Writer’s Block Might Be:

Can't Sleep, Wave Will Eat Me

I don’t believe in writer’s block anymore than I believe in, say, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or a UFO-load of butt-probing, almond-eyed, macrocephalic aliens.

That said, I believe that when people see those things, they’re usually seeing something. Bigfoot might be a bear, or a loose chimpanzee, or my Uncle Dave. The monster at Loch Ness is probably a log or a sunken vessel. Those aliens are probably your old college buddies pulling a prank on you, or maybe a hallucination from when you ate that really old lunchmeat and assured your family, “No, no, it’s fine, it’s supposed to be slimy and move of its own volition across the counter.”

And so it is with writer’s block. I do not believe in writer’s block.

But I do believe that all kinds of people get blocked about all kinds of things.

Writer’s block is a thing in name only. And we give it power by naming it. Worse, we give our own power away when we fail to see it for what it really is. See, writer’s block manifests in a number of ways, and it’s very important to understand the root cause of the mental and emotional obstacle that feels like it’s preventing you (because it’s not really preventing you, unless your version of Writer’s Block is some big dude who sits on your hands so you can’t type — once again I must apologize for my Uncle Dave). The notion of writer’s block has a vibe of doomed romance and starving artist to it, suggesting that we all share this common experience of being held off from our own gracious poetry. Writer’s block must mean I’m a real writer! Horseshit. It ain’t romantic. It isn’t your doom. Get shut of that idea post-haste.

So. If writer’s block isn’t writer’s block, just what the fuzzy, fizzling fuck is it?

…Lack of Confidence In Yourself

Problem: You don’t believe in yourself or your ability to do this work well. Your vision of the work in your head fails to match the execution on the page. I used to watch my aunt paint watercolor and think, “YEAH SHIT BRO I CAN DO THAT,” then I’d try and it would look like I splashed gray garbage water on a once-nice piece of paper. And so I gave up because of the unrealistic expectation that I held for myself. We are frequently holding ourselves to unrealistic expectations and that fucks us up. The pressure builds a wall between us and the work.

Solution: Care less. Calm down. You’re not curing cancer. Enjoy your ability to suck. Realize we all suck when we begin (and often throughout). Recognize that sucking during a first draft means that later you can come up behind your own shitty manuscript like a motherfucking editorial ninja and snap its neck and then use its blood to redline the work to make it better. Very few people are awesome the first time they try something, anything, and yet we’re trained to believe that writing is easy. “Just write,” people offer as their reductive writing advice, which makes this sound as easy as taking your first steps as an infant — and maybe it is, but also remember the infant only managed six first steps before taking a header into the dog’s waterbowl. The way through this block is to write. Write through your lack of confidence and write through your limited ability. Writing through the suck is how you get better at it.

…Doubt In What You’re Writing

Problem: This thing you’re working on just ain’t working. It’s not writer’s block. It’s the material. Something wonky is hiding in the various gears and dongles of your wordsmithy. You halt because you instinctively recognize that you’re charging forth into an uncertain reality, as if you went back in time and stepped on a butterfly and now you’re back and something feels wrong and you can’t tell what it is (hint: Hitler is president and we all have two butts).

Solution: A few ways to go here. First, say “fuck it,” keep writing. Act like nothing is wrong. Persevere and write through it and eventually the solution may present itself. Or: stop writing forward and start looking backward. Flip through and see if you went wrong somewhere, if there’s some moment in the story where you feel like you took it in a wrong direction, or see if you can spot a plot-hole whose heretofore-unseen absence of logic has been haunting you like a gibbering ghost rising from past pages. Or: take a good long long at the story. Is this really the story you wanted to tell? Is this your heart, minced into narrative, or is this the story someone else wants you to tell? Sometimes writing to a market or to another person’s expectations feels unnatural, like we’re wearing someone else’s underwear. It’s halting, jarring, unpleasant — and it can lead to creative blockage. Here, I’m afraid the solution is to go and write the thing you really want to write. The thing that speaks to your storytelling soul. The thing that is your blood on the page.

