Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Get Unstuck When You're Stalled In Your Writing (Beating "Writer's Block")

iStock © alvarez
This month I'm wondering who needs this article. (Maybe it's you. Maybe it's me!) Have you ever been stuck or stalled in your writing? Have you ever experienced "writer's block"? Here are some thoughts to help.

This is a rerun from my former newsletter from August 2010. It's a timeless topic and I know there's help here for someone who needs it. Maybe that will be you, if not now...then perhaps another time soon.

Getting Unstuck When You're Stalled

I had conversations with two different writers recently. Both talked about being stalled or blocked on big projects. We talked a little about why this might happen and what we can do about it when it does. (Tweet that!)

One fellow, when he learned I was a writer, asked me, "How do you get past writer's block?" (Tweet that!) He has a large project in mind and he's looking for help in getting it done.

As I tried to talk with this writer, he did a lot of talking and very little listening. He lamented that he couldn't get anything done. He was frustrated that he couldn’t get anyone interested in his project.

I asked him what he had written so far. He didn't answer, but went on about how the people in charge who should want his project wouldn't get on board with him. Hmmm. I began to wonder if this fellow has ever actually written anything.

What is Writer's Block?

Sometimes I think would-be writers try to write, find it extremely difficult, and conclude they have writer's block.

I’ll make a confession here that I've never made out loud before because I have the impression it could possibly be quite controversial. Here it is: I don’t know what writer's block is. (Tweet that!)

There. I said it.

Years ago I remember reading an article in a popular writer’s magazine where the author stated he didn't think writer's block existed. Oh what an uproar ensued! I was stunned such a statement would elicit such a strong, negative response! I'm still not sure I understand why. I just know a lot of writers were offended.

I've heard writers say when they are blocked they "can't" write. Okay, maybe so. I've never experienced that so I won't claim to understand it.

What I have experienced is that writing, for me, is really, really hard. (Tweet that!) It's work. It never comes easy.

I've heard some writers say their words flow so easily onto paper. Well, lucky them, I guess. For me, it's hard, physical labor to get my ideas out of my head and onto paper. I can say that I've had enough practice now that it's easier. I now understand my own process I must go through to get it done. But it's never easy.

Writing is clear thinking.

If you can't think a thought or idea clearly, then you can't nail it down on paper. (Tweet that!) Getting to the point of being able to clearly state what you're thinking is hard work. (Tweet that!)

I have to wonder if that writer who told me he was blocked really was blocked. Or did he discover how difficult it is to write and conclude something else was wrong?

What to do about it.

Recognize writing is hard.

If you're blocked or feeling stuck, the first thing to do, I think, is to recognize writing is very difficult. If it wasn't, everybody would be doing this. (Tweet that!)

Clarify what you want to say.

The next thing I would suggest is to clarify what it is you want to say. Remember that exercise we're told to do? Say it in one sentence.

Whether it's a book, an article, or a short story, say it in one sentence. If you can't, it's not clear enough yet in your own mind to nail it down on paper. (Tweet that!)

It will take time and effort and a hundred (or a thousand) failed tries before you're able to say it in one sentence. (Tweet that!) That's just the way it is. But once you start getting close, you'll sense it. And once you nail it, you'll know it. So don't quit prematurely.

Say it in one sentence. Just do it. Now.

[For help writing this one sentence, visit the December 2014 post, "Keep Your Eye on the Ball: One Sentence that Can Elevate Your Writing to New Heights."]

Some suggestions...

The second writer I talked with I know to be an accomplished writer. She said she was burned out. Boy do I understand that. She works a lot on other people's projects and really wants to work more on her own, but she's not getting going on those.

I asked her, "What's your passion?" She thought for a moment before she told me about a project she has wanted to write for years. But it's too big, she said. She doesn't know where to start.

We talked about some things she could do. Here are some of my suggestions:
  • Break it down.
Figure out what you need to do. Make a list. List the items that would need to be done to accomplish (or even start) this project.
  • Make a plan.
  • Work the plan.
  • Do what you can.
By the time you get to some of the things that can’t be done, you will have found the help you need or a way to do it. Start with doing what you can. The rest will work out.

Remember your passion.

And whenever you’re feeling burned out, stalled, or stuck. I suggest this:
  • Return to your passion.
I think as writers we're asked to do more and more to please publishers, all with lower and lower pay. Or no pay. We're expected to start a blog, be a public speaker, market online, attend conferences, write on spec, take assignments… No wonder we’re feeling burned out, overwhelmed, and stalled.
But I fear that's a topic for another article. For now, ponder these questions:
  • Why did you start writing? Or why do you want to write?
  • What is your passion? What topics, projects, or type of writing are you passionate about?
  • Are you working on what you're passionate about, or have other projects taken over and crowded out what you really want to be writing?
  • How can you take steps to return to what you wanted to write when you started, to those projects you're passionate about?

There you have it. Get reconnected to your writing passion and takes steps to get back to that. I really believe when you do, you'll get unstuck.

* * *

I hope this rerun article has helped you get unstuck if you're stalled in your writing. If you're experiencing writers' block, I hope you've found some help here to beat writer's block.

If you would like more help with your writing, check out my ebooks for writers here:

By the time we meet here again next month, I'll hope you're well on your way in writing your passion and your dream project! God bless you and your writing.


  1. I'm struggling with the middle of my work in progress. Saying it in one sentence is not the problem. It's expanding it into chapters! But I don't intend to give up. Thanks for the helpful advice.

    1. Hi AnnaLee. I feel your pain! But YES, don't give up! You can do it. As a matter of fact, I've been getting my thoughts together for my next article which will post November 1, 2015, and I'm wondering if it might help you. It's about what a story needs to have. I hope it will help you flesh out your story.

      Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment!