All Writers Suffer Writer’s Block – Don’t They?

IMG_1740No. They don’t. Those who do – probably the majority – are led there or kept there, at least in part, by conditioning. When your peers, media, and other influencers keep talking and writing about it, and how hard it is to escape, you may come to expect it, even accept it – unconsciously. Which is the proverbial self-fulfilling prophecy.

I have listened to (literally) hundreds of writers describe their experiences with writer’s block. No one solution will work for every writer; that’s true. But there are a few proven remedies any writer can try. All start with putting the mind to work against it.

Incidentally, I saw a post recently that was titled something like ’47 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block’. This kind of ‘list article’ is, at best, interesting. More likely, it worsens the problem it’s trying to solve. First, what thoughts does this put in your mind? How many of the 47 ways will you have to try in order to find one that works? And in practice, will you keep trying after three fail? After ten fail? I doubt it. What then will you conclude about writer’s block? That it’s infinitely complex, that it might take forever to find a remedy? This is the risk – often unseen – that’s inherent in the 47-ways type article.

Here’s a different approach, with much better odds.

Writer’s block is a mental phenomenon, ideas are all around us, we have fertile minds, we’re competent scribes, yet somehow an internal obstacle is stopping the flow of good ideas.

From my work in behaviour (I’m an organisational psychologist) I have learned – and tested over time – two approaches that have proved successful for many of the writers with whom I have worked.

Remedy 1: Begin writing another story (presuming you’re a fiction writer)! This is what I advise first. Start another story (or scene) with no plan for how long you will continue, and be genuine and committed in what you write. There’s a good chance that what needs to click will click, and your block will disappear. The bonus here is that you may be creating your next project, or a new scene for your current work.

Remedy 2: Begin ‘automatic writing’ on a blank sheet of writing paper. Some writers find that writing by hand re-fires the brain faster (alternatively, start typing at your keyboard). Let your hand write without directing it – anything that comes along. You’ll probably start out with no faith in this approach. Do it anyway. Give your brain an opportunity to surprise you, which it can do. The fact is, our unconscious mind is often smarter than our conscious mind (what we think we know) but we typically stifle it with ‘logic’.

At minimum, keep an open mind. If you remain cynical, chances are you will blunt your own progress. The question to ask, and answer, is this: Are you hurting enough, right now, to start tunnelling your way out?

Reject your disbelief; it’s just resistance masquerading as intelligence. Give an honest try to Remedy 1 or Remedy 2. And see what happens.

You have little to lose. What might you gain?


Joseph Éamon Cummins, an award-winning writer, taught creative writing and psychology for ten years. His new novel On the Edge of the Loch: A Psychological Novel set in Ireland is available on Amazon in print or ebook – http://amzn.to/28RRRdt

The Question Everyone Asks: What Sparked Me to Write On the Edge of the Loch?

A particular incident did spark my new novel. Here’s how I recount it in the opening pages of the book:

Dear Reader . . .

One late-summer evening a long time ago,

in a little picturesque train station,

I noticed a graceful young woman sitting alone;

she looked to be waiting for someone.

Over the next week I re-visited the station on

five occasions to photograph it in different light.

The woman was there every time,

still waiting.

On the day I was leaving, our eyes engaged,

a moment of silent conversation;

she smiled, seemed about to say something.

Then her head dropped, she turned away.

I never saw her again.

Never knew why she was there or who she longed for.

But she inspired this novel.

I couldn’t make her the main character,

she’s too much of a mystery.

So I wrote a bigger story around a driven man,

and married the two.

Thanks for reading it.

I think you’ll be glad you did.


Joseph Éamon Cummins, an award-winning writer, taught creative writing and psychology for ten years. His new novel On the Edge of the Loch: A Psychological Novel set in Ireland is available on Amazon in print or ebook – http://amzn.to/28RRRdt