…Uncertainty About Where The Story Is Going

Problem: You’re running around like a car-struck squirrel, tail pinned to the asphalt, little scrabbly-paws carrying in you in endless circles. You’re lost. Lost in the story same way old people get lost on the Internet. (“AM I HOME YET.” “No, Grandpa, you’re on Tumblr watching animated GIFs of Castiel from Supernatural.”) So your mind protects you by doing what it knows best: sheltering in place. It tells you to hunker down. Help will come. Hang out here for a while where no words are being written. Feels like writer’s block, but what it really ends up being is your inability to move forward due to dire uncertainty in the tale at hand.

Solution: Some people are into this kind of mystery. They like putting on a blindfold and barreling through an eventide forest just to see what’ll happen. They like writing without any sense at all of what’s happening. You might not be that person. You maybe think you are, but you might be like me, instead: a pantser by heart, a plotter by necessity. I can be paralyzed by not knowing where to go next, which is why I prep ahead. And during. And after a draft. And that, there, is your solution. Plan! Prep! Draw a fucking map before you leave your house. Outline before you begin, or outline during the writing, or outline retroactively to see where you went and how you’ll do differently on the next draft. If you feel like you’re in the dark with a broken flashlight, then plot out your steps. Many authors gain confidence by knowing that there is still a story ahead of them and that they haven’t just written themselves into a brick wall.

…Fear of Failure

Problem: You have already designed your failure. It exists as a hilarious Rube Goldbergian blueprint inside your mind — the orchestration and execution of your ultimate stupidity. This mechanism clicks and whirs and in its robot voice reminds: They’re all gonna laugh at you. They’re gonna dump pig blood on you at the Prom. You fool. You hilariously deluded fool. Fear is a powerful thing, especially fear of failure. We fail at things in life and particularly as a kid and the world is not always kind to failure, is it? People do laugh. Or mock. Or teachers give us a bad grade. Or parents chide us and yell at us to do better. And we learn from this that doing better is only an act driven by the need to not be punished when really it needs to be driven by our own love of of seeing improvement and our desire to manifest what it is we really want to accomplish. When it comes to writing the problem with failure is that it’s internally-driven. Nobody’s going to give us a grade and so we have no metric. The only one punishing ourselves is us, and we are the cruelest judges and most shame-inducing critics — perhaps as a way to undercut our own future failures, to pre-punish for our as-yet-unseen rejections. In this way, we allow fear of failure to creep in the door. And by opening that door, we become our own worst enemies. Our fear stops us cold.

Solution: Psst. Psst. Failure is fucking amazing. Failure is an opportunity: to try, to learn, to do it all over again with a greater sense of awareness and confidence. Rejection is a beautiful thing because rejection is scar tissue formed in battle. Rejection is proof you’re fighting and not just sitting around with your nose up your own ass. Failure is armor: every time you fail you build a new layer of chitin to protect yourself the next time. Learn to love failure. Fail as many times as it takes to succeed. Writing is a job with as many chances as you need; our books live in a Groundhog Day reiterative existence where we can redraft and redraft as many times as we need to (outside the external pressures of deadlines and the like). Success is just the tip of a mountain — the highest peak built on a bedrock of failure. Failure is essential. Quash the fear. Write till its right.

…Fear of Success

Problem: Oh, fear, you tricksy fucker. Fear of success? Is that a thing? You bet your sweet cocaine-dusted nipples it is. We can fear various aspects of success: we might fear that success will up the stakes too high and we won’t be able to live up; we might fear that our success won’t be enough or won’t be something we can repeat; we might be secretly certain that we don’t deserve success. It’s easier to just stop where you are. Success is scary. It levels up your game and comes with a whole new host of pressures. And that can freeze us out of our own writing.

Solution: Relax. Stop thinking about success as external. Don’t worry about validation from anyone but yourself. Set a metric for success that includes you, and only you. Stop worry about things you can’t control and set your meter to include only those things you can control. Realize that a writing career — hell, a single writing day — is a thing with many peaks and valleys. Do you deserve success? Who gives a shit? If you get it, assume you worked for it and that you deserve it. Anything else is whispers from a demon. (And, that demon might be named “depression” — more on that pecking, thieving magpie-of-doom in a few minutes.)


Problem: You flared up and burned out and now you’re naught but a crispy charcoal briquette. Your internal creative space looks like what’s left after a house-fire. You’re tired. Exhausted, even.

