Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 10, 2024

Address the Root Causes and Unlock Your Writer's Block

Image is of a orange striped road block barrier with a sign reading Writer's Block in large letters.

There is a great deal written about the malady called Writer’s Block. Most of it is a dire warning that this could happen to you and how it cripples you and your career. It’s frightening. That’s unfortunate because it sets up writers to expect the same thing will happen to them. But writer’s block is a symptom, not a disease. It’s a symptom that something is wrong and you have to figure out what is wrong. Unfortunately, that’s not always easy. 

Writing a story is a complex task. Being a human is a complex thing, too. The number of things that could block you is almost infinite. Not only that, you may have multiple factors causing your creative mind to shut down. Developing a checklist may help you determine what is causing your creative block. 

Your physical health is essential even for the usually sedentary task of writing a story. Folks with chronic health issues are aware of this and often do a better job taking care of their physical health than those in "good" health.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, the right nutrition, enough water, and the right amount of exercise every day, you may not have the energy to write. That is one of many root causes that may cause your writer’s block. 

Symptoms of Lack of Sleep 

  • Daytime sleepiness is the number one symptom (Take daytime to mean when you regularly expect to be up and functioning your best.)
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes, particularly depression and irritability
  • Trouble thinking, focusing, remembering
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Headaches

Chronic sleep deprivation the symptoms are more severe and can cause long-term damage to your body including stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, risk of developing diabetes, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, lower immunity from diseases, lower pain tolerance, depression, anxiety, and it may also play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In extreme cases, it can cause conditions involving psychosis.

Symptoms of Inadequate Nutrition  

  • Unexplained Fatigue
  • Brittle and Dry Hair
  • Ridged or Spoon-Shaped Nails
  • Poor night vision and white growths on the eyes
  • Cracking or inflammation at the corners of the mouth
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Unexplained mood changes, especially apathy or irritability
  • Lack of appetite

Learn more at reputable sites like WebMD, Healthline, and university medical center websites.

Symptoms You’re Not Drinking Enough Water  

  • Thirst is the first symptom of mild dehydration.
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness, weakness, and lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth and/or a cough
  • High heart rate but low blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite but maybe craving sugar
  • Flushed (red) skin
  • Swollen feet
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heat intolerance or chills
  • Constipation
  • Dark-colored urine (Your pee should be a pale, clear yellow.)
  • Severe dehydration can lead to serious complications like electrolyte imbalances, heatstroke, kidney issues, shock, coma, and even death.

Symptoms You’re Not Getting Enough Exercise 

You will probably recognize many of these symptoms. 

  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle Tightness
  • Low energy - you feel sluggish and tired most of the time. 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • You are always out of breath
  • Constipation
  • Moodiness
  • Forgetfulness and difficulty making decisions

Figure out what your body needs. Once you’ve met your physical needs, it’s time to check in with your mental and emotional health.

Talk about complex! If you are experiencing a chronic or acute mental or emotional health issue, it may be what is causing your writer’s block. 

Stress may be the number one cause of a decline in your mental and emotional health. This is another multi-sourced symptom.

Whether chronic or temporary, physical conditions will cause stress. Maybe there are financial challenges that are your source of stress. Other sources of stress can include relationship issues, social or political events, lack of shelter or food or clothing, the illness or challenges a loved one faces, and your own body chemistry.

Good emotional and mental health means that you have at least one supportive relationship, regular self-care habits, and self- soothing tools for moments of increased stress. 

Self-care is proactive.

Self-care includes intentional thoughts and behaviors you do to take care of your mind, body, and soul. Some examples of self-care are regular medical checkups, eating nutritious foods, getting regular exercise.

Self-soothing is reactive.

Self-soothing includes thoughts and actions that get you through the moment. Often self-soothing is sense related: petting your four-legged friend (touch), smelling flowers (smell), listening to calming music or tones (hear), savoring your favorite foods (taste), or watching a sunset (sight).

If you have long periods of feel sad or depressed or if you are or have thoughts of harming yourself or any other feeling that concerns you, seek help. If you’re not sure it’s “worth” a doctor’s time

Call or Text 988 or

Visit the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website.

They provide free and confidential support and resources for anyone needing help 24/7.

The word spirit refers to your inner self, your heart, and mind. I use that term instead of soul because so many people associate the soul with religion. Religion can be a part of your spiritual care, but it isn’t the whole. Spiritual self-care is about reconnecting and replenishing yourself. 

It is easy to become dispirited, discouraged, and too worn out. Many writers make the mistake of looking outside of themselves for the causes of being dispirited. They think they aren't good enough or have no talent. They think talented writers don't get blocked instead of considering that

Possible triggers for negative feelings:

  • I got a bad review
  • The agent I wanted rejected me with a form letter
  • My writers’ group hated my story
  • I’ve been trying for xx years and no one wants to buy my stories

Those are disheartening things to experience. They will trigger feelings of frustration, anger, depression, and/or dejection. Allow yourself to feel those feelings. They are natural reactions. But give yourself a time limit in minutes or hours, or even days. At the end of that time limit, pick yourself up with some spiritual care. What is spiritual care?

Be aware of your triggers and when negative feelings build. Figure out what is bringing you down. Once you know that, you will know what you need to lift your spirits again. It’s different for each of us.

Ways people find their inner peace 

  • Music
  • Meditation
  • Art galleries or museums
  • Time with family and friends
  • Time with pets
  • Time in nature
  • Community service or activities
  • Giving to others
  • Bubble baths
  • Swimming or other physical activity
  • Poetry
  • Working with your hands

One spirit-lifting tool could be a notebook of affirmations, of quotes you find inspirational, your positive reviews, your acceptances, copies of works you are especially proud of, or photographs of times when you felt like an accomplished writer.

Find the activities and places that restore your sense of wellbeing. That is taking care of your spirit.

Your creativity comes from inside you. Some speak of that place inside as a muse, others speak of a well, and still others speak of a second person/mind/soul/body. No matter how you refer to the writer you, your creative mind needs replenished from time to time. It’s more than your physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual needs. It is your inspiration and motivation to write. 

Unique to you, there is one or more way to refresh your creative you. Many of these things can be the same things that refill your spirit, but some may be specific to your creative side. 

The Three Rs

Perhaps your case of writer’s block is a sign you need to take time to rest, restore, and/or reconnect with your creative side.

Rest.

Stop thinking that because you cannot write what you think you should write right now, you can no longer write or be creative. Give yourself permission to rest for a specific time period. You will return to your writing space refreshed and ready to go to work again.

Restore your creativity.

Some people call this re-filling the well. Other call it feeding your creativity. Positive affirmations, reading, watching movies, visiting art galleries or museums, long walks in nature, and music are some things you can try. Remember that sometimes your growth as a writer changes what you need to consume in order to restore your creativity. Try new things. 

Reconnect to your creativity.

Stop thinking inspiration will come to you. Give yourself permission to write badly. Give yourself permission to just write for fun. Ask yourself a simple question and write whatever comes to you. Draw a four panel cartoon (no matter how poorly or well you draw). Give yourself permission to not get it right. 

Creativity needs exercise to grow strong.  The first time a gymnast walks into the gym, there’s no expectation of a perfect balance beam routine. Even a seasoned gymnast, one who has performed well in the past, has to put in the practice every day (or nearly every day.) Give yourself permission to write as many drafts as it takes. Take a class. Analyze a story you love or a story you think is poorly done. Read a how-to book or blog post (use the Writers in the Storm blog search box to find what speaks to you).

If you still feel you cannot write after taking care of your creative side, it’s time to look at what you are writing.

Stories are complicated. Sometimes, getting stuck means you’ve written something that has taken the story down the “wrong path.” In order to discover the problem, take a few steps backward, maybe even a lot of steps backward.

Ask yourself:

  • Why is writing something you must do? 
  • Why do you want to write this story? 
  • Are writing something that doesn’t make your creative heart sing? 
  • What would make your creative heart sing? 
  • Is your story structure solid? 
  • Are you telling the story from the right point of view?
  • Have you made your character act in a way that doesn’t ring true?
  • What event or action would hurt your character the most at this point in your story?

List five to ten answers for each of these questions. Most likely, that will free your creative side. If not, consider sharing your story with a trusted critique partner. Be open to how the feedback might help you see and fix problem areas.

Close-up photograph of a typewriter's type guide and platen. A piece of paper iin place and the words "happy ending" has been typed on it

Although the cause of writer’s block can be multi-layered, it isn’t a disease or permanent disability. It’s a symptom. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to get to the root cause. Other times you know what has you stressed or distracted. Many times you have no control over the stressors and distractions life throws at you. That’s okay. Have faith. Your writing, your creative side, is waiting for you, will wait for you to reconnect. 

What things do you do to take care of your creative side?

If you've experienced it, please share what helped you overcome writer's block.

* * * * * *

About Lynette

Lynette M. Burrows is an author, blogger, creativity advocate, and Yorkie wrangler. She survived moving seventeen times between kindergarten and her high school graduation. This alone makes her uniquely qualified to write an adventure or two.

Her Fellowship series is a “chillingly realistic” alternate history in 1961 Fellowship America where autogyros fly and following the rules isn’t optional. Books one and two, My Soul to Keep, and  If I Should Die, are available everywhere books are sold online. Book three, And When I Wake, is scheduled to be published in late 2024.

Lynette lives in the land of OZ. She is a certifiable chocoholic and coffee lover. When she’s not blogging or writing or researching her next book, she avoids housework and plays with her two Yorkshire terriers. You can find Lynette online on Facebook or on her website.

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11 comments on “Address the Root Causes and Unlock Your Writer's Block”

  1. SO many good things to think about -- I believe that most people don't recognize that they must deal with physical, mental, AND spiritual health to do anything, including writing.

    Great post! Thank you!

  2. Reading or watching my favourites help me take care of my creative side. Music as well. Poetry, too 💙

  3. The questions in the Examine Your Story section are well worth pondering.

    Regarding pets, our lovable and not terribly bright black lab Bailey (runt of the litter) used to stay with me when I stepped away from the computer. I'd let my mind go blank, or at least as blank as it ever goes.

    Just his presence helped. He is now in heaven, probably hanging out with creatives on the other side.

  4. Thank you for a thought-provoking post. When writer's block hits, it's killer. Fortunately, Lynette, you've given us a hefty set of tools to fix the problem. I'm bookmarking for the next time I have a blank page in front of me and I'm tempted to throw in the towel.

  5. Thank you so much for this, Lynette! I recently took a few hours off and went and had a nice, restful lunch. For me, sometimes just taking time away from the computer is huge.

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