The activity of writing has captured the imagination and hearts of many, for eons. But as those who write regularly can attest, it’s not without challenges.
There can be a variety of reasons why when you want to write, you feel unable. Some reasons may be circumstantial (needing to prioritise other things, having limited time), maybe you’re faced with questions about your story, or your own value as a writer.
You’re in good company. Most writers (if not all), have faced these challenges and doubts in some form or another. But I have noticed that while there’s a common discussion about Writer’s Block, its cousin, Imposter Syndrome, doesn’t get enough attention.
There are some distinctions between the two, and it’s worth noting that different approaches can be needed to overcome Writer’s Block versus Imposter Syndrome. This post will discuss what each is and how to identify if you’re being held back as a writer as a result — then we’ll get into some tips so you can work toward overcoming Writer’s Block and/or Imposter Syndrome.
What is Writer’s Block?
The simplest definition: Writer’s Block is the inability to make progress on your story, or writing project.
You’ve probably seen it in a show or movie. Cue the dramatic montage of a writer (usually in some sort of turtleneck, or tatty jumper) spending hours writing, only to crumple and throw away each page until they’re surrounded by a mess of abandoned words…
…Or perhaps staring at a blank page (or computer screen), unable to summon the right words.
If any of these situations sound familiar, it’s likely you’ve experienced writer’s block. The feeling that you just can’t figure the right words out, no matter how much you want to, or need to write (you may even have a deadline looming in the distance, adding to your despair).
Other signs that you might be experiencing writer’s block:
- Inability to complete a project (piles of unfinished drafts?)
- Feelings of frustration or disappointment
- Difficulty sustaining momentum in your book
- Feeling lost or unsure of how to proceed
Why does Writer’s Block happen?
While Writer’s Block has been popularised, most of the time there’s an underlying reason why it’s occurred. This is good news! It means that Writer’s Block is something that can be worked through, overcome, and potentially avoided in future projects.
Yes, it’s tempting to use Writer’s Block as a scapegoat for not being productive with your story, but ultimately, if you want to continue writing it’s better to get to the root of the problem — rather than avoid it entirely. Why stay stalled? It’s time to get your story going again.
Common causes for Writer’s Block:
- Lack of an outline: While pantsing is something many writers enjoy, the lack of a plan for your writing can sometimes result in writing yourself into a corner. Your options for the plot direction may be limited, or you’ve ended up away from the theme of your book entirely.
- More research is needed: Maybe you jumped right into things, without a proper understanding of how aspects of your story function as a whole. It’s difficult to write authentically, what isn’t known to you. Descriptions may feel off, or the book may have issues with plot, or character.
- Creative burn-out: ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’. Writing takes a lot out, but if you’re not putting anything back into yourself you may begin to feel tired or unmotivated. Your ideas may fall flat or aren’t being expressed how you hoped they would.
Key to note, is that writer’s block stems largely from feelings about your writing project. But there are some things you can do to overcome these issues:
Issues with story structure:
- Trace back to the point where you were last happy with your book. Ask yourself questions about the story so far. Often, ‘What if’ questions are great to help you consider potential new directions you might have overlooked previously. Consider the choices characters have made so far – what if they chose differently?
- Consider the beats of other stories in your chosen genre – is your story missing any significant beats?
- Try writing a different scene in your story—there are no rules about what order your book has to be written in.
- Ask a writer friend to read over your work and brainstorm some potential ideas. Offer to do the same for them. A new set of eyes can ignite your enthusiasm for the story again.
- Hire a professional to offer insight and guidance on where to go from here.
Issues with knowledge gaps:
- Write a list of topics that you don’t understand or would like to know more about as it relates to your book. For example: For one project I researched lochs in Scotland and 1920s telescopes. For a different book, I’m researching Dyson spheres and fairytales. As you’ll write, there may be images you need to look up to get your descriptions right. When blocked, return to your research and ask questions about it, especially now you have a better sense of your story.
- Watch movies, and TV shows, read books in your genre or that address your premise a little (or a lot). This will help you gain an understanding of reader expectations for your type of story, and may provide some inspiration. How would you do things differently to these stories? What did you like or dislike?
- Make time for things you enjoy.
- Spend time with friends and family.
- Cultivate healthy habits of sleep and rest.
- Do something with your hands.
- Visit a new place.
- Expose yourself to different kinds of art (visiting a gallery or museum is one of my favourite activities when I need a creative refresh).
Though these activities don’t seem related to your story, the best ideas often strike when we’re doing something else. For me, it’s when I’m going for a walk and my mind is free to wander. Stress inhibits creativity, so remember it’s okay to take breaks.
What is imposter syndrome? And how does it differ from Writer’s Block?
Imposter syndrome can certainly fall under the banner of writer’s block, in that it prevents you from making progress on your story.
However, where writer’s block (and the solutions proposed above) focus on your story and the problems it may have; imposter syndrome focuses on your identity as a writer.
It’s not about a particular book or writing project you’re struggling with, but every book or project.
Signs you may be struggling with imposter syndrome, as a writer:
- Constant comparison of your writing with published authors or your peers.
- Feeling as though you’re not good enough.
- Never feeling satisfied with your writing.
- Constantly second-guessing positive feedback (maybe you think they’re just being nice)
- Feeling as though you’re a fraud or not deserving of recognition or praise for your writing.
- Often contemplating just giving up.
- Setting unrealistic expectations about what a ‘real’ writer is.
- Difficulty or refusal to share your writing with others.
Writers at all stages of their journey face these fears and doubts. But it’s not talked about enough.
As writing is typically an activity done in isolation, it lends itself to introspection and worries that, if left unacknowledged, can wreak havoc on your creative confidence.
If these feelings resonate with you, here are some tips to consider:
- Don’t call yourself a bad writer. Rather, a writer who’s growing and learning. All writers are on a journey, and telling yourself you’re ‘bad’ may not leave room for you to improve and flourish. It’s all about choosing kinder words for yourself.
- Find an online community of writers you can talk with about these doubts. You’ll find you’re not alone. #findmywritingcommunity was started by Adrienne Young a couple of years ago on Instagram and is a great way to connect with other writers.
- Look into the publishing journey of your favourite authors. Most writers acknowledge these feelings at some point, and it’s refreshing to have them normalised.
- Choose to trust positive feedback when given. But know that all feedback to a point is subjective anyway. Your own confidence in your desire to write and improve is more important than riding the ups and downs of the opinions of others.
- Invest in courses and workshops to improve your skills and dispel doubts.
- When you find yourself doubting, recall all you have achieved so far. (Reading your early work can be helpful to see how far you’ve come).
- Creativity in a community is better. Look for a safe space to share your work and grow in confidence. It might take a little while to find a space that suits you, but in time the effort will pay off.
Both writer’s block and imposter syndrome can be challenging and undermine your creative process. That’s why it’s important to have strategies in place, to help you get back to writing.
I hope you find this post useful! If there are other strategies you use to overcome writer’s block or imposter syndrome, share them in the comments below.