Answering Big Questions #003: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Our friends over at The Well-Red Mage posed their third “big question,” and it’s something that I think many writers struggle with: how do you overcome writer’s block? In the spirit of collaboration, and of maybe helping other writers/bloggers who struggle with this, I’m here to chat a little bit about writer’s block and ways that I overcome it.

Defining the Block

Writer’s block is actually a condition that has been officially documented and researched since the 1940s, although there are many examples of it cropping up now and again prior to it being officially recognized as a real problem that authors have. Writer’s block is, for those of you lucky enough to have never experienced it, a state of being in which a writer is unable to produce new works.

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This can happen for a variety of reasons, from emotional ones (depression, focusing on other things, etc.), stress, life changes that force the writer’s attention elsewhere, or something even arising from the work itself.

I’ve actually experienced writer’s block stemming from this last reason; I was writing a fanfiction and I realized about halfway through it that, underneath all the twists and turns of the plot, I was actually working through some problems I was having at the time. Interestingly, once my problem resolved, I never was able to find the inspiration to finish the story, because the whole project was driven by me wanting to get feelings out, not actually tell a story.

Stress can play a large part as well, as high levels of stress can actually affect how your brain processes information, slipping into a more emotional/fight-or-flight mode and out of a more cerebral/analytical one. When busy with stress, it’s hard for the brain to create as most of its energy is dealing with the intense emotions it’s trying to process.

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But for me, I tend to have writer’s block stemming from my emotional state and, surprisingly, from the time of day that I try to write.

Finding Inspiration

This is luckily not something I have a problem with. When it comes to articles here, I generally find inspiration from reading other blogs, looking at gaming news, or playing a new game. When it comes to my creative writing, I pull inspiration from other stories or movies, video games, and, if I’m really feeling daring, I pull from my own thrillingly fascinating life. My imagination is overly active, so if I’m not writing it’s not because I don’t have any ideas, for which I’m thankful.

Finding Energy

This is one of the reasons I have trouble writing sometimes. I am a pretty nocturnal person, but unfortunately like most people, I have to work during the day, meaning that if I’m going to sleep, it needs to happen at night. When I was in graduate school, we were encouraged to write and work when we were most productive, and to be aware of when words and ideas came easiest. For me, that is the middle of the night. Most of my blog posts are written between 10:00pm and 2:00am, which is great for you guys but pretty crappy for my job the next morning. And then pretty crappy for my writing the next evening when I’m exhausted, too.

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So, sometimes when I have a very early morning, a day full of clients, and then finish it off with some bookkeeping at my job, I’m pretty wiped out by the time 10:00pm comes around. Not to sit here and whine about things, but I’ve also had some issues with depression recently (who doesn’t nowadays, it seems), so if I don’t take care of myself I really wind up without any energy.

The way I overcome this probably isn’t that healthy. Since I can’t afford therapy or medication for the depression, I self-medicate with caffeine, which doesn’t keep me awake but at least counteracts the general low energy I feel. And I’ll nap between 9:00pm and midnight some evenings, only to get up and write until 2:00 or 3:00am, before napping until 6:45am when my alarm goes off. Once things level out, I’m sure this will change, but it’s working so far. I don’t recommend it at all, but it’s working.

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For this, my takeaway advice would be to find when you are most productive and feel most energized and excited to write. Maybe it’s in the morning when it’s quiet before breakfast. Maybe it’s at night. Maybe it’s at 2:00am. But figure out when that time is and try to protect it, if you can.

Finding Motivation

This is a big one, especially right now. It just seems like so much work sometimes, to research a topic and make coherent thoughts about it.

Honestly, I force it. I make myself write an outline (or jot down ideas) for all the points I want to make on a topic. By the time I’m done with that, I’m ready to write an introduction. And since I wrote an introduction, maybe I’ll just write another section or two. Oh, I just thought of the questions I want to ask at the end? I’ll jump down there. Well, since I have the questions, maybe I’ll just write a quick draft of the whole article….

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It’s the same thing with creative writing. I’ll tell myself that I’m going to write one page, even if it’s the most awful page of writing ever, and then once I start I usually wind up going for much longer than originally anticipated. And if it’s horrible, then I can always go back and fix it later. After all, writing badly can eventually lead to something really great, but not writing at all leads to nothing.

