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15 of the most common causes of writer’s block – and how to cure them

Feeling stuck in your manuscript, craft, or career? Here are 15 of the most common problems that can stall a writer’s progress – plus key strategies for overcoming each one.

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4. Problem: You have ideas that you do not know how to bring to light.

You want to write a book or a short story or get published, but you have no idea how to begin.


What to do: Spend less time saying “I don’t know how” to the wrong people (i.e., those who can’t help you) and start saying it to the right people.

Hire a mentor or coach. I can’t stress enough the impact one-on-one writing help can have. I’ve had lots of mentors, some better than others, but they all moved me forward in some way.

Find other people doing what you want to do and ask them how they got there. Don’t be afraid they’ll be annoyed – most people love to help, as long as you don’t make a pest of yourself.

Read the memoirs of those who did or are doing what you want to do.

Take individuals whose career or accomplishments you admire to lunch or interview them for an article. Ask them how they became what they are.


5. Problem: You have a fear of writing what you most need to write.

You don’t want to face it. You are afraid of what people will think of you. You worry about the legality (or the ethics) of writing about other people. Richard Bach wrote, “We teach best what we most need to learn.” By the same token, we write what we most need to read. Writer Mridu Khullar Relph says that writing is most difficult when we resist saying the things we know we must say, resist exploring the emotions we want to explore, or resist feeling the pain that will come when we tell our truths. Emotional resistance creates creative resistance.


What to do: Write first, worry later. You cannot simultaneously write freely and hold back, so make the following pact with yourself: You will write what needs to be written, feeling all the feels that need to be felt, and only after you have done that will you begin to think about how (or if) you want to make your story public. You simply must separate the creative process from the concern about outcomes and trust that when it’s time to consider outcomes, there will be all manner of mentors and people who have been where you are to guide the way.

Sometimes it’s helpful or even necessary to get emotional support – from compassionate family members, friends, and, yes, even a therapist – as you write about painful things. (Be certain that there is not a conflict of interest – i.e. that you’re not asking the very people you’re writing about to support you).


6. Problem: You are depressed.

Sometimes we are truly suffering from clinical, diagnosable depression, which makes writing feel like dragging a tractor out of a mudslide with your bare hands. When I was younger and suffering from depression, I was told (and believed) that depression led to better art. I bought into this idea until the day I looked around and realized that although I had produced filing cabinets full of writing, nothing I’d written held together. There wasn’t a complete story or essay in sight, nothing that I could submit to anywhere.


What to do: Getting treatment for depression will not make you less profound, and it will make you more productive. Often we buy into the idea that our depression makes us profound because we need to believe our pain is worth something.

If you’ve been depressed longer than a few weeks, seek therapy. Your writing will thank you.


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