Solution: Jeez, take a break. Step away from the story or I’ll Taser you right in the naughty bits. Go reward yourself for working so hard. Have some ice cream. Go for a walk. Build a Lamborghini from the bones of your enemies. Don’t go away from your story for too long. A few hours. A day or two or three. We spend a ton of IEP (Intellectual Energy Points) on our work and our life, so go, recharge, let your creative juices once more pickle your headcheese. Then get back to work with fresh eyes. Bring coffee. Because coffee.

…Other People Getting In Your Head

Problem: People can be poison. This is not true of everybody, but most writers know folks whose sole purpose seems to be quietly stabbing you with invisible knitting needles — shitty jerky fucky fuckers who prefer to diminish than build up, who are dire cynics but prefer to present themselves as helpful realists, who want to remind you again and again what a bad awful no-good idea writing is, either as a career or a hobby. Over time, this is erosive, corrosive. It gets into you. Eats at you. And when you go to write, it’s their doubting voices you hear. Not your own.

SolutionSPACE THEM FROM YOUR AIRLOCK. Watch them scream soundlessly while spiraling into the blackness of space. Translation: KILL THEM. … whoa, wait, no, I mean, uhhh, translation: cut them out of your lives. If you can’t cut them out for whatever reason (it’s your mother, your drug dealer, your dog), then you need to build a resistance to them. They are iocane powder and you must not let them destroy you. Try talking to them. Try letting them know that they’re hurtful instead of helpful. If that fails: hit the ‘ignore’ button and walk away.

…Just A Cheap Excuse To Not Do What You Need To Do

Problem: Mmmmyeah, you’re lazy. Sorry! You say, “I have writer’s block,” and yet, there you are on social media or you’re playing World of Warcraft and you don’t seem to be trying very hard at all. Reality is, sometimes writer’s block is just an excuse. It’s an easy and acceptable one, too. You’re not writing, people ask why, you tell them you’re blocked up like a colon. And they nod, because they’ve heard about this dreaded writer’s block and gosh, it must be bad. And the trick is, writer’s block still makes you feel like you’re a writer. It’s something writers get. You got it. Well, you must be the real deal. Except, you’re not trying very hard to get unblocked, are you? Because it’s much easier to talk like a writer then to do the actual writing, innit?

Solution: Stop fucking around. Stop lying to yourself and others. Super-glue your derriere to that overturned bucket you call an office chair and refuse to stand until you’ve written. Full stop. Game over. The only thing you get to quit is quit making excuses.


Problem: You think you have writer’s block. In reality, you’re depressed. I don’t mean that glibly, like, oh, eye roll, you’re depressed, womp womp. I mean, you join the oh-so-many creative types who suffer from some variant, some gray goopy flavor, of depression. The thing is, depression is invisible. You won’t see the bleak, black sword through your heart. You’ll feel it, though, and it’s very easy as a writerly type to mistake this sensation as some kind of creative block. And then you go about treating it the wrong way. You think, well, I should just write through it, and while that might work for several of these other variants of creative blockage, it almost certainly will only create a multiplicative effect in terms of depression — meaning, it’ll hurt instead of help. Because you can’t just force depression, you can’t just shoulder your way through it like you’re Hercules slogging up a muddy hill. In this case, writer’s block is a symptom of a larger concern. You have to treat the disease rather than the result of the disease.

Solution: I am not a doctor (to which you all collectively gasp). If you worry that you might be depressed, it is at least worth talking to a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or family doctor whereupon I assume (though am not assured) that the solution will be some combination of talk therapy and medication. What I do know, again, is that you’re not alone. It’s important to remember that. It’s important to remember that depression is a real thing, not just some cartoon stormcloud hanging over your head. It’s not an excuse, it’s not self-doubt, it’s not lack of outlining, it’s not your story, it’s not writer’s block. Acknowledge it. Call it what it is. Because unlike writer’s block, once you’ve named it, you can now work on destroying it. And that is the most vital part, I think: depression is woefully common, but the truth remains that the only way forward is to treat it. The only way out is through. Address it. Acknowledge it. Recognize you’re not a mutant, not some freak, but rather part of a rather large collective of folks. And at the end of the day know that if you want to be a writer and you suffer from depression that this must be dealt with or you won’t get to be the writer you want to be. And that is truly sad.

…Just A Bad Day

Problem: You’re just having a shit day. We all have them. Fuck it.