I hesitate to tell people to force themselves to write, but I think of everything else I’ve ever accomplished: if I only practiced violin on “good days” or only on days I felt like it, I never would have gotten the scholarships to attend university. If I only wrote my thesis when I felt good about it, I’d have never graduated. If I only went to physical therapy when it didn’t hurt, I’d still not be able to put weight on my leg.

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Sometimes things suck, and they’re hard, and maybe you feel like you want to quit, but if you want the payoff at the end (whatever that is for you), you do it anyway. Maybe for some people this isn’t an issue, because your goals might be different than mine, and that’s cool, too. But for me, and for what I want both for this blog and for myself, I force myself to push through even when it’s hard, because I have my goals and I’m intent on achieving them.

Reasons to Write

This is one of the most important ones. Answering “Why am I writing?” is a pretty big and terrifying undertaking. “Because I have a story to tell,” “because this topic needs to be discussed,” “because I played this awesome game” are all great reasons to write. It’s easy to say “I write because I love it” or “I write because I have to,” and I do think there is something to that, at least on a large scale.

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But why this? Why this topic? Why this idea? Why this story? This is the reason I abandoned that one story: it was only there to help me get through a rough time. The stories – both original and fanfiction – that I’ve finished have had much more profound reasons for being written, from being about characters I love to being a story that needed to be told so it could be talked about.

Here, I write because I love video games. Each topic I’ve written about has been something I’m interested in, and the reason I’ve written it is because it was special to me for some reason or another.

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This article, for instance, is special because I’ve been having such lack of motivation and energy to write. The reason this was written, though, is because I hope someone else will find something they need from the words here, either feeling like they’re not alone, or feeling inspiration to get through their own blocks. Again, knowing why I’m doing it usually gives me a reason to sit myself down and try to write something even when it’s hard.

The End

Writer’s block is hard to overcome, but finding inspiration when and where you can, and remembering why it is that you want to write in the first place is always so helpful (at least to me) when trying to push through so I can come out on the other, more creative and easy, side.

Thanks to the Well-Red Mage for another fantastic question to answer. I’ll unfortunately be sitting out #004, but hopefully I’ll be back if there is ever a #005 that needs answering!

What about you? Have you ever had writers block? What did you do about it? Let me know in the comments, or write your own post and link below so we can all gain insight from your experiences!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena

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21 comments

  1. I get writer’s block all the time. It’s one of my greatest struggles, as I’m sure it is with many other bloggers.

    I struggle with depression and anxiety as well. Sometimes the blog helps, but when I’m in a bad place it is unspeakably difficult to put myself out there and actively do anything.

    I actually started my Weekly Update series so that I could have some regular content to put up on my blog. It helps me to journal where I’m at, and it keeps me engaged with the community (You can read them here: https://optimisticgamerblog.com/category/optimistic-weekly-update/)

    And keeping engaged with the community is one of my main motivations for doing this. I love video games, obviously, and I have a lot to say on the subject, but getting feedback and hearing what people have to say about my thoughts and feelings can make my entire day brighter. And, like you said, seeing the thoughts other people have is just as inspiring. I look forward every day to engaging with my followers and fellow bloggers.

    Thanks for this read. It’s difficult to talk about depression and anxiety, but we all battle with it at some point or another. It can be helpful just to acknowledge it, and hear other people acknowledge it back.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Writer’s block is definitely hard to deal with, and there are so many factors that go into writing that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint which exactly is causing the most issues, too. I’m glad you found a way to keep writing even when you’re not feeling well. Although it doesn’t feel like it, being part of a community does help with anxiety and depression, so I’m glad you’re able to keep it up 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad we could both give courteous nods to various mental health issues 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for participating! I think that transparency and honesty is extremely important in creative work, since there’s so much glamorization of it. Also, this helps us all to know that we’re not isolated in our individual struggles.

    I’m really interested to see your approach on writer’s block as a documented experience. That’s unique out of the responses we’ve received to this question, and at the other end of the spectrum from some responses which claimed that writer’s block doesn’t exist at all. This is a personable question largely so it’s interesting to see the range of takes on it.

    You and I have about the same sort of writing times! I had to kick the caffeine though. I used to manage a Panera Bread and I was doing quadshots of espresso on top of multiple cups of coffee to make it through the day. Ended up in the ER for that and my dad’s side of the family has heart issues as it is. Now I try to stick to a cup of joe every other day or so but it makes that end of the day writing time rough. Figuring out how to get around those hurdles while keeping in mind that sometimes you have to just get the work done, “forcing” yourself for lack of a gentler term, is part of what writing is about.

