Overcoming the "Roadblock" of Writer's Block

23 January 2012

This is a popular phenomenon known as "writer's block" - the temporary loss of ability to begin or continue writing. It affects even the most skilled writers, from movie and TV script writers to best-selling authors.

There have been cases where writer's block has lasted for years or decades. For example, author Henry Roth's writer's block lasted for sixty years! It was caused by a combination of depression, political problems, and an unwillingness to confront past problems.

Generally, most writer's block lasts for shorter periods, such as a particular sitting, or for a couple of days. So how do you end up stuck for words in the first place and how do you over come it? The answer lays in your head...more specifically, within your brain.

Writers Block: It's All In Your Head

Our brain can be divided into two halves called cerebral hemispheres; also known as the "left brain" and the "right brain". These hemispheres consist of 4 lobes - frontal, parietal, occipital and temporal - each of which control different brain functions.

Did You Know: The left brain is in charge of logical thinking and data processing whereas the right side is responsible for our creativity.

It has been commonly speculated that writer's block is the product of reduced interaction between the temporal lobe, the region involved in speech and auditory processing, and frontal lobe, which is the primary center for producing language, planning and thinking. Brain scans have shown that a blocked writer's temporal lobes also appeared to be super-charged while there is decreased activity in the frontal lobes.

Writer's block also seems to occur more frequently in people who are depressed or are found in situations that provoke anxiety or distress. For example, you may have no problem writing an essay for History class if you're a history whiz, but the thought of tackling that English essay on Hamlet makes you unable to write just thinking about it.

Did You Know: Depression is far more likely to occur in highly creative people. Writers, for instance, are eight to ten times more likely to be depressed than less creatively inclined people.

Strategies to Overcome Writers Block

The important point is not whether or not you come across that "roadblock" when trying to get your homework done, but rather what steps you take to move past it. Here are some strategies:

1. Make a schedule for your time to write. Instead of worrying about the quality of the work, just write for that period of time. This will allow you to feel less nervous and fearful about getting started and allow some of your creative juices to start flowing.

2. Have a positive frame of mind. If you are having negative thoughts about your skill or ability to write, remind yourself of your strengths and recall a time in the past where you accomplished your goal. Also, don't be overly critical of your writing when you first start, because you can be more critical later in the editing process.

3. When beginning to write, try brain-storming ideas or writing an outline; this will give you direction and structure your ideas for later on.

4. Take breaks, meditate, or do relaxation exercises to help relieve stress and freshen your mind when writing. Sometimes you may even need to return to the writing after one or two days.

Did You Know: People are not born anxious writers; rather, they become anxious or blocked through negative or difficult experiences with writing.

So, when you are on a mission to complete a school project and you suddenly experience a minor "brain fart" aka "writer's block", remember to not stress! This is a normal part of writing, which happens to pretty much everyone. Most important, don't forget that you can over-come writer's block with different strategies and before long the ideas will begin flowing again!

Learn More!

Getting the Best of Your Writer's Block: Ten Ways to Start Writing Again

Hack your way out of writer's block

On Writer's Block: Neuroscience

The Right-brain/Left-brain Myth and Flow

Writing Anxiety

Writer's Block


Technical Writing Today

Andrea D’Ambrosio is a fourth year Applied Human Nutrition Student at the University of Guelph and says that many times she has experienced writer’s block. She finds the most effective strategy is a diversion and then a planned schedule of time available.


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