What Is Writer’s Block? How to Overcome Writer’s Block With Step-by-Step Guide and Writing Exercises

Written by MasterClass

Apr 15, 2019 • 4 min read

Ever found yourself staring at a blank page for long periods of time, trying to write but being unable to find the right words? You’re not alone. This is writer’s block, and all writers struggle with it, from journalists to novelists.

Overcoming writer’s block is a delicate process that is often highly subjective and depends on each individual. But, at the end of the day, it is about conquering self-doubt and knowing that hard work will pay off. Below you’ll find some writing tips and tricks to get the creative juices flowing again.


What Is Writer’s Block?

Writer’s block is a phenomenon experienced by writers that is best described as an overwhelming feeling of being stuck in the writing process without the ability to move forward and write anything new. While overcoming writer’s block is usually a different process depending on the individual, there are ample tools to help writers along the way.

The 4 Causes of Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is triggered by a number of things, depending on the individual. Some people believe that writer’s block stems from a lack of ideas or even talent. However, that’s usually not the case.

Self-doubt is actually a big part of writer’s block. In the 1970s, Yale researchers Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios studied a group of “blocked” professional writers in a variety of disciplines, from screenwriting to poetry. After several months, the researchers discovered that there are four main triggers of writer’s block:

  • Apathy. These writers felt constrained by the “rules” of writing and struggled to find their creative spark.
  • Anger. These writers were often narcissistic and would get angry if something they created went unnoticed.
  • Anxiety. These writers worried that they weren’t good enough.
  • Issues with others. These writers didn’t want their writing to be compared to others’ work, resulting in a fear of writing anything at all.

How to Overcome Writer’s Block in 8 Easy Steps

To help loosen the creative block, try these ideas:

  • Take a break. Do something else for a while, and return a few days (or week, or months) later to view your work with a fresh eye.
  • Jump ahead. Write smaller pieces of the article, story, or writing project without knowing where they fit. The important thing is to keep going. A lot of problems are resolved in the doing. Avoid areas of high difficulty. Just write. You can always rewrite the first draft—make use of that freedom and get stuff down. Then come back to it.
  • Pretend you’ve never read your work before. Start at the beginning of the work and read it through. This can make it obvious where you’ve gone off track.
  • Do something else. Get away from your desk. Do the laundry. Go for a walk. Real-life events and observations are key to keeping your idea box full and can serve as the inspiration for your best writing.
  • Create a deadline for yourself. Time pressure can create focus and can force you to make decisions that you may be avoiding.
  • Make your process more visual. Unsure of how to continue a section or chapter? Turn to diagrams, Post-it notes or just plain pen and paper. Sometimes, visualizing the problem can help.
  • Do something thoroughly mundane. Monotonous tasks like showering, cleaning, and so on make your brain go on autopilot, leaving the creative side free to daydream about all kinds of things—including how to solve the issue that’s causing your writer’s block.
  • Freewrite. This is good advice for any kind of writer. Write without pausing to worry about sentence structure, grammar, spelling, or whether what you’re saying makes sense or not. Just write without second guessing anything. While most of it will be unusable, it’s a good way to push through the block.

3 Writing Exercises to Help Loosen Writer’s Block

It’s remarkable how a little pressure can help you through a block. Here are two exercises that can help you get back on track.

Pomodoro technique

Decide on what you would like to write. This can be a scene, a chapter of your novel, or simply a page of free writing that will help stimulate an idea. Set a timer for 25 minutes and don’t stop writing until the timer rings. Finally, take a five-minute break and repeat these three steps, sticking carefully to the clock.

The 30-minute challenge

Set a timer for 30 minutes and write down the events of your day. When you run out of time, note what distracted you (thoughts, noises, interruptions). Research ways that you can selectively remove those distractions from your writing routine. For example, does your computer distract you while you write? You can try going completely analog, and use a pencil and pad. Try the same 30-minute challenge a day later, using techniques you researched to remove the distractions you discovered the day before. Repeat the process until you’ve found your ideal writing space.

The pretend-you’re-talking-to-a-friend technique

Sometimes, writers are too caught up in the rules and structure of writing, be it an article, a novel, or a piece of nonfiction. One way to overcome this is to pretend you’re speaking to a friend at a bar and you need to relate to them the story or scene you’re working on. How would you describe it to them? If pretending isn’t going to cut it, go as far as composing an email or text message to a friend. If any of it seems useful, incorporate the text into your draft.