Overcome Writer’s Block Forever

By: Guest | July 2, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Andy Crestodina.

Take a nap.

Eat a sandwich.

Call a friend.

Take a hot shower.

Music, nature, and 99 other tips are… not in this article. This article is about the true source behind writer’s block.

Herein, we reveal why we hit that wall and why, at times, we simply cannot write that next word.

Following is what two powerhouse writers have to say about overcoming writers block. Incidentally, the quotes that follow are transcribed from podcasts and speeches.

You haven’t prepared.

In an interview with Copyblogger’s Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio, John Carlton said this about writer’s block:

“I’ve said before that writer’s block is a myth. Whenever I speak, there’s usually a number of writers in the audience…and I’ll say ‘how many people are bothered by writer’s block?’ and a good third to a half of the room will raise their hands.

And I disabuse them of the notion. My response is: ‘Grow up. It’s a myth. It’s nonsense.’ All writer’s block is is not being prepared on what you need to do.

If you sit down and you haven’t got a headline burning in your head and you don’t know how you’re going to start this conversation…if you’re not ready to blast that first draft out when you sit down, then you have no business sitting down and even starting, because you should be prepared. You should be boiling with the information you need.”

The takeaway from Carlton is, if you you’re struggling to write, you aren’t ready yet. Keep researching. Seek more information. Keep learning until you have more to say.

You don’t care about the topic.

Ray Bradbury, in his keynote address to the Writer’s Symposium by the Sea in 2001, had another take on overcoming writer’s block.

“People are always saying ‘Well, what do we do about a sudden blockage in your writing? What if you have a blockage, and you don’t know what to do about it?’

Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, isn’t it? In the middle of writing something, you go blank and your mind says: ‘No, that’s it.’ OK. You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying, ‘I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for.’

If you’ve got writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.”

The takeaway from Bradbury is, you only have trouble writing if you’re writing something you don’t care about. If you loved the topic, you wouldn’t have this problem.

“Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say ‘Oh, my God, what word? Oh, <dammit>…,’ you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.”

Embrace it, and choose one of these two options.

Writer’s block is your internal BS detector stopping you from writing something uninteresting or poorly researched. It’s a natural check against churning out crap. It’s a good thing.

When you’re blocked, stop pushing ahead. Carlton and Bradbury would have you consider these options:

  1. Go back. Study your topic more.
  2. Go another way. Find a topic for which you feel some passion.

This is consistent with all the usual tips for writer’s block: Stop writing. But now you know its true cause. It’s a frustrating instinct, but you should trust it.

Use writer’s block to be a better, happier, more productive writer.

(photo credit)

Andy Crestodina is the strategic director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago, where he writes for the Orbit blog. You can find Andy on and Twitter.

  • I could not stop smiling as I read this post. I’m usually saying writer’s block is a myth, too.

    •  @Erin F. Right? This is awesome! Next time I feel ‘stuck’, Im going to move on to something better.

    • crestodina

       @Erin F. It helps to think of it differently, doesn’t it? I love that John Carlton quote: 
      “if you’re not ready to blast that first draft out when you sit down, then you have no business sitting down and even starting, because you should be prepared.”
      That says it all. 🙂

  • ErinMFeldman

    @crestodina It’s a great post! cc: @spinsucks @lisagerber

  • SunnySocial

    @ideabloke @crestodina I’m in!

    • ideabloke

      @SunnySocial Good for you, Sani! :p @crestodina

  • First off, writer’s block is real. To think otherwise is to not understand the creative process. At all.
    Secondly, I sort of agree with Bradbury here. When facing writer’s block, you SHOULD  go do something else… IMMEDIATELY. I once read that an old screenwriting trick was to work on developing two projects at once – one in the near-finished script format and one as a developing outline. Whenever you get stuck on the actual script, you begin working on the other project (script outline). 
    So I always have two projects (or more) that I can bounce between whenever I get blocked on the main project I am focused on. Another piece of advice – always have a guitar nearby. 

    • crestodina

       @fitzternet I reached out to John Carlton to see if he would respond to your comment directly. Hopefully, he’ll get back to me…
      About multiple projects, I agree. I have more than 60 topics on a list waiting for me and at least half a dozen articles in progress. I shift gears a lot while writing. Another trick: never hesitate to start writing something. Strike while the iron is hot!