    I’ll try to think up a good #006 that can interest as many folks as possible! Thanks for the read!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for asking such a great question! I really do like questions like these, because I think all of the arts are sometimes romanticized to the point of discouragement when things don’t just “flow” easily and readily.

      It’s sort of like the “blank page” syndrome that I think some visual artists have experienced. A white page has so many possibilities, and can be paralyzing sometimes to even find a kernel of an idea from which to springboard from. Or, in the case of someone like Herman Melville, who stopped writing after he finished Moby Dick, creative fatigue can cause a block, as well. I think it’s sort of akin to “burnout” or “brownout” with any job, which is different from laziness or lack of planning, which can also cause its own problems… (haha)

      Nocturnal writers unite! Yikes. Yes I think you were right to kick the coffee. I never know how to describe how I use coffee, since most people dismiss it as “oh, I need coffee, too,” but moderation and being aware of what your body actually needs is always most important. You’re right that any sort of creativity is not just about letting a muse flow through one’s body – there’s a lot of work and heartache (sometimes) that goes into it, too!

      #006? Did I miss #005?? Sorry abut #004. I honestly couldn’t think of an IP that I’m dying to see make a comeback, unfortunately. Anyway, thanks for the question!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a complicated issue and I think we can all benefit by looking at how so many different writers deal with it, so again I appreciate you adding your voice. Coffee and I still have a love hate relationship though hahaha!

        Actually that’s my mistake of course, not yours. I don’t even know what big question we’re on off the top of my head apparently! Maybe I’ll just skip to #006 for no good reason.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Seems this topic is coming up a lot lately – although from reading so many blogs these days, and of course noticing my own patterns, it seems to go that way: in patterns. Weeks and weeks of constant writing, then nothing. Then weeks of writing, then a long break. Seems a break to reignite the passion to write about something really helps.

    If I have a lot going on, I can’t get my brain to stay focused on one thing, as I have a reeeaally bad attention span. And writing needs just that – focus. For instance, I’m at work doing 25 things right now, yet here I am reading WordPress and writing comments…

    Lately I’ve taken to just doing what I feel like on any given night. I used to want to “make progress” in games I was playing so I could “bang out” that article by Friday, and it just made it un-fun. Honestly, I spent $20 on Rocket League and it’s totally reignited having fun playing games. It totally correlates with me churning out the articles lately. Best $20 ever.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It does ebb and flow. And I wonder with the holiday season, people are experiencing blocks because they are overwhelmed or focused on other things, so it’s hard to sit down and be “creative” while at the same time having to be critical and analytical of everything else going on (prep for holidays, end of year stuff at work, etc. etc.).

      There’s something to be said for going with the flow. Sometimes it does take stepping back, like you said, to recharge and look at things from another angle/give your brain a chance to calm down and do its job! haha

      I’ve heard nothing but good things about Rocket League, so I’m glad you like it so much 🙂

      Like

  4. My writing mostly comes from the feelz, I think. If I loose that emotional connection with the words, nothing happens. Also, if I’m not in the right mood, forcing myself just makes me want to delete what I’m working on, or even my entire blog, haha. I like your points about jotting down ideas! A draft doesn’t have to be perfect and getting the ideas out is at least a start. I have to write boring technical stuff for work sometimes too. When I write in my free time, I want to just be creative and have fun with it.

    Anyway, I loved reading this! Your approach to beating the block is quite inspiring. Cheers! ☕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And that’s fair! If that’s what works for you and your goals, then there’s nothing wrong with that! One of the hardest things for any project, I think, it realizing that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, publishable, or even completely logical haha. Getting the ideas out first is important, and *then* get your brain to switch to the analysis mode. Creativity and critique can’t happen in the brain at the same time… As long as you’re having fun, though, that’s important, too!

      Thanks! Cheers to you, as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s interesting in a post on writer’s block, you can also find reasons why you write. You and I share common reasons. I’ll admit I did use writer as a sort of “self-medication” instead of possibly talking to an unaffordable therapist. It was a way to get out what I needed to talk about in a way I could talk about it. Most of my writer’s block usually comes from not knowing *how* to say what I want to say, but then the way I come by my ideas is kind of weird anyway.

