Writer’s Block? You’re Not Alone


Ernest HemingwayWriter’s block. It’s that much-feared condition in which a writer loses the ability to produce new work. It’s a creative slowdown. It can manifest as anything from the inability to come up with new ideas to the inability to produce a work at all—sometimes for years.

If you’ve struggled with writer’s block, you’re not alone.

For starts, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and John Fowles all suffered from it. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s take a look at some of the well-loved authors who have gone head-to-head with writer’s block. What they have to say may help—and surprise—you!


Ernest Hemingway

Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, who famously struggled with writer’s block, maintained you should never exhaust your resources—always make sure to keep some inspiration in reserve. He said that the best way to do that “is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day . . . you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”

J.K. Rowling

“I’ve only suffered writer’s block badly once, and that was during the writing of Chamber of Secrets. I had my first burst of publicity about the first book and it paralyzed me. I was scared the second book wouldn’t measure up, but I got through it!” (Scholastic Chat, October 16, 2000.)

That paralysis, she said in an interview with BBC on June 19, 2003, lasted five weeks.

Toni Morrison

In a 1994 interview with Claudia Dreifus, Morrison explained, “When I wrote Beloved, I thought about it for three years. I started writing the manuscript after thinking about it, and getting to know the people and getting over the fear of entering that arena, and it took me three more years to write it.”

Nora Ephron

Nora EphronIn an interview with Michael S. Lasky, Nora Ephron said, “I have times when I can’t get the lead, and I don’t write a word of the article until I have the lead. It just sets the whole tone—the whole point of view. I know exactly where I am going as soon as I have the lead. That can take me three or four days and sometimes a week.” How does she overcome it? “I go away from it for a while and go buy a pair of shoes or have dinner. And I know that maybe if I can talk to someone at dinner I’ll find the thing I am looking for.”

Mark Twain

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Ray Bradbury

In “Telling the Truth,” his keynote address to the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, Ray Bradbury said, “If in the middle of writing something you go blank and your mind says, ‘No, that’s it,’ 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.’ . . . The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And 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.”

Tom Wolfe

In an interview with The Paris Review, Tom Wolfe said, “The piece about car customizers in Los Angeles was the first magazine piece I ever wrote. I was totally blocked. I now know what writer’s block is. It’s the fear you cannot do what you’ve announced to someone else you can do, or else the fear that it isn’t worth doing. That’s a rarer form. In this case I suddenly realized I’d never written a magazine article before and I just felt I couldn’t do it. . . . I sat down one night and started writing a memorandum [to Byron] as fast as I could, just to get the ordeal over with. It became very much like a letter that you would write to a friend in which you’re not thinking about style, you’re just pouring it all out, and I churned it out all night long, forty typewritten, triple-spaced pages. I turned it in in the morning to Byron at Esquire, and then I went home to sleep. About four that afternoon I got a call from him telling me, ‘Well, we’re knocking the “Dear Byron” off the top of your memo, and we’re running the piece.’”

Maya AngelouMaya Angelou

Author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou believed that when you are suffering from writer’s block, you should force yourself to continue writing every day, regardless of whether you’re pleased with the final product: “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”

Neil Gaiman

Award-winning graphic novelist and children’s author Neil Gaiman offers this advice for fellow writer’s block victims: “Put [your writing] aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it (printouts are best I find, but that’s just me) as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time.”

(Photos: top, TheQuotes.Net; middle, celebritydiagnosis.com; bottom, WBUR News)



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