16 Reasons Why Writer’s Block Happens

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Lately, I’ve seen a few posts on social media platforms being shared that are (supposedly) quotes from well-known authors. The quotes generally stick to a theme that says: writer’s block isn’t real! No worries! It’s just in your head!

That is so unhelpful for me and if I had seen those people (again, supposedly) saying that when I was much younger and newer to writing, I would have thought something was wrong with me.

So here are a few reasons why writer’s block IS real for many people and what you can do about it. (Warning—this is a long text post but I tried putting all suggested solutions in bullet points and have lots of resource hyperlinks!)

What Is Writer’s Block?

Writer’s block happens to everyone at some point. New and experienced writers eventually experience the same thing and panic because:

Writer’s block is an experience when your creative writing slows down or stops completely. It may exist for a short or long period, depending on the source of your block.

It’s okay to worry if you have writer’s block. It’s discouraging, frustrating, and can even make you question your identity as a writer.

The good news is anyone can learn how to overcome writer’s block. The first step is reflecting on what might be causing your creative blockage. 

Here are a few ideas that might seem familiar if you can’t pinpoint what triggered your writer’s block.

You Can’t Write Because: You’re Tired

Sleep affects the entire body. There’s no question that when I don’t get enough of it, my brain isn’t working as well as it normally does.

Let’s start this section with what everyone should acknowledge—mental health conditions absolutely prevent people from being able to use tips like “Just turn the lights off earlier!” or “Think calming thoughts while taking deep breaths to fall asleep!”

If those work for you, great. Fantastic! But if they don’t, your doctor is the best person to get advice from. They can work through symptoms with you to rule out conditions like depression and insomnia so you get the best help possible.

Besides your mental health, there are a few other ways you might not be able to fall asleep or stay asleep:

How to Overcome It

You Can’t Write Because: Your Routine Is Changing/Has Changed

When my life has gone through routine changes, my creativity has always slowed (if not stopped altogether). Switching from high school to college, from college to graduate life, and even from apartment to apartment is a big deal. My writing slows when I change jobs, see my friends less/more often, and even when the holidays come and go.

If you think this might be a repeat experience in your life, my best advice is to give yourself grace. Your brain is only trying to conserve energy and process everything that’s going on. 

How to Overcome It

You can get rid of writer’s block gently reattempting to write without expectations of what will come out of that writing session. Sometimes writing for even 30 seconds is the best thing to do until life settles back down.

It’s also completely fine to take a break. Your writing will always be with you. When you feel more settled or stable, you can start practicing again.

If you can’t come to peace with changes, I’d suggest talking with someone. You can access help for free at:

You Can’t Write Because: You’re Grappling With Indecisions

Indecision is a creativity killer for sure. It can even make it feel impossible to overcome writer’s block. I’ll address a few ways I’ve experienced it and how I know my friends have struggled with it:

  • You only have a few story ideas and don’t want to commit to any of them in case some idea comes along that’s more interesting (I hate leaving unfinished drafts too!).
  • You wonder how you should format your story and never start because you can’t decide (it might be the point of view, past/present tense, etc.)
  • You can’t nail down how a character looks, what sets them apart, or what drives them.
  • You can’t decide on a theme because there’s so much you want to write about.
  • You don’t know how long the story should be, so it never starts.

How to Overcome It

  • Try new things to come to peace with unfinished drafts (I have a folder on my computer specifically labeled “Unfinished Stories” because I’m more comfortable when they have a home).
  • Practice writing one page within your story’s world from a different point of view or tense. See what feels most natural or authentic to you.
  • Do character research by looking at pictures of people on stock photo websites or Pinterest.
  • Story length is often found after someone just starts writing. You’ll naturally find a rhythm and come to a conclusion at the right length for your first draft. Revise/add if needed!

My most important tip might be—

  • Give your gut 24 hours (go with your gut on whatever you’re trying to decide, then set your work down. Come back in 24 hours to see if you feel as strongly about your creative decision).

You Can’t Write Because: You’ve Got Too Many Ideas

When there are too many creative ideas in your brain, it leads to anxiety and potential writer’s block. I know I’ve had the fear that I’ll commit to the “wrong” story and another one will come to life in my mind, but then be gone by the time I’m ready to write it.

How to Overcome It

  • Write all of your ideas down in a list (bold, highlight, or star whichever ones seem super promising at the time so they stand out when you’re ready for a new project)
  • Try stream-of-consciousness journaling for 30 seconds (set a timer! Whatever you write will reveal which emotions, thoughts, or issues are on your mind and may create stronger stories with similar themes)
  • Write 500 words of a story idea (or another number you’re comfortable with; if you don’t like what you write, you know you can move on to the next idea). I’ve got great prompts ready to go for quick stories if you need inspiration.
  • Flip a coin (assign one idea heads and the other tails—then flip a coin or use a coin flip generator).
  • Number your ideas and use a random number generator to pick one for you.