    Self-medication with coffee is definitely something I’ve done. I have to watch the caffeine intake lately though due to it, uh, jump starting my heart a bit more than needed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that’s why I don’t get upset about those unfinished stories (usually) because I know they weren’t what I’ll call “actual” stories.. They were raw feelings spewed onto a page with no plan in mind. I can definitely see how it’s easy to get stuck with wanting things to be worded a certain way.

      There are a lot of folks who have used that! (and had problems with it) I’m being careful. I literally take it like medicine… I have a maximum I allow myself to drink (like, an exact amount of measured cups), and I always take one before I go to sleep, otherwise it’s as needed. I literally have my caffeine intake down to a science… because I’m weird like that.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, one or two (measured) cups doesn’t wake me up, so I can go to sleep right afterward. I hypothesize the caffeine still affects my serotonin levels, though, so I sleep better and wake up a little more “positive” when I have my bedtime cup. I actually rarely use coffee to “wake up” since it doesn’t really affect me… In grad school, the few times I pulled true all-nighters I wound up drinking close to 8 or 9 cups before I felt “awake,” and I decided it wasn’t worth it because that’s *way* beyond a healthy amount. I’ll just do jumping jacks or something to get the blood flowing, or sit under the full-spectrum lamp I invested in (haha). Definitely not worth the health problems that can come from it, though, so I’m dreading the day even my measured plan causes problems!

          Tea, too? Yikes! Well, I can recommend some good decaf if you want… 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          1. It’s funny. I’ve taken what I call “coffee naps,” because the caffeine doesn’t take affect for about 45 minutes. So I’ll take a quick nap after a cup and wake up…actually awake.

            Tea has been okay! I can drink Earl Grey with the awareness benefits and it doesn’t mess with my heart. I’m hoping the cardiologist will give he an all clear for coffee in manageable portions.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I’ve heard of people doing that. It’s actually supposed to be very “good,” since you get the benefit of a nap and then the little push from the caffeine when you wake up.

              That’s good, at least. Hopefully you’ll get the all-clear soon!

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Weeelll, I kinda, er, had some coffee this weekend hehe. I’m being really careful about it and not taking my one medicine when I DO drink it. I’ll probably pick some up when I go out tonight since I’m attending a NYE party and I need to attempt making it to midnight.

                Liked by 1 person

  6. This post is completely relevant to a story I finished on 26 Jan 2018.

    In Oct 2014, I started writing a fanfiction story that had an alternate ending to ME3. Originally, it was supposed to be a short story I planned to enter into a forum competition. But after the first four chapters I realised the story would be more detailed than originally planned. Eventually, I wrote chapter 5 in Jan 2015, before getting writer’s block.

    In Aug 2015, I picked up the story again, writing another two chapters. But this time the writer’s block lasted over two years.

    On 14 Jan 2018, I suddenly got the urge to finish it and wrote the remaining 8 chapters in two weeks. It was a difficult process, but I seemed to have the motivation to get through it.

    All of the factors you mention in your article were factors: Lack of energy, motivation, enthusiasm, etc all played a role.

    The biggest thing that held me back was lack of 3rd party encouragement low expectations of appreciation through decent reviews, etc. In general, I don’t get many reviews for my fanfictions, and I was beginning to think that it was not worth the energy and effort.

    My main issue was that the story would involve a lot of detail, and in some cases, emotional drama that I wanted to express appropriately. I really wanted to ensure that it fit together logically and was of a decent quality. Obviously, producing reasonable quality requires significant energy and effort.

    Funnily enough, time wasn’t the issue. During the ‘block’ period I often had loads of spare time. I actually finished it in a period where spare time was restricted.

    So why did I finish? Basically because I did have a plan (at outline level) as to how the story should go. Also, I though the story was interesting and would be something that some ME fans would be happy to read.

    In the end, something clicked that drove me towards the end, and that was despite spending significant time on a couple of redundant chapters I ended up ditching. I know the story is no literary masterpiece, but I am pleased with it. It met the objectives I set for it, except for entering the 2014 Halloween competition which I missed by over 2 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you for sharing tour story! I’m glad that, in the end, you were able to finish, and that your plan helped propel youy to that goal! This is certainly a multifaceted issue, as you alluded to, and so I appreciate you sharing your experiences and ultimate success.

      Like

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