  • If you are writer on deadline you often don’t have the luxury of saying you have writer’s block so sometimes you just have to suck it up and write.
    And while I am the first to promote writing with passion and personality if you haven’t found something that excites you about your topic you need to go back and revisit it.
    It is often a luxury to be able to pick and choose what you write about.

    • crestodina

       @TheJackB It is a luxury to be able to chose your topics. But Carlton’s point about research is also valid. I had a teacher once who said, if something isn’t interesting, you’re just not paying enough attention. Doing research and preparing until you find that nugget is one of the keys to great writing.
      Also, I think if you’re having trouble writing a longer piece, maybe it should be a shorter piece. If you can make your point after three sentences and then get blocked, maybe you’re done writing it!  
      …Perhaps brevity is another way to overcome writer’s block.

      •  @crestodina I agree about research. It makes a significant difference in your ability to produce something interesting.
        Unfortunately there are lots of times where you don’t have oodles of time to research and need to start producing content ASAP.

        • crestodina

           @TheJackB I need to prepare a bit before responding to this comment, Jack. I want to think about this one and get some outside input. I’ll get back to you in a week or so.
          I’m kidding, but your point is completely valid. I’ve never worked in a news room, but I can only imagine…

        •  @crestodina hahahahaha! I was so confused at first! I thought… “really?” LOL. 

    •  @TheJackB @crestodina I’m very much of the belief that writer’s block is a prison that we construct for ourselves, or worse, it becomes an excuse for not taking the risk of writing. 
      I can’t say to a client who is paying for me to write on deadline that the Muse hasn’t come to visit today, so I’m pushing off the project for another day or two. 

      •  @jasonkonopinski  @TheJackB  @crestodina I like to kick the Muse to the curb or down a well. 😉

        •  @Erin F.  @jasonkonopinski  @crestodina Years ago I witnessed one hell of a “take no prisoners” fight between two people all because someone said “I am going to bitch slap writer’s block right between the eyes.”

  • Gini Dietrich

    Yes, we do!

  • kamkansas

    I agree with TheJackB. When you’re a professional writer getting paid to write assigned stories that your company gives you, tight deadlines are a reality in many cases, and you can’t switch topics, change the size of the story or push back the deadline to do more research. Sometimes you have to do the best with what you have in that current moment, so if I can’t think of a way to start the story, I’ll start with the quotes I want to use and that usually sparks my creative juices enough to craft a story I like that meets the assignment and the deadline. But I also think @crestodina makes inspirational points about how to approach writing when you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck for a specific story. It’s valuable advice for blogging or whenever you have the freedom to change the timing or topics of your writing. It’s certainly thought-provoking!

    • crestodina

       @kamkansas  I can tell from the comments that a few of the readers are working on deadlines and don’t have the luxury of changing topics or researching more.
      When all else fails, we can take @TheJackB’s advice… “sometimes you just have to suck it up and write.”

      •  @crestodina  @kamkansas It is not ideal, but sometimes that is all you can do.
        I suppose part of the reason I like to free write is the lack of restrictions on me. No deadline or concerns about what I am doing- just straight writing.

    •  @kamkansas  @crestodina If you always keep your plate full with lots of projects (paid and otherwise), it makes it easier to keep in a near constant state of writing. Write often, block less. 🙂 

      • kamkansas

         @jasonkonopinski  @crestodina I agree with this, Jason. Staying in the flow of writing and creativity does reduce writing block, which gives us more time to write the things we really want to write. 

  • This is the kick in the pants that we all need. I especially like the quote about not giving a damn about you’re writing about. I think that used to happen when I was writing school papers, but now that I’m writing for my own business I have a lot more control over what I’m writing… And in turn it makes it more fun and the writing definitely flows more!

    •  @NathLussier YAY! Hi Nathalie!! 🙂

    • crestodina

       @NathLussier It’s so much more fun when you like the topic!
      It’s great that you mentioned school. I almost failed out of college…until I made a rule to never take a class I didn’t like. Eventually I graduated with a degree in Chinese. True story! Maybe I should write about it…  🙂

      •  @crestodina I took Chinese in college too! It was one of my favorite subjects… oh and it was a bonus that my boyfriend (now fiancee) was fluent so I got to practice a lot. 🙂 

        • crestodina

           @NathLussier Tai hao le! Wo meiyou jihui yong Zhongwen shuo hua. Wo xianmu ni!
          Your fiancee can help you with a quick translation if necessary. …or I can reply in English for you. 🙂

  • I think one of the best ways to beat writer’s block is to write free form. Or in other words, not give a damn about what you’re writing about. Just sit down and start writing. I can always clean things up afterwards in editing. Getting started is the hardest part.

