What Constitutes Writer’s Block?

The title is a question that I’ve had, in the back of my mind, for a while now. I guess it’s only this week that’s it’s really pushed itself out into open. Why now? Because I’m studying. And when I do something strenuous, from studying to organising to acting, I write a lot more. Call it my coffee.


I like to think I’m one of those writers who doesn’t get writer’s block. Mind over matter, I suppose. But, as I’ve been thinking lately, it got me wondering about the excuses I’ve used to get away from the “I have writer’s block” scenario.

Lovely Wikipedia suggests:Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some “blocked” writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.”

Can we be more specific about that, though? As a writer, I know what’s like, even if I claim never to have been entangled so much in the throws.

I have what I myself define as ‘writer’s block’ when I go to post on this blog, often on a Wednesday evening (sorry!). It’s where I can’t think of what to write. Let’s call this ‘content block’. It’s what I interpret as traditional writers’ block.

Now, I don’t get content block a lot [when it comes to my novels]. I’m not much of a planner, but it helps when writing a scene or chapter that I can jump around the scene, adding in whatever I know will be coming, even if I haven’t hit it on the head yet.

That gets us to writer’s block, version two: detail block.

This is my poison. It’s the kind of writer’s block where you know how the scene or chapter should pan out, you’d got most of the story planned before and after, but you sit down to write, and you can’t think of what the character needs to say. It’s that irritating transition from telling goals and obstructions in one’s head to the showing subtleties on one’s page.

Even this evening, working on my WIP, I’ve had moments where I just stare at the screen, thinking “I want Andrea to say this, but I don’t want her to seem too depressed that she’s heartless… I don’t want Keith to take advantage of her…” etc, etc.

I guess that’s the hardest bit of drafting.

I’m going to add in ‘structure block’, too, because that can affect the writer greatly, especially on the first draft. As I said avoid, I’m not a planner – at least, I didn’t used to be. I plan more now, but my reckless attack on first drafts leaves me with some plot gaps. I say this is different from content plot because you know where you’re headed, but you don’t know what route to take.

Let’s take my WIP, Triangle: about a month ago, I said to a friend of mine “10-thousand more words and I’ll be done.” That meant less than 10 chapters I was aiming for. It didn’t happen. ‘Why not?’ you cry? Because, having not been structured enough, the characters got their own way and muscled in some unexpected scenes, leaving me with an outline that said something like this:

Lucas and Andrea fight over religion
Alexia’s consolations and wishes
Andrea back to Keith

Yah, it’s annoying. I had to work from that, and the block I had was one that lasted me a couple of weeks. Perhaps I was procrastinating.


Anyway, those are my thoughts on writer’s block for this evening. I’ll end by going back to the Wikipedia definition: the inability to produce – anything. So, even if one of us is umming and erring over plot-structure, and another of us is stuck trying to get characters to tell a story without overacting or exposition, we may all be suffering from writer’s block. Alas. My plan to pretend I am immune failed!

(Wikipedia also has some fun* information on causes and coping strategies for writer’s block. As I psychologist, I’d definitely like to do a post on what I think. Keep your eyes peeled!
*I say ‘fun’ meaning fun for an information-hog like me.)


5 thoughts on “What Constitutes Writer’s Block?

  1. Was it you who posted on just writing to get it going? I think that’s a decent solution to writer’s block, to just write whatever comes to mind, even if it doesn’t make sense. (On another note, sometimes I check out the Daily Post and get the prompt from them. It often gives me inspiration to have a topic to focus on). Sounds like you need to fill your head up with things different than what you usually consume. Maybe a little Adventure Time? 😉

    1. It was me – and that’s what I have been doing, though now I have Andrea looking at the weather and I have no idea why I wanted her to do so. I spent over an hour at a doctor’s sugery earlier in the week just to get a vaccination. Lots of time for writing, but most of it is introspective babble.
      Luckily, the plot’s gone beyond the example above, and now it’s more a case of making sure I link up the chapters cohesively and coherently. So close to the end!

      *squees in anticipatory excitement*

  2. I have unmotivated block sometimes…that’s when I look at my manuscript and I know the kind of work I need to put into it to fix it up, and I decide to take a nap instead. I’m not proud of those moments, but they definitely happen.

    I would love to see a post on your thoughts on writer’s block coping strategies. 😉

    1. Aha, I’ll try and get around to interpreting Wikipedia on that then. This week is booked up, but I might be able to look at it next week. 🙂 Encouragement like this certainly helps beat those stare-at-screen/sleep moments. I think I procrastinate when I’m stuck. In fact, I know. I should be posting today’s post this minute (well, an hour ago), but I’m here answering comments! Not that I mind of course. Keep ’em coming!

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