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How to Overcome Writer's Block

What we can learn from professional writers.

Key points

  • Writer’s block means not knowing what to write; either not having ideas or not knowing how to express them adequately.
  • Writer’s block can have physiological, motivational, or cognitive causes.
  • Successful strategies of professional writers to overcome writer’s block include taking breaks, changing the work topic, or continuing to write.

Most of us have experienced writer’s block. We sit in front of a piece of paper and do not know where to start and what to write. Or we sit at our computer, stare at the screen, and although we know what to write, we somehow lose the ability to type. The longer the writer’s block lasts, the more frustrated and stressed we become. We force ourselves to start writing and then we criticize ourselves about the idea we have; or we are dissatisfied with the sentence we just wrote down. And the putting-oneself-down spiral continues.

Writer’s block means not knowing what to write. It can refer either to the content (i.e., not coming up with the right ideas), the creative part, or it can refer to problems with expressing the ideas adequately in words (i.e., the technicalities of writing).

Writer’s block can be costly. According to Statista, the net revenue accrued by the U.S. publishing industry was $25.71 billion dollars in 2020. There were over 200,000 writers, authors, and technical writers in the United States (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2020), not to mention the millions of students, teachers, professors, and many other professions who have to write almost daily. Writer’s block can directly affect their performance and income.

What are the main causes of writer’s block? How do professional writers cope with writer’s block? What successful strategies have they developed? The following findings are based on survey results of 146 professional writers as participants (Ahmed & Guess, 2022).

In the research, the main causes of writer's block were to be found physiological: not having a “free” mind because of stress, intense emotions, or illness. A second reason was motivational: fear of criticism (“I feel under pressure to perform well”) and procrastinating. A third group was cognitive reasons: perfectionism and errors in planning.

What strategies have professional writers developed to overcome writer’s block? We list them here according to the frequency they have been mentioned in our research:

  • Take a break from writing: “Stop writing, decide tomorrow is another day, and walk away from the computer until the next day.”
  • Work on a different writing project: “Jump from the work on which I'm currently engaged to another project.”
  • Keep writing: “Force myself to write to a certain page number.”
  • Read a book or watch a movie: “I read the work of authors I admire to become inspired.”
  • Revise or reread current work or skip ahead to work on a later section: “Reread notes or drafts.”
  • Discuss ideas with others: “Ask for advice. See what other people think. While you usually won't use what they suggest, their ideas can kickstart your brain.”
  • Take a walk.
  • Change writing location or writing method: “Write using a pen, a typewriter, etc.”
  • Research.
  • Exercise.
  • Eat or drink something, like a coffee or snack.
  • Meditate or do yoga.

Most of these strategies go back to mindful living—the mundane, everyday self-care which opens up the mind, and opens up the soul. Many of these strategies seem obvious and many we might have applied ourselves when we encountered writer’s block; but this list of solutions may provide some new suggestions one could experiment with.

Try it out the next time you are stuck with writer’s block. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”


Ahmed, S. J., & Güss, C. D. (2022). An analysis of writer’s block: Causes and solutions. Creativity Research Journal. doi:10.1080/10400419.2022.2031436

Statista (2022).…

Occupational outlook handbook:

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