5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

by | November 6, 2021 | General | 1 comment

by Ashley Lister

We all understand that writer’s block is the state of being unable to proceed with writing, or the inability to start writing something new. Whilst some tell us it’s a genuine disorder, there are others who claim it’s just a state of mind. Either way, we can all agree writer’s block is a condition that needs to be vanquished.

Clinical psychologists in the 1970s identified four common causes for writer’s block:

Excessively harsh self-criticism
Fear of comparison to other writers
Lack of external motivation, such as attention and praise
Lack of internal motivation, such as the desire to tell one’s story

As Val Penny points out in a recent blog post: “In other words, writer’s block stems from various feelings of discontent with the creative act of writing. But these feelings are by no means irreversible! After all, every writer begins with a sense of purpose and excitement; beating writer’s block is about getting those feelings back.”

Consequently, here are five tips to help break through the block.

1. Avoid Perfectionism
Remember, as Hemingway remarked, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
I believe this is true in several areas of life, and I say this with the confidence that comes from being the second child in the family. Wanting to achieve perfection is a laudable ideal. But don’t let the quest for perfection stop you from producing a shit first draft that can then be polished for your audience’s consumption. Without that first draft – nothing is going to happen.

2. Change Your Weapon of Choice
If you’ve been working on a word-processor, consider changing to paper and pen. Or try dictating your story into a voice-to-text app. If you’ve been using MS Word, consider a writer-focused tool such as Scrivener. Sometimes we suffer from writer’s block because a part of our mind is rebelling against contemptible familiarity and changing our weapon of choice for recording our ideas can give us a boost that lifts us away from the ennui of the overly familiar.

3. Don’t Write
I appreciate this is what we’re already doing when we have writer’s block, and I understand this is a dangerous piece of advice that can be used as an excuse to compound the condition. However, sometimes we need to stop writing so we have a chance to recharge the batteries of our imagination. Watching a film, reading a book, visiting friends or taking an invigorating walk can provide the stimulus we need to bypass the issue causing a stumbling block to our creativity.

4. Creative Exercises
As a lecturer, I repeatedly throw exercise at my students and, to my constant surprise, students invariably come back with imaginative and stylish responses. This is usually done in the dry and imaginatively-inconducive atmosphere of a classroom/lecture hall: an area that is possibly the antithesis of creativity. Perhaps a creative writing exercise won’t help you complete your current project but it might be enough to remind you that your imagination and abilities are still formidable. It could even provide an idea for a project that might be more in line with your current storytelling needs.

5. Fail to Plan or Plan to Fail
If your story is dead in the water, take a structured approach and write an outline. Identifying how a story will develop can help to avoid future blocks on the same project. There are lots of ways to look at story structure, from Campbell, Propp, Vogler or Freytag, and any of them can provide a helpful template which you can use as a blueprint for your work. Once you know where the story is going, and how characters are going to get from the beginning to the end, it can be easier to approach writing about their journey.

Keep in mind that none of these are foolproof, but this list is not exhaustive. If you’re struggling with writer’s block, remember it’s not terminal and it can always be beaten by time, patience, and resolution. And, if you have a preferred way to beat writer’s block, I’d love to read about it in the comments below.


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 Comment

  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Hello, Ash,

    All very good suggestions.

    I’d like to add: Don’t panic. Our feelings of guilt, shame and discontent when we can’t seem to write just exacerbate writer’s block. Our identities are so strongly linked to being writers (well, mine is…) that when we can’t write, for whatever reason, it’s easy to start thinking we’re nothing, no one, worthless… not a state of mind conducive to creativity. Or we start to feel that we’ve lost the spark, that the ability to write is gone forever, and sink into grief, mourning our author selves.

    Every author gets stuck sometimes. We need to be kind to ourselves and recognize this is a phase we will get through eventually.

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