You Can’t Write Because: You’re Not Eating a Brain-Supporting Diet

I’m not here to tell anyone how to structure their diet. I don’t have medical training. Everyone’s body is different and what you eat will change throughout your life. Your doctor and/or a licensed nutritionist are the best people for that job.

However, your nutrition could be an important tool to consider if you want to get rid of writer’s block. I can give you a few pointers that I definitely didn’t learn until way later than I would have liked:

You Can’t Write Because: Your Responsibilities Are Too Important Right Now

As you get older, you’ll have varying responsibilities that sometimes you have to take care of on your own. Maybe you’re taking on new roles at your job or you’ve just become a parent. You might move into a new home and have a long list of projects to finish before you settle in.

Sometimes responsibilities are acts of self-care during challenging times. Those are all valid. It’s okay to step back and take a break if your situation is going to drain your energy until your routine becomes normal or you get used to the responsibilities. You’re a writer even when you’re not actively writing. Nothing can take that skill and passion away from you!

You Can’t Write Because: You’re Uninterested In Writing

It’s totally normal to sometimes feel like you’re completely uninterested in writing. That feeling might last for months or even years. I went through a good 5-6 year period where I didn’t think I’d ever write again just because I didn’t care to.

That may indicate that you’re in a period of self-growth. You might be discovering new parts of yourself that result in new hobbies you’d rather spend your time doing. That’s okay too!

How to Overcome It

If that’s not the case for you, ask yourself—are you still reading? My writing always grinds to a halt when I’m not reading a good book. Ask a friend what was the last book they couldn’t put down. Find out which books are currently taking the internet by storm and find them at your local library.

You can even research “Books like ___” and insert the title of a book that’s incredibly special to you. I promise there are going to be articles looping it in with other titles that you might enjoy more than branching out into a totally new genre.

You Can’t Write Because: You’re Bored of Your Story

Life can get boring. People are sometimes boring. Stories get boring too.

It’s okay to step back from an idea if you groan at the thought of spending time in that world or with that character. You can always come back to see if the feeling has passed.

How to Overcome It

If your story is still dull when you come back to it, what can you add or change about it? You might need a plot twist to get things going in a new direction or another character to shake up existing character dynamics.

When all else fails and you still don’t care to continue writing what you’ve got, go ahead and scrap it. Consider what you’ve learned from the experience and move onto your next creative adventure.

You Can’t Write Because: Your Story Is Stuck

Maybe you’re writing a story and it reaches a point in the plot where you don’t know how to move your characters forward. They may have gotten themselves into a sticky situation you can’t think a way out of or the plot device that was working isn’t relevant anymore. Getting stuck is a form of writer’s block, but it’s not permanent.

How to Overcome It

  • Give your protagonist a different goal at the start of the story or a new goal after accomplishing their last one.
  • Add a new character (they’ll naturally make different choices than your protagonist and challenge them in various ways that are relevant to your themes).
  • Pull the rug out from under your protagonist (maybe they think they’re an incredible parent, but overhear their child complaining about them to a friend during a sleepover while walking past the living room).

Other Resources

You Can’t Write Because: Your Characters Aren’t Real Enough to You

Sometimes characters don’t feel real enough and it makes writing about them boring. Everyone encounters this eventually! Think about if your writer’s block is happening because you don’t enjoy spending time with your characters.

If that’s the problem, it’s time to make them more real. There are a few ways to do that! (If you try these solutions or others like them and your characters are still uninspiring, it might be time to walk away for a while/permanently.)

How to Overcome It

  • Give them something inspired by a real-life person (add a personality trait that you love about your best friend, hate about a public figure, want in yourself, etc.).
  • Add a few flaws (perfect characters don’t feel real because no one is perfect)
  • Give them a face (this goes back to character research—save a stock photo that looks like your character or draw them. Post the picture on your wall where you write or in your phone for continual inspiration.)
  • Rework your plot (maybe you’re not starting them at the best possible point in their journey—start with an action scene, shift events around, or add a new twist that challenges their growth in some way.)
  • Complicate their relationships (maybe they have a fight with their best friend, clash with their teacher, form different opinions than someone they admire and learn from that experience, etc.)

Other Resources

You Can’t Write Because: You’ve Set High Expectations for Yourself

Your creativity will stop feeling as natural if your expectations of yourself or your writing are too high. 