Solution: Go do something else. Just for today. Come back to it later. You shouldn’t have too many of these free days, of course, because if you do, that says that something bigger is going on, some larger obstruction that must be addressed. But sometimes the obstruction isn’t big. Sometimes it’s just: today sucks, tomorrow will suck less, walk away from the Writing Machine and go do some other stuff for the moment. See you back at it in 24 hours, yeah?

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  • Very nice analysis, and all true! I would say maybe the only thing you left out is the depressive and distracting effect of social media/Amazon rankings/the entire internet, which many of us also label “writer’s block” on a bad day.

    Maybe you could file that as a subset of Other People Getting In Your Head, and label it the opposite – Getting Too Much in Everyone Else’s Heads.

  • I didn’t have writers block until the doctor put me on mood-stabilizing medicine. It’s so weird. I can’t even daydream anymore. I reduced the dosage, but that didn’t help much. The ideas are there, but I have to pry every word from my head. I just can’t get in the zone anymore. No, it doesn’t stop me from writing, but it does make it a hell of a lot more work than it was before. I Googled this a while back and read some post from people who, in the long run, decided that being non-creative is better than having bipolar depression. I do sometimes wonder. (I can’t daydream, but I can wonder.)

    • Same here. Sort of. I can’t get in the zone either, and I suspect it is the medicine. I think I am the opposite of those people you Googled. Being non-creative, or rather, having my once-nimble brain seemingly permanently stunted, brings about an existential depression worse than anything “chemical.” I don’t know. Maybe I’m just depressed. I know I don’t believe in myself, either. I should just give up.

      • No Alie, you shouldn’t give up.

        You just need to find what works to make you feel right again. This isn’t easy. Heaven alone knows I know it isn’t easy and is a battle I have to fight every damned day, but giving up…you’ll always wonder.

        The only time you should give up is if ‘this’ wonderful creative world isn’t what you want from your life. Then race out and find what makes your world colorful again. Even then, you’re not giving up, your finding your bliss. Finding your joy.

        It’s hard to believe in yourself. I know I have trouble believing in myself. I don’t have an answer to self belief. Personally I imagine the doubts as demons and hack away at them with a sword. For me, it helps.

        If you like, until you can believe in yourself again, I’ll believe in you. I’ll be your cheer squad. I’ll be the pom-pom waving lunatic in your corner. Any time. Every time.

    • You stated in another comment below that the creative constipation adds to the depression.
      You’re almost certainly on the wrong meds.
      Please see your doctor again, and go through the unpleasantness that is trying different meds, until you find what’s right for you. It took years for me, but eventually, something helped. And I can write again.
      It’s your life, and your writing, and your writing life. It’s worth it.

      • Yeah, I get it. I’ll bring it up with her. I heard a writer several years ago say, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Just sit your ass down and write!” It reminded me of all the infertile woman in the past who were told, “If you just relax it’ll happen.”

        And I’d never tell a claustrophobic “Just get in the elevator!”

  • I am currently that car-struck squirrel – even though I have the plot mapped out and I know roughly where I’m going, there are just too many plot twists surfacing as I write and it’s driving this squirrel nuts (no pun intended).

    Hmmm… maybe the nitty gritty of laying everything out in Excel will help clear my brain fog and help me get my tail out from under that damn car…

  • Chuck, you are amazing! Nailed, right on the big thumb of it, with a mucking great bruise coming up.

    I don’t have Writer’s Block, I don’t believe in that either. But I’ve been stuck on the fiddly bits of connective tissue in my first draft. I tried backing off for a bit, I tried reading instead (J D Robb rocks!). I tried going back to the start and rereading. Nope, there I am with my shoe caught in the gears and dongles of my wordsmithy (LOVE that phrase! Gotta put that on a t-shirt!).

    I even tried (O, the horror!) surfing Pinterest! Now THERE’S a Mind Suck! Though it did give me a much-needed break and let me take a deep breath and hopefully come back fresh.

    I think I’m somewhere in between Doubt In What I’m Writing and Uncertainty About Where The Story Is Going. But I’ve finally figured out that there is indeed something wonky going on, so I’m taking a different tack. I think my problem is in my structure, and so I’m taking a quick sidetrip down the backstreets of Writing 101 with a sleepover at Story Structure. I figure if I figure out the what and when of it, I can get to the root of the problem and tear it out shrieking like a mandrake. Whereupon I can pound it into mandrake glue, slather it on and fix the damn thing. (Shut UP, dammit! You’re distracting me!)