  • There’s something to be said about knowing you aren’t alone in this. I find I do my best writing when I have it burning in my head, usually from a long run in the woods. So I agree wholeheartedly. But as others  have mentioned, sometimes we are paid to write about things for which we aren’t passionate. 
    I’m going to try this and see if I can keep bouncing my next topic around until I find that passion. 

  • Not sure I totally agree! Having spoken to many authors, some of whom have enjoyed considerable success, they do talk about writers block, and particularly when it comes to writing fiction it is  not a question of not being prepared, it is just not flowing!
    However, on a personal note, I would be aware that this happens to me, and those occasions woud perhaps be consistent with  not being prepared!
    So, I agree and disagree, if that makes sense!!

    • crestodina

       @John_Murphy I don’t write fiction, but I’ve heard that many of the really successful fiction writers have systems. Elmore Leonard forces himself to write something before he has his morning coffee (powerful motivator). Carl Hiaasen sits in isolation and always wears headphones.
      A famous advertising copywriter named Eugene Schwartz forced himself to sit for 33.3 minutes at a time in front of a typewriter, 6 times per day. During this time, he could drink coffee, do nothing or write. Eventually, he would get an idea (or get bored) and write something. You can read more about his method here:
      If all else fails, develop a system. Hope this helps! 

      •  @crestodina Love the link about Eugene Schwartz – thanks!

  • I love you. #thatisall
    Not really. I agree with this. Except for the one time I wrote a blog post about nothing (the Seinfeld of blog posts), when I don’t have a topic burning in my head, I read. I subscribe to several newsletters or I’ll go see what’s happening at HBR to get ideas. I always have a topic within 30 minutes of reading, if I didn’t start my morning with something to say. It’s not hard to find something to write about if you do as you say…get prepared.

    • amandag

       @ginidietrich Yes, reading is the ultimate source of ideas. I think Brian Clark once said that his ideas often come from good TV, bad movies and books. Here’s another writing trick that works for bloggers: get ideas from LinkedIn Answers, Focus or Quora.
      I put this tip in a post called “How to Write When You Have No Ideas and No Time”
      Hope it helps. Happy 4th, Gini!

    • crestodina

      Yes, reading is the ultimate source of ideas. I think Brian Clark once said that his ideas often come from good TV, bad movies and books. Here’s another writing trick that works for bloggers: get ideas from LinkedIn Answers, Focus or Quora.
      I put this in a post called “How to Write When You Have No Ideas and No Time”

  • David Roth

    He’s the man

  • EitanTheWriter

    @arnteriksen @crestodina I’ve never experienced writers block. I’ve had problems that are hard to fix and I procrastinate, but never blocked

  • Not being prepared – commonly called trying to write about something you don’t really know – can certainly be a problem, and so can trying to write about something you don’t actually care about (for some people).
    But there’s a lot more going on in what most people call block than either of these two elements.
    I’ve been breaking writer’s block for more than 25 years in a one-time consultation for people ranging from full-time professional writers, including one who’s had ten books in a row on the New York Times bestseller list, and another who is a Pulitzer prize winner, to part-time writers, graduate students, and aspirant writers.
    I identify six major forms of block (these also apply to other creative artists as well as writers, such as composers, photographers, and painters — but not to actors — and, actually, can apply to great numbers of people for great numbers of projects or undertakings). They are:
    1. Paralysis
    2. Avoidance behavior
    3. Last-minute crisis writing
    4. Inability to finish
    5. Inability to select from among projects
    6. Block specific (able to work on other material).
    I can’t summarize a four-hour session filled with concept and technique here, but here, without going into detail about them or discussing the many subtle ways they can play out, are what I call “The Three Big Killers” in block:
    1. Perfectionism — which is a form of all-or-nothing thinking, triumph or catastrophe, with nothing possible in between.
    2. Fear — which is a product of the first and second Big Killers, but which can be identified as a separate entity. All fear in writer’s block, regardless of where it starts, can be boiled down to the simple statement: “That I can’t do it.” And what is the “it” that I can’t do? The simple act of putting words on paper. Period. Nothing more. Nothing less. The simple act of putting words on paper. No more magical an act than painting a board or throwing a board. (Find an equivalent analog for whatever task or project *you* have in mind or are facing.
    3. The Baggage Train — these are all the things we wish to *accomplish* with our writing, such as I want to be rich, I want to be admired, I want to make them laugh and cry, I want to save the whales, I want to bring peace to the middle-east, etc., but which are not the *act* of writing itself. The problem arises because, while it looks like I’m trying to write, and I *think* I’m trying to write, I’m not: I’m trying to get rich, save the whales, get my ex-wife and all my ex-lovers to say ‘Boy, I really should have stayed with him. Look how sensitive and insightful he is,’ etc. The key is to disconnect the baggage train from the locomotive, which is writing, which is the simple act of putting words on paper, so that thing get out of the station.
    Any single one of these Killers operating in you with sufficient strength, and you’ll be blocked ; any two present at the same time, and you don’t have a chance.
    I hope that is of some help. I wish you the best with this problem. (Incidentally, I am not invulnerable to block myself. In fact, I have a *huge* potential case of it. The difference is, I know what to do about it. Actually, I break writer’s block several times a day for myself. If I didn’t, I would be paralyzed.)
    Be well,
    Jerrold Mundis


