers are also avid readers. If you’re not, you should probably start. When you take another author’s words from the page, it motivates and challenges you to get your own story out. Reading not only inspires your imagination, but it also exposes you to other styles of writing that you can then emulate. Reading a book with breathtaking descriptions? Write a short paragraph mimicking the style. Have you fallen in love with the way a character speaks, acts, and thinks? See if you can add in a few detailed sentences about your own main character. You never know what may come out of your story until you try.
Try prompt books
Prompt books have been met with varying levels of appreciation. Some writers find it counterproductive to force themselves to write about something irrelevant to their work, while others have found writing prompts to be an effective way to get into writing again.
Try obscure prompts – describe the perfect sandwich. Try detailed prompts – imagine a world where everyone does, says, and thinks x. Expand on this world. Try prompts that you think may be a good fit for your story. They’re meant to challenge you and put restraints on your content that you might not have considered otherwise.
Skip to a scene you’re excited to write
More often than not, writers get an idea that they’re excited about, but struggle to fill in the spaces around that idea. Try to think back to that initial spark, to that vague idea you had that you wanted to nurture into a story. What scene are you most excited about? What is the climactic ending? The tragic betrayal? If you can pinpoint the moment in the story that excites you, you’re more than welcome to write it. There’s no rule stating you have to write chronologically.
Alternatively, you can also play around with different genres within your scenes. It might be fun to explore the heartbreaking and horror-filled death scene as an opening to a mystery novel, or a romantic interaction that suddenly shifts into a fantastical world. Have fun. Be weird. Break boundaries. Give your writing the space it needs to breathe and grow and flourish.
It’s extremely common for writers to take walks or another relaxing activity when they’re stuck on a project. It not only gives them time to think, but it also relieves their stress. Go outside, see a friend, or even run some errands. The time away from your writing might be what you need to get back into the writing rhythm, but try not to use the outside world as an excuse to procrastinate. Come back to your writing once you’ve cleared your head. Never wait to be inspired.
Write, write, write. And don’t stop.
Sometimes, you simply need to write to overcome writer’s block. Set a timer for one to five minutes, and then write. Even if all you write is “I don’t know what to write” over and over again, do not lift your pencil or pen from the paper, or your fingers from the keyboard. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or cohesion. Write for the joy of writing. Write anything.
Remember, it’s okay to feel a little stuck. The important part is that you come back to your story in the end – it will never be complete without you.
is an avid reader and passionate writer from Colorado. She studied creative writing and journalism at the University of Denver and graduated in 2021. She has worked with the Denver Quarterly literary journal, written for the DU Clarion, and currently works with Spring Cedars Publishing.