    Damn, that’s fun, Chuck! Too bad that’s not the voice I’m using in my novel…

    Anyway, your dongle whapped me upside the – wait, that sounded better in my head… Anyway, your post helped me see where my problem might be. So I’m off now to hunt down that problem and kill it. Thanks!

    Oh, and all joking aside, Chuck – your comments on depression are right on, and MUCH appreciated! Too many people just don’t understand that you won’t just “get over it”, and that it is NOT shameful or weak to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. The hurt you feel is REAL. Depression is a medical condition. It’s a chemical imbalance, just like diabetes. You don’t expect a diabetic to get better without medication, right? To anyone who reads this who thinks otherwise, it DOES get better if you get help, and there are people out there who do care and who are willing and eager to help you. But if you don’t ask, they won’t know you exist and need their help. Ask. Please.

  • Love the analogies, this is a fantastic post! I completely agree. It’s not always easy to see failure with rose tinted glasses, but I love the positivity of this post :)

  • Oh blimey, I think I ticked off every single box. And yeah, I do mean EVERY box. Lots to think about right now then…

    Thank you so much for this post, Chuck. It’s easy to imagine sometimes that successful writers like you have got it all sussed, and that you ‘never’ have any of the problems you’ve listed anymore – nope, not ever, because as a successful writer you’ve Banished Them All To Infinity and now your life is a well-oiled machine of professional awesomeness. But I think to write a post like this with the insight you have means you HAVE been there at various points in your life, so you’re not writing to us from on high in your castle. That gives us hope, that there IS a way out if we’re prepared to find it.

    Well, today I have to finish making a Roman Legionnaire’s costume for my son for school and then build a cupboard. But after that, I intend to Sort My Shit Out – in terms of my writing AND my life. Thanks again.

  • Amazing article! :D Loved every word of it!

    My reason for not writing is mostly that I’m a university student and I am constantly writing essays. So when I’m not researching on the library website or destroying the keyboard typing my essay, I’m so exhausted that all I can do is make tea or coffee (and sometimes even that takes some effort).

    I found what works for me is to open a blank Word document and to start typing about the thoughts I have or had during the day. Mikhail Bakhtin (my favourite theorist) wrote that all discourse is dialogic, even when there is no receiver of this discourse. So I write as if I’m in dialogue with myself. It helps me to process my thoughts in a way that keeps me focus and structured. If I just keep the thoughts in my head, they would become all jumbled and confused and my brain would just explode (it’s not a pretty sight).

    This technique helps a lot, and I found a lot of ideas with it. It also helps me to process other personal issues that might be keeping me from writing. Sometimes it does feel like I’m talking with someone else, especially when I don’t have anyone to talk to (friends are so tired of my shit by now, even I am tired of my own shit).

    • Same thing here. I would really, really, really WANT to write, but be so burned out or busy because of college work that by the time I had free time to write, or tried to make free time to write, I just didn’t have the energy. So I started making the schoolwork the carrot and the writing the stick: write a few pages, and then I was allowed to do the essay or the reading or whatever. Unfortunately, this combined with “I just really don’t want to be here anymore” turned into me using writing as procrastination on what I was supposed to be writing for college…So I haven’t written for a semester and a half. I’ve edited when the mood strikes me, but then I would get so incredibly anxious about all the *graded* work I had to do that I could never concentrate. So I stopped. I recently graduated…I’m taking a week or so off to unpack and “recharge” before attempting any of that writing stuff again, haha. If I know me, I’ll get bored enough to write in a day or so…

  • Finally! I’ve been looking forward to buying your books for months, and seeing this bundle… well, I couldn’t find another excuse. Very excited!

    Oh, and the post is great too — I kind of agree. Writer’s block is usually something else. Maybe always.

  • I would assume that the same sort of general advice of “get the fuck over it and just keep writing!” goes for failure in trying to get even shorts published in the sphere of fiction magazines. I’ve always seen the advice that the best thing one can do is to write like crazy, read, analyze, write more and re-write until you hit a point of satisfaction (or even, if you can, get a writing buddy to read the work and give some fresh eyes to it), and once you’re done, try your chances with getting the work published, if you feel strong and confident about it. I think the most devestating part of that type of fighting is when you feel INCREDIBLY strong about a work you’re doing, telling yourself “THIS will be the monument to my first step to success!”…and then you take a dive-bomb harder than a fucking kamikaze pilot at Pearl Harbor. The impact’s quite explosive as well, on the ego.

