Writer’s Block

by | August 6, 2019 | General | 4 comments

By Ashley Lister

For the longest time I didn’t believe in writer’s block. I’d hear friends and colleagues talk about how they were suffering from writer’s block and, whilst I’d respond with cordial sympathy, I’d inwardly ascribe their words to some need for attention: an acceptable way for them to say, “I’ve not put pen to paper for a few days, but I really am a writer.”

I understood this to be true because I’ve always viewed the ability to write as being akin to a superpower and being able to say, “I’m a writer,” is nothing short of saying, “I’m a superhuman.” Writers are the real superheroes of this world and, to my mind, the notion of writer’s block was merely a rumour about a Kryptonite that didn’t exist.

However, I am now older and wiser and I’ve revised my opinion about writer’s block. According to Wikipedia:

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges from difficulty in coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.

This strikes me as a sufficiently succinct description, and I want to look at potential reasons for each of these symptoms, and potential ways to address them.


Losing the ability to produce new work

There could be several reasons for this. Blaming it on writer’s block is merely labelling the symptom rather than identifying the cause.

Whenever I’ve felt unable to produce new work, I can usually find the reason has an external factor. Personal issues such as grief, loss, illness or other major life-changing events, can often be a cause. If someone has suffered a bereavement no one would expect them to sit back at the keyboard, shrugging off their upset for a couple of hours, whilst they try to hit the day’s planned word count on a new and exciting story. However, as writers, we expect ourselves to be able to turn on our abilities like a proverbial light switch.

Writer’s block doesn’t have to be caused by such major personal issues. I’ve found it difficult to write when I’ve felt my work wouldn’t be read by a sufficiently large audience. I’ve found it difficult to write when I’m tired or distracted.

Producing new work is not an easy task and, as superhero writers, it behoves each of us to remind ourselves that what we do with our superpower is an act of creation: and all creativity needs a period of incubation.


Experiencing a Creative Slowdown

It’s an established fact of life that, as we get older, we get slower. From driving to digesting, and from sex to being creative: we get slower as we get older. However, because we’re all looking at our writing as a superpower, we want to be able to spew out one original idea after another in the same rapid succession we managed last year and the year before that.

To use the driving analogy, we might be driving more slowly: but we’re also driving more carefully and residing in an insurance bracket renowned for drivers less prone to accidents. To use the sex analogy, perhaps we’re not doing it four and five times in a night: but, when we do anything, we’re doing it four and five times longer.


Difficulty in Coming Up with Original Ideas

This is less a problem with writer’s block, and more a problem of modernity. Trying to be original in the twenty-first century is not easy. I’m not going to say that every story that can be told has been told, but I do believe every story we think of has at least one precedent somewhere in recent memory. To make this worse, as writers, we’re encouraged to pitch our ideas as though they’re a combination of existing material: It’s like a combination of Pride and Prejudice and Caligula, or it’s like John Wick meets 101 Dalmatians. No matter how original those ideas are, they’re still being compared to popular stories that have gone before.

Theorists such as Campbell and Propp have shown us that structure is consistent and, sometimes, we see the familiar shape of structure as being symptomatic of a lack of originality.


All of which is said here to argue that, whilst writer’s block does exist, it can be overcome.

I’d suggest fighting it as though it’s Kryptonite. As I’ve said before, if you’re a writer, you’re one of the world’s superheroes. Instead of suffering with the misery of being thwarted by your nemesis and not being able to write, pick up a pen or sit down in front of a keyboard, and show that you can churn out words. It might not be easy. At first all the usual doubts might creep in. And what you initially produce might not be what you want to write. But, eventually, like the superhero that you are, you’ll break through the block.

Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his second title published under his own name: Swingers: Female Confidential by Ashley Lister (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753513439) Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica. Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto. He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Ashley,

    Thanks for a nuanced and sympathetic look at a problem that’s easy to label, but tough to tackle.

    Actually, a combination of “Pride and Prejudice” with “Caligula” has a lot of original potential….!

    • Ashley Lister


      I think we need to work out the plot points for ‘Pride and Caligula’ and organise writing it.


      • Lisabet Sarai

        Could be an exercise thrown out to Storytimers!

        • Ashley Lister

          I can see that being quite a challenge.

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