5 Stages of Writer’s Block

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

Writers hurt when they can’t write. They may not realize it, but their behavior speaks volumes. Often, writers will go through a series of stages before they are ready to write again and these stages are similar to the Kübler-Ross stages of grief in psychology. In other words, when writers can’t write they grieve, so it makes sense that the stages of writer’s block would parallel the stages of grief.

Stage 1: Denial

“I don’t have writer’s block, I’m just really, really busy. So busy in fact, that I just can’t seem to find time to do all that writing that I know I should do. But just you watch: as soon as I’m not so busy anymore, I’ll be writing up a storm.”

There’s a reason why denial is the first stage of writer’s block. If you’re going to get past a writing impasse, you first have to identify that it’s there. The sooner you realize you have writer’s block, the sooner you can get over it and start writing again. By that same token, the longer you fail to recognize that your writing is blocked, the longer it takes to break through that barrier.

Stage 2: Anger

“Why can’t I think of any good ideas? Clearly there is someone at fault here. I’m supposed to be writing the greatest story/novel/poem EVER, but instead I’m sitting here staring at a blank screen. If I can’t think of something to write I’m going to punch my computer.”

First of all, don’t punch the computer. It’s not the computer’s fault you have writer’s block. Second, realize that anger is often a defense mechanism writers use to avoid writing. It’s easy for writers to get angry at the world around them for not letting them write, but the truth is, if they want to write, they find the time. Getting angry is just a way for writers to mask the truth: that they’re not writing. The cure is simple.  Just start writing. Before you know it, the anger will be gone and you’ll have a bunch of written pages in front of you.

Stage 3: Bargaining

“OK, I’ve got it all figured out. If I don’t write today, but I write twice as much tomorrow, it will even out, right? And if I don’t write tomorrow, then I’ll just write a triple dose the day after. Problem solved.”

Yeah, right. Bargaining is just a fancy word for denial. When you start making rationalizations about why you’re not writing or why you can’t write now, you’re simply denying the fact that you need to write. The truth is, paralysis breeds more paralysis and the more excuses you make for not writing, the harder it becomes to start writing again. Don’t let the cycle pick up momentum. Instead, sit down and write even if it’s just for fifteen minutes. Chances are, you’ll find that after those fifteen minutes you’ll be so engrossed, you’ll just keep writing. Remember, when it comes to any type of denial, you have to nip this sucker in the bud. Just sit down and write. No rationalizations allowed.

Stage 4: Depression

“What’s the point? Everything I write is lousy, so why bother? I’ll only have one good story/novel/poem in me anyway and once I use it up I’ll never write again. It’s pointless.”

Depression is probably the darkest stage of writer’s block because it is at this point that the writer begins to doubt his or her actual skill as a writer. Up until now, the focus of the writer’s inability to write has been external, but now the focus becomes internal. Freud said depression is anger directed toward the self, and I think there is some truth to that. The depression phase of writer’s block happens when writers let their frustrations with a certain project become personal. The trick is not to let writing become personal. You are you; you are not your work. And even if the worst-case scenario happens and the project you’re writing turns out to be terrible, don’t let it get you down.

Don’t say “I failed,” say “this failed,” then move on.

Stage 5: Acceptance

“Maybe I have writer’s block and maybe it’s awful, but there’s still something I can do about it. I can still sit down and write through it.”

Writer’s block is painful. Writers need to write and when they’re not writing, they hurt. This is true regardless of whether writers are cognizant of this hurt or completely oblivious. Writers need to write the way most other people need to breathe and when writers are not writing, they grieve. They mope. They wallow.

Oftentimes, all it takes is one small step, one tiny push in the right direction to get a writer back on track. I’ve found that for me, the best cure is acknowledging and then moving on. Sometimes the trickiest part of writer’s block is actually identifying that you’re hurting. Once you identify the pain behind the writer’s block, it’s just a matter of finding the cure. After all, if writer’s block is nothing more than pain from not writing, then the easiest way to get rid of it is to… write!

5Stages-WritersBlock

Take-Home Message:

When you’re stuck in your writing, try making yourself write through the block.  One easy trick is to set a timer for 15 minutes and sit down with a pen and notebook (or at your computer if you prefer to type).  Even if you think you have nothing to say, force yourself to sit with your writing for the full 15 minutes.  I find that if I have to sit and there’s nothing to do but write in my notebook, I end up writing something just to pass the time.  By the time the fifteen minutes are up, I’m usually engrossed with what I’ve written and I keep writing.

  • Elizabeth

    Well said, my dear!

  • I absolutely agree with the tip. ‘Restarting’ the writing engine is all about just getting it moving. Of course, I disagree with the first point, sometimes there are priorities that have to trump writing, but it should still be in the priority list.

  • Gabriela

    You raise a good point, Patrick! There’s a big difference between fulfilling responsibilities and giving into denial. Of course some life responsibilities will always trump writing, but that’s part of life. What I’m talking about here is all those low-priority things that for some reason we put much higher on the priority list than they should be. Things that we could cut down on but we do them anyway. That’s denial. We think we’ve got all these things keeping us for writing, but in the end, this kind of busy-ness is of our own making.

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  • Great post, Gabriela! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head on writer’s block. I’ve gone through all five stages, and the only cure is to write!

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