Writer’s Block: Fact or Fiction?

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“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”

Charles Bukowski

Winter is normally my time for hankering down in the writing den and harvesting words to see me through the year. Up to now this has not happened. I do not know whether this is down to the colder than usual winter weather we have been experiencing, or a case of writing fatigue. I seem to have hit a block with my writing inspiration.

Take writing this post as an example. All the research was completed, a mind map plotted, a few pages of notes jotted. When I sat down to start the first draft – nothing, except idle fingers and a blank page.

This has been my first experience of writer’s block. Over my years of writing, I’ve mastered the art of procrastination and laziness, and had spells of poor motivation, but never the inability to get words onto a page. Writing this post has been interspersed with bouts of cleaning, exercise, rearranging bookshelves, anything other than confronting the task in hand.

Famous Writers and Blocks

The Oxford English Dictionary defines writer’s block as the ‘inability of a writer, esp. a professional writer, to produce or continue working on a piece of writing.’ Maya Angelou, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Harper Lee, Philip Larkin and Stephen King all suffered from the affliction at some time in their writing careers.

Angelou was not fond of the term, writer’s block. She felt the wording gave the phenomenon a power she was not comfortable with. Her strategy to overcome blocks was to just write. ‘I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,” she was quoted as saying. This, she said, would tempt her muse from its hiding place.

The Zeigarnik Effect

As well as just writing there are several remedies listed in writing craft books which help to combat writer’s block. Using writing prompts, reading, and having a break from writing, are a few of the tried and tested formulas.

A technique I have started to favour is one which is based on something known as the Zeigarnik Effect. In the book, Written,’ by Bec Evans and Chris Smith, psychologist, Robert Cialdini, describes the Zeigarnik Effect as, ‘a state which means that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones, because our attention is drawn to them.’

For writers, he suggests deliberately finishing a piece of writing before getting to the end. In essence, stopping writing in mid-sentence when your brain is telling you to keep going. Think back to that television series where the end of an episode left you wanting and returning for more; or the chapter ends of a book bringing you back to continue reading.

I tested this theory whilst writing this post. Leaving the post half-finished motivated me to come back today and get to the end. My brain harangued me all yesterday making sure I returned and did not leave any unfinished business.

Another strategy is to write poetry like fellow blogger, Ellie Thompson, whose poem about writer’s block demonstrates how to turn a demon into an ally and not an enemy. You can read Ellie’s poem here ➡ Writer’s Block

What are your thoughts on writer’s block. Do you have any strategies to combat the block when it strikes? I would be pleased to hear about them. As a bonus, here is what British singer, Just Jack, has to say on the subject.  

Have a good weekend.

15 thoughts on “Writer’s Block: Fact or Fiction?

  1. Firstly, thank you so much for the link to my post, Davy. I’m very grateful and moved that you included my poem in your post about your own writer’s block.

    I can really identify with your dilemma, as that’s where I was before my last post. Isn’t it frustrating? Well done on having the determination to finish this piece today. It just shows you’ve got what it takes to be an excellent and committed writer.

    This is the first I’ve heard of The Zeigarnik Effect. It’s very interesting, and I will bear that in mind for the next time I get stuck, as no doubt I will at some point. If this is your only experience of the dreaded block, you have been doing well. I’ve had it many times, but this was the first time my determination won out, and I ended up writing about my feelings, as I so often do.

    Also, this is a coincidence – I love Just Jack. Not many people have heard of him, but I love his music and lyrics. I’ve got quite a few of his albums on CD, although I don’t play CDs anymore, as I can listen on other mediums now. Thanks again, Davy – so much 😊.

    1. Thank you, Ellie. I enjoyed your poem and was happy to share. The Zeigarnik Effect is interesting and I will try to use it again. I suppose the more you do, the more comfortable you become with the concept. Like you, I really like Just Jack. His music has a haunting honesty. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and have a nice weekend.

  2. What an interesting way to combat writer’s block, Davy! I’d never heard of it but I often will write out the basic premise of what I’m going to post next on a day and then not have time to finish it — and you’re right, my brain keeps on working on it. Huh, thanks for solving that for me.

    If I’m stuck, I often go out walking. But that can be harder to do in the winter.

    For the record, I loved this post so it doesn’t feel like you are stuck to me! 🙂

    1. Thanks for your kind words and support, Wynne, they are most appreciated. Like you, I often take a writing problem out for a walk. It seems to work, especially when I am trying to plot a route through a particular poem. There is a definite link between movement and writing which goes against the image of a writer being stuck behind a desk. Have a good weekend.

  3. I chortled when I saw your post. I also read Ellie’s blog yesterday and immediately thought, hmm, this writer’s block must be contagious. I think you both did a fine job breaking your block by writing about said blockage. I’ll need to pull out that trick one day. But I suspect you can only do it once.

    1. Cheers, Jeff. It will be interesting to find out. I am not sure whether it can be developed as a skill, or the trick is like the coach screaming at their players in the locker room – a limited effect over time. Thanks for your thoughts and have a good weekend.

  4. Ugh! It can be the worst. And it often leads to demotivation and procrastination. No one likes facing their fears. But leaving a job undone can make one try to get it done. I like that approach. Sometimes, it’s best to leave it and return. The subconscious is at work without our even knowing it. Take each word as it comes, Davy. They tend to begin falling into place. And Just Jack sings it well. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the supportive words, Terveen. I think part of the block may be my subconscious telling me to try something different, perhaps change my writing routine. I am writing into the challenge and beginning to find out more things about myself as a writer. Enjoy your writing week.

  5. I have periods when I just stare at the screen and nothing comes, which gets worse when I try to force it.

    I have a strategy, if that’s not too grand a word for it, by remembering this is supposed to be enjoyable, so I stick on some music I love and spend fifteen minutes just typing, or writing, a stream of unconsciousness. I don’t stop to consider, I just carry on.

    Sometimes that helps, but the main thing is it gets the juices flowing again.

    Good luck, try not to worry about it though, it will pass.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Paul. I will try that. You are right in that sometimes we need to remind ourselves that writing is enjoyable and not a daily chore. Having that opportunity to be able to sit down and and write is something to be celebrated. Have a good week.

  6. For me, writer’s block is more of a perception problem instead of a creative one. It’s just me thinking something’s not good enough, so I won’t commit it on paper. Which is why my method of purposely writing as crappily as I can helps me get over my version of the block. Love your thoughts on the subject. I might just try that Hemingway-esque stopping halfway thing, but I’d have to get started in the first place 😛

    1. Thank you for your insightful thoughts, Stuart. The crappy writing method does help as I think it provides some competition for the brain. Not writing gives in to the brain’s demands. You are right about perception. No matter how we perceive our writing we just have to keep going.

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