When it’s time to write, where do your thoughts go? You may need healthier expectations if your thoughts center around:

  • Getting every word or scene perfect
  • Knowing exactly where the plot goes in every chapter
  • Worrying that your story won’t be receptive to future readers
  • Wondering if you’re the right person to talk about a certain theme
  • Making your characters or story the first of its kind

It’s good to challenge yourself, but not with unreachable expectations. Give yourself room to try things, to possibly fail, and to learn from your mistakes. 

Every chance you have to write is another opportunity to hone your skills by learning from the experience.

You Can’t Write Because: You’re Burnt Out

Burnout happens all the time, creatively or otherwise. Creative minds can push themselves too hard, just like you can throw too much of your energy into work or school. 

See if you’re experiencing any of these common symptoms of burnout:

  • Constant exhaustion, even after a “good” night’s rest
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Frequent illnesses
  • No motivation
  • A general negative outlook on life
  • Feeling trapped
  • Loud thoughts of self-doubt or failure
  • Not feeling satisfied with things that used to bring you joy
  • Feeling alone
  • Starting unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • Isolating yourself from people, even your loved ones

How to Overcome It

Talking with a therapist is a great way to handle burnout. Here are the resources for budget-friendly therapy again:

I have absolutely been the person who can’t afford therapy. I get it. You can also get some mental health help with these resources:

You Can’t Write Because: Your Writing Routine Isn’t Working Anymore

I used to write short stories literally every day while I was in grade school. Being stuck in classes for 8 hours a day was great for my creative writing because the sounds of the teacher talking, whiteboard markers writing, and students asking questions became background noise that tuned me into my stories. (I highly recommend paying attention to harder classes though!)

When I had fewer daily classes in college, my writing basically stopped. After I graduated, the environment that helped me write most easily completely disappeared.

It took a long time for me to learn why I had writer’s block—I wasn’t experimenting with my writing environment.

How to Overcome It

Try changing when you write to see if it’s a time issue. Get up earlier in the morning, write after eating lunch, or sit down after you’ve completed your responsibilities for the day.

Switch your scenery. You might write better at a coffee shop, the library, a park bench, your living room, your bed, or even your bathtub.

Change what you’re hearing. Try writing in complete silence. Use noise-blocking or canceling headphones and listen to lyricless music. You can also try background noises that often help people focus, like:

You Can’t Write Because: You Don’t Feel Motivated

Your story may not feel as captivating as you thought because you’re not as motivated with this one. Does it have a centralized theme? You can always search for your theme or pick one while figuring out what your story is supposed to convey to readers.

Some popular themes are:

  • Coming of age (discovering something about yourself/the world or both)
  • Survival
  • Corruption
  • Power
  • Courage
  • Love
  • Heroism
  • Death
  • Prejudice

You may find your motivation by writing about something very personal to you or something you want to tell other people. Write to the person in your life who needs to see something from your perspective or needs to learn from another person’s perspective.

Write about the thing you can’t stop talking about. Write about what you’re going through or want to figure out. Even if your story goes from a novel to a short story to flash fiction (anywhere from 4 words to 1,000 words), you’ll likely find it easier to write.

Other Resources

You Can’t Write Because: You’re Doubting Yourself

Self-doubt can pull the emergency brake on your brain. You may not think you’re good enough to write a story the moment you think of it. Self-doubt can come into play after you start writing or just before you finish a manuscript.

No matter when it hits you, it can cause another form of writer’s block. You’re the only person who can figure out where that doubt stems from and address the root of the problem, but everyone can practice daily positive affirmations to encourage themselves. With daily practice, you’ll chip away at your writer’s block.

While talking to a mirror or writing in a journal, tell yourself things like:

  • Writing is my hobby because it’s part of me.
  • I’m always a writer, no matter how often I actually write.
  • My voice and ideas deserve to exist.
  • Every word I write makes me better at writing.
  • No matter what comes out of my brain, stories are always my artwork.

Other Resources

You Can’t Write Because: You’re Literally Out of  Ideas

Ideas come and go. Sometimes your brain just can’t think of anything. There’s nothing wrong with your creative spirit—you may just have other things going on (like one or more of the above challenges).

When you really want to write something but can’t come up with anything off the top of your head, use a few generators to get things started.

How to Overcome It

Prompt Generators

Story Generators

Character Generators

Plot Twist Generators

Learn How to Defeat Writer’s Block

I hope this helps someone feel more at peace and even get rid of their writer’s block. It’s okay if you can’t think your way through it yet. Sit with the uncomfortable feeling and it will gradually lose its power over your creativity.

You’ll start writing again sooner than you think.

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