Writer's Block

Writer’s block is a common nickname for the experience of feeling unable to write.

Writer’s block can happen to writers of all kinds: full-time professional writers, students and academics, people who work on their own creative projects, or anyone who has to complete written work as part of their job.

For some people, writer’s block might mean being completely unable to write. For others, it might be a decrease in the amount they write or a feeling that writing is much harder than it used to be.

Writer’s block is not a diagnosable mental health condition, but it can still be connected to symptoms of common conditions such as anxiety. If you’re struggling with writer’s block, working with a therapist can be a helpful way to deal with these symptoms and get your work back on track.

How common is writer’s block?

Because there is no one definition of what writer’s block is, it’s impossible to know exactly how common it is.

That said, it’s generally acknowledged among writers to be quite a common condition. After all, almost everyone struggles with their work at some point! Even very famous authors--such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby--sometimes experience severe writer’s block.

Writer’s block affects everyone differently, but it might cause you to experience some of the following common symptoms:

  • Anxiety or worry: You may be so preoccupied about your writing that you experience  anxiety. You might even find it hard to relax or think about other things.
  • Depression: Being unable to write or writing less than usual might lead to sadness, hopelessness, lethargy, and other symptoms of depression.
  • Trouble at school or work: Especially if writing is a big part of your job or academic life, difficulty completing projects can have negative professional consequences.
  • Issues with self-esteem: If you’re struggling with writing (especially in a high-stakes context like graduate school or a demanding job), you might doubt your worth and skill more generally.
  • Identity concerns: If being a writer is an important part of your identity, struggling with writing can make you wonder about how you define yourself and how writing really fits into your identity development.
  • Physical symptoms: Stress often comes with physical symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, and digestive troubles. You might find that these symptoms get worse when you’re trying to write or thinking about writing.

What are some different kinds of writer’s block?

Writer’s block can come up in all different kinds of situations, and there’s no one thing that causes it.

That said, there are some common scenarios in which writer’s block might tend to occur:

  1. You’re working on a high-stakes project: If you’re writing an important application or working on the final draft of your dissertation, for example, it makes sense that you might have a harder time writing than usual.
  2. You’re especially busy or overwhelmed: When the demands of your personal or professional life get to be too much, writing can sometimes fall by the wayside.
  3. You’re experiencing a big life transition: Maybe you’ve recently moved to a new city, started a new job, had a new baby, or made some other big change. All of these shifts in your life can throw off your writing game.
  4. You’ve recently had a major success: For example, if you recently published a successful book, you might have a hard time figuring out how to live up to the high expectations for your next project.
  5. You’ve lost your way with a project: Maybe your main character’s not who you thought she was, or maybe you’ve found conflicting information in your academic research. Complications like these can make it hard to keep writing.
  6. You’re dealing with perfectionism or imposter syndrome: If you feel like everything you write has to be perfect, or if you’re afraid you’re not really a good writer after all, it can be tough to even get started.
  7. You have a medical or mental health condition that’s interfering with your writing: Some medical conditions can make it hard to focus, and mental health conditions such as OCD or ADHD can also get in the way of writing. Some medications might have distracting side effects as well.

What to do if you’re experiencing writer’s block

If you’re struggling with writer’s block, one or more of the following options might help you get unstuck:

  • Therapy: Therapy can help you better understand your writer’s block and work on strategies for resolving it. (More tips on finding a therapist below.)
  • Talk to a colleague, editor, or mentor: Getting a second set of eyes from someone you trust can be a great way to gain new perspective on your writing.
  • Join a writing group: Being accountable to a group of other writers or freelance writers can help you power through the tough spots. Plus, your writing group can also give you emotional support from people who know what you’re going through.
  • Stay active: Some studies show that regular physical activity can decrease symptoms of anxiety, which often go along with writer’s block.
  • Pursue other interests: Sometimes, the answer to writer’s block is not writing. Try giving yourself permission to stop for a little while and focus on something else you enjoy. You might try out other creative activities like art or music, go for a long walk, or read just for fun. Even just a relaxing evening doing nothing can help!

Best therapy types for writer’s block

A number of different kinds of psychotherapy may be helpful for writer’s block. Depending on your particular challenges, you might want to work with a therapist who focuses on issues like anxiety, self-esteem, and emotional expression.

Try exploring the following varieties of psychotherapy and see which you think might be good fits for your specific situation:

What should I look for in a therapist for writer’s block?

You’ll want to make sure that your therapist is qualified to treat any specific mental health problems you may be experiencing. Additionally, they should have experience working with others who have experienced writer’s block.

This will usually involve:

  • Advanced education in a field related to mental health, such as psychiatry, psychology, or social work;
  • Licensure to practice in the state where you live;
  • Additional training and/or experience in treating any mental health conditions you want to address. For example, if ADHD symptoms tend to interfere with your writing, you’ll want to work with a therapist who is experienced in treating ADHD.

Finally, as with any therapy, it’s important to make sure that your therapist is a good fit for your unique needs. Be sure to evaluate the following in your initial calls with therapists:

  • How will you pay for therapy? Does the therapist take your insurance or otherwise offer rates that will work with your budget?
  • When and where will you attend sessions? Does the therapist offer treatment at a location that is convenient for you and at times that work with your schedule?
  • Most importantly, do you feel comfortable talking to this therapist and sense that you have the potential to develop a therapeutic alliance?