4 Flavors of Writer’s Block

(And how to cook with them.)


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by Naomi Write + Co. in pre-writing, rewriting, screenwriting

We’re a couple weeks into the new year… how’s your writing?

I hope it’s going well but just in case it isn’t, I thought now would be a good time to offer some tips and tricks to help you get started.

If you have big writing goals you want to accomplish this year but can’t quite seem to motivate yourself to get (or keep) moving on them, today’s message is for you.

Writer’s block is something many of us experience at one time or another. When you’re going through it, it can feel hopeless. You can feel so stuck that it’s impossible to see any way around, over, or through to the other side. When you’re really stuck you may not believe there is a place beyond the writer’s block at all.

But if you’ve ever recovered from writer’s block, you know that there is a way out.

One thing that can help speed up the process is understanding the particular type of writer’s block you’re experiencing. If you know what you’re dealing with, it’s easier to see how to treat it.

In fact, a good place to start might be to reframe how we think about writer’s block. Instead of seeing “being stuck” as a problem, perhaps it’s an opportunity. Instead of it being an obstacle we have to overcome, maybe what we’re dealing with is simply an additional ingredient we must learn to use in our writing process stew.

So in that spirit, here are four different flavors of writer’s block… and a few suggestions for incorporating them into your writing diet:

1. Fear of bad writing, aka perfectionism

I used to think there was absolutely zero chance that I could possibly suffer from perfectionism… because there was nothing I did perfectly.

If you’re a perfectionist (practicing or reformed), you probably understand the humor in that. Perfectionism is all about judging your output too harshly. The very definition is “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” Essentially meaning a refusal to believe anything you create is good enough.

When you constantly judge your writing as “not good enough” it’s very hard to keep writing (or to start at all).

So if that’s the root cause of your writer’s block, what do you do?

Give yourself permission to write imperfectly (or even badly). Trust me, I know this is easier said than done for perfectionists. But it really is the mindset shift that will empower you.

If I can offer a related suggestion, one thing that helped me was to embrace that rewriting is where writing gets good (or even great), but you can’t rewrite what doesn’t exist. You have to start somewhere so that you have something to build on.

An additional strategy can be to challenge yourself to get through the first, ugly, imperfect draft as quickly as possible, even telling yourself you’re not really writing until after that – when you start rewriting.

2. Lack of ideas

Sometimes it feels like there will never be enough time to write all of the stories you want to tell…

And other times it feels like all of the good ideas are gone, if you had ideas at one time they’re outdated or no longer interesting, or you’re just creatively dry and uninspired.

A dry spell can hit (and catch us especially off-guard) after a creatively productive period. Why? If you’ve been busy generating creative work for a while, you may not have been taking the time to fill the well.

If you find yourself in this position, it can be helpful to flood your system with new input. That might be the usual suspects like reading books, newspapers, magazines, or poetry, or watching movies or TV. Or it might be listening to music, going to museums, having conversations with people, etc. Whatever lights you up.

What if you’re not feeling creatively tapped, exactly… it’s more like you’re uninspired by any of your current story ideas? Flooding can work here too. The key is to keep it fun and playful. Set aside any judgment or pressure and try generating a bunch of new ideas with these games.

3. Stuck in the middle

Have you started writing but gotten lost before reaching the end? Are you wondering why you don’t know what happens next, and maybe whether the real problem is that your concept is a dud?

If you have a story idea you want to write and you’ve jumped in only to find yourself immovably stuck somewhere along the way, you might be second-guessing yourself and thinking there’s something wrong with the idea you chose.

And it’s a question worth asking. Preferably before you dive in, but that’s okay – better late than never. So if you find yourself here, go ahead and discuss it with a trusted writer friend (or professional). Make sure your concept can sustain a screenplay.

But if your idea is solid and that’s not the root problem, what you might find is that you just need more thinking time. Thinking is an important step in the writing process, but since it doesn’t look like “real writing” it can be easy to shortchange or skip over altogether.

Thinking is pre-writing. It’s where much of the creative heavy lifting can be done, where you figure out your story and make a lot of the decisions that your entire screenplay will be built on.

If you’re feeling stuck in this way, you may just need to step away from the screenplay pages and do more thinking and planning. It’s a good time to go (back) to the corkboard, or pull out your notebook and pen and do more brainstorming, developing your idea, fleshing it out, building the foundation, and just generally getting to know more and more about your story so you know what to write when you’re back at the computer.

Worth noting: Stepping away from “real writing” can feel like procrastination. But deep in your heart you’ll know the difference.

Procrastination is when a task feels too hard, so you make excuses or let yourself get distracted. By contrast, when you deliberately give your brain time to feel its way around your idea, exploring its facets and details, you’re still engaged with your idea. You’re pre-writing.

Bonus tip: You don’t have to do pre-writing (aka thinking) alone. Call that trusted writer friend or professional and talk it out.

4. You don’t know what to do, aka lack of process

The process of writing a screenplay can feel too daunting if you think of it as one big task. If you find yourself paralyzed, procrastinating and coming up with excuses for not getting started, you may be dealing with a process problem.

So the solution, logically, might be to break writing into smaller, more manageable chunks. By focusing on one smaller step at a time, each task becomes more doable. I’ve talked about my love for baby steps quite a bit, including in this series.

A bonus strategy is one that John August suggests, which is to end a writing session by thinking about what you’re going to write in your next session. Leave yourself a note about what question you want to answer, what step you want to tackle, or what scene you want to write the next time you come back to it. Making it easy to get started is the key to overcoming this type of writer’s block.

So perhaps the rule of thumb when facing writer’s block is to get curious about the underlying cause of what’s keeping you stuck. If it’s not going away on its own, then the best thing you can do is identify its flavor so you can begin to work with it. That way it’s no longer a block that stops you in your tracks, it’s simply another part of your writing life. Reframing it takes its power away.

And one last thing to consider…

If you could avoid writer’s block altogether, that would be the best case scenario, right?

One of the best strategies I’ve found to avoid writers block is to turn writing into a habit. (I mentioned this a couple weeks ago and many of you responded with interest.)

How do you build a habit? Integrate the activity into your life, and do it with consistency until you no longer have to think about it – it’s just something you do as a normal part of your day.

I came across this list of tips for building a writing routine, written by David Perell, and thought you might find it useful. It’s not directed at screenwriters specifically but I think most of it applies pretty well.


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.