The Truth About Writer’s Block

Here’s a post at Writers Helping Writers: The One Popular Myth Writers Believe About Writer’s Block

What, you’re probably asking yourself, is that myth?

Right: That there’s no such thing as writer’s block. I bet you knew that.

I agree, incidentally. That is a myth. Writer’s block is certainly real, sometimes in the way described in the linked post and sometimes in other ways. This post says:

Draft after draft, I came up against a wall. No matter how hard I tried or how many hours I put in, I could not figure out how to get past the midpoint of that novel…. This is what finally led to a breakthrough for me. I went to see Girl on a Train … I was fascinated by how the story was told. For much of the movie, the main character didn’t know what had happened to put her into her current situation. It was something I had never explored before: what if my hero was in the dark as to what had happened? Voila! Breakthrough.

This article is clearly about is Type II Writer’s Block: a plot point isn’t working and therefore you’re stuck.

Here are the three types of writer’s block, as far as I can tell:

Type I: The writer lacks enthusiasm for some part of the book. She needs to establish a daily minimum, sit down, and write the darn book. Or she needs to take effective action in some way to make herself move forward. This is indeed a discipline issue.

For people who have finished multiple novels, I don’t think this kind of writer’s block occurs. That is, it does, but they know how to handle it, with daily minimum wordcounts or whatever else works for them.

That’s why experienced authors sometimes declare that writer’s block doesn’t exist; they know how to handle lack of enthusiasm and they haven’t happened to hit any other form of writer’s block. That’s nice for them, but not helpful in delineating other problems.

Type II: The writer runs aground on some plot point. Something isn’t working and she can’t move forward until she figures out how to solve that problem. For the linked post, the epiphany was What if my protagonist doesn’t know what’s going on? I must say, that’s a great notion. I see why this change helped kick the stalled novel into motion.

For me, when I was stuck with Invictus for so long, my brother finally made the right comment. What if they aren’t actually at war? I’m not even sure why that did it, but that question made me view the events of the story from just the right angle. Finally, at long last, I was able to figure out what every character was trying to achieve and why, and therefore at last I could move forward.

At other times, the key has been suddenly realizing that I should bring a new character onto the stage and that would make the first protagonist’s plotline fall into place. In fact, that exact realization was key to finishing my first-ever (unpublished, unpublishable) fantasy novel. That was important because finishing your first novel-length project gives you the confidence that you can finish novels, which I think is crucial.

The realization can be anything. This is the wrong protagonist, this is the wrong relationship, the plot is getting needlessly complicated with endless subplots, whatever. As soon as the author figures out what the story should be doing, everything smooths out. (At least for a while.)

Type III: The writer is suffering from clinical depression. Nothing is going to help until the author gets appropriate treatment.

It’s really important to get that writer’s block may not be a thing in itself, but a symptom of a broader problem. I suspect this can be hard to recognize from the inside, as someone who is clinically depressed is also probably prone to self-blame and feelings of pointlessness and so on. The linked post is one writer’s experience with this kind of writer’s block. Personally, I’d say that if everything about writing seems to have become pointless and tedious, it’s time to take a break for a few months — and if that doesn’t help, or if everything in life also feels hopeless, then I’d definitely suggest consulting a psychiatrist.

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6 thoughts on “The Truth About Writer’s Block”

  1. In an outline, I generally think I know what happened next. So I make the opposite happen.

    Heroine was looking for information at a fair. I was stuck. So I had a dragon fly over and everyone ran away. (Note: dragon had been introduced earlier.)

  2. Well, Mary, if the dragon had been a new introduction to the story, you could have gone back and added the dragon earlier, and boom! Dragons!

    I have to say, I’ve heard advice that if you get stuck, you should make something explode, but I greatly prefer “if you get stuck, add a dragon.”

  3. @ Mary,
    That is literally what I did too. I didn’t know there needed to be dragons in that particular story (though dragons are an essential part of that world), but once I added them in on my third attempt at a finished draft, the whole thing came together beautifully, and now they’re an integral part of the plot. Indeed, if you get stuck, add a dragon.

  4. “I’ve made the decision not to accept writer’s block. You can always find something to write about. I can “change channels” and revise, free-write, or write monologues for my minor characters if my creative energy is depleted by mid-morning.

  5. That is not going to work if you’re suffering from clinical depression. That’s the whole point.

    If you can “power through it” or overcome writer’s block by willpower, then it’s not clinical depression. If a writer can’t overcome writer’s block, then the first thing to try is treatment for depression.

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