    • crestodina

       @JerroldMundis Thanks for all the insight, Jerrold. Reading your comment reminded me of another Ray Bradbury quote: “You fail only if you stop writing”
      I’m glad to see so much discussion in these comments and grateful that you took the time to give your input. Thanks again!

  • PatriciaMartin

    Great advice! RT @crestodina: How to Overcome Writer’s Block …Forever. I’m guest posting on @spinsucks today.

  • Ok, maybe the shrink in me talks louder; but I think writer’s block is real. Not a myth. It is just like a form of anxiety; one fears what the outcome might be, one fears that the “product” might not be as great as they imagine it in their heads, or maybe not great at all. Its a fear that just needs to be overcome. 
    Another point that becomes a little relevant for me is that writers block for a blogger might be different from the writers block a novelist (for example) might experience. For example, we bloggers can get away with a 400 word post; but a novelist or maybe a journalist can’t really do that everyday. For bloggers, writing might be a way to expand business, express opinions, a creative outlet, an expression of ideas, a debate or just a journal of recent events. But say, for a novelist, writing is more like a performance I believe. Bloggers are ecstatic with 300 comments and 200 tweets. But for a writer they might be “judged” in terms of selling a few hundred thousand copies. So, yes, the pressures I believe, differs to some extent. And that might be holding influence to the “block” they experience. (P.S In no way am I conveying that bloggers aren’t writers; or that they don’t have writing ability).
    But yes, like you say and as Mark Twain put it “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”!
    My mom says it is just an excuse to be unproductive…. (agree to quite an extent)! 😉

    • crestodina

       @Hajra  Yes, you can tell from the comments so far that bloggers, novelists and journalists have different views on the topic. It seems that deadlines, choice of topics and length are factors in how people are responding to this post.. 
      Regardless, I’m glad if you found the tips useful. And thanks for the Mark Twain quote. That’s a good one…

      •  @crestodina Yup I did read the comment after I wrote mine. There are a lot of factors that work behind any kind of fear or block and it holds true for writers block as well. 
        But yes, like you say, revisiting and re-routing works at not only in coming up with newer ideas but bettering your old ones as well! 

  • shonali

    @crestodina You’re most welcome!

  • jasonkonopinski

    @skypulsemedia @ShellyKramer @ginidietrich We need to make this happen.

  • ginidietrich

    @skypulsemedia Nooooo. I’m in training. No drinking for me. @jasonkonopinski

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  • christina010365

    I’m new referring to myself as a writer, but given that I maintain five websites now I clearly am! If you had asked me point blank what I do when I am “uninspired” as I call it, I probably could not have put the words together properly, but what you have described is exactly what I do. At least once a month I start a blog post and close it down 3-4 sentences in because I am bored with it! Before I write on any new topic I research it to death. And several days a month I set aside time to simply read read read. Books magazines, other blogs, it doesn’t matter, but I make sure to read every word from start to finish rather than the usual daily skim 🙂 So I think I would add a 3rd step which is to read. For me, it shouldn’t even be on the topics I need to know, it just has to be reading for pleasure. I’m amazed at how many posts have been inspired by reading a trashy novel or a Rolling Stone article!

  • marccusters

    @crestodina my pleasure !

  • 3HatsComm

    @melnazar Thx.