    I think “writer’s block” sometimes is also a sign of a horrifically burnt and bruised ego, often combo’d with a side order of depression and and a large burnout from trying too hard. Instead of wanting to blame or talk about your shame, or anger, or throwing a pissy fit, or being depressed over the best thing you could produce (at the time) being shamelessly thrown in the air and kicked out the window, you just kinda curl up into the defensive fetal position, stop writing for x number of weeks or months while mumbling “I’ve got writer’s block” while rocking back and forth and crying yourself to sleep. Admittedly, I find this hilarious to say, because it’s a strange sort of self-awareness I have of the fact I’ve fallen victim to the never-ending loop of failure and feeling bad for it multiple times over the course of my “writing career”–which started at the age of 8, no bullshit…writing nearly every day–and the failures didn’t stop no matter how much I tried getting poetry into the university’s yearly literary magazine or articles into the school newspaper.

    My question is…(LE GASP!–DRUMROLL please!)…is there ever a time to just give up completely? Is there ever such a thing as “look kid, you’re just not cut out to hang with the big boys, a’ight?”–at least that’s how it feels every damned time I send in a piece of work to some periodical of whatever sort. I think writing and sending in your work and amounting to failure kinda feels like you’re the little pip-squeek trying to hit the big time with a group of the biggest gangsters in New York, and no matter how many heads you bust or number runs you make, you just aren’t cut out for it. I think holding your expectations and admirations too high may also be detrimental, when you surely wish to be the next Rachel Swirsky or whatever and you just…can’t, (and I also thought at one point the Clarion courses must be a magic doorway to Authorship Paradise, cause seemingly every fucking big-time writer nowadays has been to it at least once!)

    Or are the ‘signs’ just telling you, “it’s not your time” sorta thing? It’s always hard to distinguish if one’s just: A) too damned suck to even keep bothering, and it’s never gonna get better, or B) it’s just a bad moment, keep trying and learning. I wonder what is the means, if any, to distinguish the two. But your words, Chuck, once again are words to set one’s head into a reality check. Awesome. :)

  • I’d add Sleep Deprivation. Which can blend with a whole host of other problems (Burnout and Depression chief among them), but if you can’t get at least six hours of sleep you can’t think straight, and if you can’t think straight you can’t write. Unless you’re on really excellent drugs. Hey, there’s another potential block: Lack of Really Excellent Drugs.

  • As the old doctor joke goes… the doctor said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we found out the problem. The bad is the problem’s all in your head.”

  • i love the “plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, so how the hell can a writer get writer’s block?” explanations to writer’s block, but it’s really helpful to see the different reasons for not writing broken down, along with steps to take to address the specific issue that’s holding you back. nice post.

  • May 20, 2014 at 10:00 AM // Reply

    I definitely resemble parts of this post – I’d say “lack of confidence in yourself” along with “a cheap excuse” and a healthy dose of sleep deprivation. (Let’s see, did I spell deprivation right? Hmmm, yes, I think I did. *sigh*) Being sick, having a sick child, and working an hour from home all suck, but I’m still going to write something today.

    • Yes, yes and yes. I’ve settled on lunchtime writing as my best bet to cope with all three, but I’ll jump on public transit or a self-driving car as soon as one’s feasible.

      • May 21, 2014 at 3:13 PM // Reply

        I got a digital recorder in the car and Dragon to transcribe it but I’ve found it’s damn hard writing verbally. The best I can do is write something in my head and THEN record a few lines at a time. I get something that way at least.

  • I can’t tell you how much I needed this. I haven’t even opened my WiP in…almost three weeks, for various reasons (all of which are in this post), and as a result I’m depressed and bitchy and impatient and mired in a sense of failure and hopelessness. Honestly, your timing is impeccable, and I thank you, and now I’m going to go work on the thing.

    Much love, Wendigo!