  • SanjayJohari

    I hate to admit but it takes me 5-6 hours to write one simple blog post of about 500 words. The writer’s block is for real. Out of those 6 hrs I dilly-dally for about 4 hrs, start getting some concrete ideas in the 5th hour. After that typing work doesn’t take much time. Next time I will follow the suggestions of this article and try to reduce my time. Thanks for sharing.

    • crestodina

       @SanjayJohari I hope that things get easier, Sanjay. But if you consider the “dilly dally” time as preparation, it’s not an unreasonable amount of time. 
      Your comment reminds me of a quote from Abraham Lincoln…
      “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

  • This is great. When I am writing in my passion, it just flows. I’m going to remember these tips. I loved your opening too. Great attention grabber. You held my attention to the end and I didn’t even skim. LOL. Watch my blog for the rewards of this.

  • crestodina

    @copyblogger Thanks for sharing this one: Overcome Writer’s Block Forever – Those Carlton interviews are outstanding…

    • copyblogger

      @crestodina No problem, great stuff. Was just checking out your site, how many people on the Orbit team now?

      • crestodina

        @copyblogger There are 30 of us. We usually grow 20% per year. How’s biz for you?

  • invinciblesaad

    @crestodina Pleasure is all ours Andy! 🙂 @IngridCliff @writing412 @Clkbuildermedia

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  • crestodina

    @invinciblesaad Thank you so much for the encouraging words, Saad. It means a lot to me!

    • invinciblesaad

      @crestodina Hey Andy You are Just too Kind! Your Work Really Deserves LOUD APPLAUD! The ease of “READ” i found in Ur Words is Amazing!

    • invinciblesaad

      @crestodina My Blog is in development, it’ll be up in 10 days, would love to hv U on my blog for my audience, & U will love my Content Too!

      • crestodina

        @invinciblesaad Looking forward to seeing it!

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  • soclogical

    @nictaugirl Thanks, Mary Ann.

    • NictauGirl

      @soclogical You are welcome. Really liked that article. Even as a frustrated writer, I have always thought writer’s block a myth. Cheers!

  • Contently

    We also found this “Content Creator’s Creativity Cleanse,” which is essentially about living well, on Copyblogger: Feeling better in general probably helps cure the dreaded writer’s block. At the very least, you’ll feel a little more rooted in the world after a good cleanse. 🙂

  • Subjuntivo

    @Wlasen iba a decir que yo no tengo ningún WB; ahora que veo el post, sé que así es. Eso es para los “escritores”, te das cuenta..? #taller

    • Wlasen

      @Subjuntivo Ehm, bueno. Perdón?

      • Subjuntivo

        @Wlasen no, qué va, no pasa nada. Me gusta que tipos famosos o populares piensen como yo, me halaga.

        • Wlasen

          @Subjuntivo aaaaaaay, él.

        • Subjuntivo

          @Wlasen claramente.

  • idonethis

    @crestodina Np! It was an awesome article. I’m definitely going to refer back to it the next time I get stuck.

  • StephLough

    @crestodina @SpinSucks thanks for writing it! Writer’s block is the worst, and those are definitely the reasons why.

  • aerox2109

    @stefii1806 @NatFiene Meh, can’t wholly agree with it. I’ve had a lot of things that I’ve written (cont)

  • writing412

    @crestodina Thank YOU for a great article.

  • CustomerSpecs

    @TimothytHaines @crestodina So true!

  • crestodina

    @raintoday Glad you liked the Writer’s Block post. If you’d like me to write a little something for your blog, just let me know!

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  • ltcassociates

    @crestodina  @John_Murphy Fascinating! Never heard of this guy or his technique… but in my own writer’s group we were just passing around a tip; namely, a program called Freedom. (All the top authors are using it these days, so I’m a real hipster for name-checking it…have you heard of it?)
    Freedom does one thing: you tell it how long you want to be offline, and it shuts down your internet connection so you can write. Simple as that. In 30, 45 minute or however long you asked, Freedom allows you to get back online and fritter away your life sending dumb Tweets.
    Very similar to sitting in that chair, drinking coffee for 33.3 minutes I think…

  • ltcassociates

    I only read about halfway down the comments thread, so I’m not sure if anyone mentioned this “classic” solution to writer’s block which I learned as a young writer:
    Struggling to write? Having trouble finding that next word? Then write 10 words.
    Having trouble coming up with 10 words? Then write 100 words.
    Having trouble writing a sentence? Then write 10 sentences. And so on.
    They don’t have to make any sense. Just write them down. Just write. Write anything.
    Let me know what happens : )

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