  • I have never been a believer in writer’s block, mostly because I have never had it. I have always been able to write, maybe not what I wanted to write at that moment, but I would just shift topics and go to something else. My long time room mate, George, on the other hand, could easily have been great novelist. His stories were compelling, like a cross between Hemingway (though without the repetition) and Hunter S. Thompson. He told me once, “always get married drunk and divorced sober, that way the WHOLE process makes sense.” He would be linguistically constipated for weeks at a time, then suddenly everything would come in a rush, so I understand the idea of it, but not the reality.

    Sadly, George is no longer with us. He trespassed into Marketing’s turf one day. I’m sure it was an accident, but they caught him and that’s the last I’ve heard. I presume he’s dead, at least on the inside.

  • You don’t have to choose between happiness and creativity. If you feel like your mind isn’t doing what it should, let your doctor know. Never settle for what they tell you is right if it doesn’t feel right.

    And I do know from whence I speak, as I’m a lifelong basket case. You can get there. You can feel better and write. You can maybe even push your way through and get back to a normal comfort level on the med you’re on, if that’s what you want. The mind is a pretty crazy thing (pun intended) when it comes to adaptation.

  • Thank you for this! I have found myself in every single space you describe and while I wouldn’t wish that darkness on anyone, it is nice to know that I’m not alone.

  • Getting up and moving is what helps me. If I’m stuck (usually doubt or story uncertainty) I unstick myself from the chair and go run, mountain bike or hike. It does wonders.

  • They should call it a Self-Esteem Block.

    Or just call it life because that’s what it is. That is why there is no cure for “writers block”, you just have to simply…move on.

  • Cocaine-dusted nipples! How cool is that! While I haven’t yet suffered the excruciating experience of writers blog, I have on occasion experienced a dose or two of constipation of thought. I find that it can be cured with a mild laxative, or very dry martini. I would like to comment on, but I now must return to my manuscript, since I feel a dose of diarrhea of ideas, (probably shitty), that must be attended to before they are flushed away in the sewer of lost memories I refer to as my brain(sorry about this last bit, but you can just be too clever sometimes, or not). loved your blog. Gonna buy your book(s).

  • Slammed it home as usual. I believed in writer’s block for a long time and it crushed me for a while before I finally realized no one was going to make the time for me to write if I never made it for myself. Sometimes it’s hacking through a jungle but I write every day and try to not let anything stop me. Everyone’s got screwed up days where nothing goes right, but at the end of the day you can’t be a writer if you don’t write.

  • Dude!

    You fucking get me! You fucking get me! I was thinking the same thing. I DONT FUCKING BELIEVE in writers block. However, I didn’t want to say that in public and sound like a little punk. That’s all I have to say about this post.


    *Leaves trail of chewing bubble gum*

  • Dude, what about all of the above? I feel like I’ve experienced most of these scenarios, and usually I can push myself through them, but when I experience multiple at the same time, or I simply dwell on the negative feelings for too long the world seems hopeless and writing seems pointless. I know it’s rather crazy, but I can’t change the fact that it happens. (Well, I guess I could…)

    I do agree with basically everything you’ve said in this article though. I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe that getting too caught up in your head or having negative emotions can definitely turn off the word taps. It’s not about holding onto a starving artist ideal or anything like that, but simply having a tough time and feeling really insecure about the way forward.

    Keep up the great posts, Chuckman.

  • Writer’s block kicks in when there is just a chunk to big to chew. A puzzle out of a thousand tiny pieces and I don’t know how to put them together. I can’t see the full picture. I’m suffocated by a mountain of pieces. Maybe this is a type of “not knowing where the story ist going” but it isn’t only the story.

    I’m a non-fiction writer by day, a academic writer by night and a fiction writer where I can squeeze it inbetween. Block happens in every three writing areas. And it happens always when I’m overwhelmed by the mountain of pieces that I need to conquer. Usually I just have to dig through, take every piece and find the right place. This is incredible hard work. Before the digging there is always the panic just in sigh of the mountain. And yes. Fear of failure, every time.

    Sometimes I wonder why a thing that causes so much fear and pain is the thing I’m loving most in life. Funny, isn’t it?

  • Great post, but I think you left one out.
    It’s not depression, it’s not just a bad day, and it can cripple one’s ability to write for months.
    Ten weeks after my dad died, I hadn’t written a word for, umm, ten weeks and a day.
    I made a deal with myself to write something every day for a month, and that it could be meaningless. I ended up with a pretty decent and funny book out of that — my dad would have loved it, anyway.

  • Great description of the underlying conditions that plague writers. I don’t normally get “blocked”, and if I do, it’s not for long. But there will be stretches of days, or worse, weeks, where any or all of these things are getting to me. You just have to try and ignore that voice in your head that whispers all these things.

  • @Chuck Wendig: ironic that you make good points about writer’s block and then at the end blow it and attest to the reality of a mass-marketing phenomenon.

    psychiatrists have done an effective job of marketing the idea of “clinical depression”. they have turned angst into a disease. now, humans have always suffered from despair, despair great enough that you would show up at work (at all) or do anything at all, just waste away in bed. I mean the people who lose their work, their families, the ones who end up homeless, the very rare people who cannot even hold on to a job, at all, who do not speak for months, etc.

    all of your arguments against writer’s block apply here.


    you can read an article based on CRAZY LIKE US on the NY Times website.


  • Chuck thank you so much for that part on depression.

    in my part of the world depression is often taken as a weakness of spirit, something that can easily be dealt with if you have enough will power. As you can imagine this mentality is extremely destructive. Taking medication is frowned upon so much so that clinically depressed people like me have to hide their prescriptions from their own parents.

    As a writer some times i fall prey to it too and tell myself i can make it through if only i try hard enough. But of course it never works. Thank you for making see that again. Thank you for the reminder that i am no mutant, just someone with a common enough disease.

  • “Sometimes writing to a market or to another person’s expectations feels unnatural, like we’re wearing someone else’s underwear. ” I’m going to have to steal this line when my family asks me why don’t I just write “whatever’s popular.” Thanks!

    • or you could say that well-written books tend to do well* and that by writing what you like to write you will tend to write better than otherwise. and therefore have a better chance of writing something popular.

      * – oversimplification

  • Great Great article. . .However, too many “F” words. . . I’m not a prude, however, there are many other ways to say what you mean. One other thing. . . Depression, check to see if it’s that Statin drug. Thanks. The other thing I would advise is to read, read, read to get unstuck.

  • Writer’s block could be nothing more than a mental state. It’s true that many will do other things and blame it on writer’s block when it just is not the right time to write. Just use your own voice, be unique, and don’t worry about sales or publicity or anything except the actual writing, especially during the first draft. It can really shut you down. The most important thing is to not give up; do not close the computer and walk away. Sit there until you can create at least one more sentence, and it’ll get you back in the groove.

  • Thanks. I found a big nugget in there that helped me. I’ve been stuck on the ending of my nano novel since December. I’m a big chicken is what I am. If I state the ending, and I’m done. and hand it over. It’s done. And It could be crap, panned and all that blood and sweat is for nothing but a dismissal about my flat characters.

    boo hoo right ^_^

    I think I could write this today.

  • Wow (as usual)!

    “Recognize that sucking during a first draft means that later you can come up behind your own shitty manuscript like a motherfucking editorial ninja and snap its neck and then use its blood to redline the work to make it better,” is, perhaps, the most clever and succinct — and motivational — description of the editorial process I have ever encountered.

    And the fear of failure stuff, likewise, was amazing.

    Sorry for the verbal fawning, but I’ve been enjoying these writing blogs of yours for more than three years now and I simply couldn’t hold back any longer!

  • Awesome post. As usual.
    I personally find that the biggest obstacle to my putting-words-into-a-Word-file-in-peace is not even fear of failure… it’s the weight of past failure. I know it’s supposed to be amazing and a learning experience and all that jazz, but to me, it just… isn’t. Because, cocaine-dusted nipples be my witness, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT EXACTLY I’M SUPPOSED TO BE LEARNING FROM. After several years of being swept aside for no discernible reason (“I just didn’t fall in love” and other agent-speak for why don’t you write trendier things) while others (who, objectively, aren’t even as good as me!) living my dreams because of sheer luck or because they’re better at shmoozing on social media or whatever… there’s only crushing awfulness that kills hope in the bud. I start working on this awesome idea of awesome and I love it… for the first 20 000 words or so. And then I “remember”: it really doesn’t matter how great this is, I’ll just get ignored again. I don’t understand it. I’m not doing anything wrong.

    I’m starting over in a new genre and with a new pen name. So far it did the trick: I at least managed to finish the damn book without sinking into depression and burnout. Whether it’ll work for the next step or whether it’ll just go back to the same old BS remains to be seen…

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