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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Looks Like Writer’s Block, But It’s Not

writer's block frustrated writer 123rf number 25337109_sOne of the things commonly mistaken for writer’s block is simple unpreparedness. You’re not writing because you’re not ready to write.

How many steps do you think there are between getting a great idea and writing?

It’s more than you think. Go ahead and list the steps for yourself. Then come back and we’ll compare notes.

I’ll wait.

Does your list include all of these?

  • questions canstockphoto7418437 (2)Ask open-ended questions: what if, how about, what else, who knows, who cares, why not, how could it be different, and so on
  • List the questions without worrying about the answers yet, your goal is to get as many questions as you can
  • Keep adding to the list of questions
  • Consider other possible interpretations and perspectives
  • Explore whether the idea is part of a bigger picture
  • Look at your idea’s genealogy, that is, ask yourself what other ideas it’s related to
  • Brainstorm the idea alone
  • Brainstorm with others
  • Freewrite about the idea
  • Cluster about the idea (yes, freewriting and clustering are different ways to brainstorm; you get different insights and perspectives from different methods)
  • Let the idea “rest” and schedule the day and time you’ll return to it
  • Define your audience, then define another audience and another (who else cares?)
  • Sleep on it
  • Take walks with the idea in the back of your mind
  • Write the idea in the middle of a blank page and just doodle around it
  • Immerse yourself in water (hot bath, swimming pool, lake)
  • Collage the idea
  • Stare out the window and tell yourself “I’m not thinking about the idea” (there’s nothing like trying to not think about something to get you thinking about it)
  • Explain the idea to someone else

books ladder writer's block canstockphoto6709285 (2)If the thought of taking these steps makes you a little uncomfortable, you’re going to love the next batch of things to do before you start drafting. And vice versa.

Some writers love the pre-research stage, some writers can’t wait to get to the research. Both types can get stuck if they try to write before they’re ready.

  • Intentionally start your search for answers to the questions you listed
  • Unconsciously research the idea, aka run into random bits of information (we used to have more opportunities for this random research, now we need to actively seek the random)
  • Read what others have written about the topic
  • Interview experts
  • Talk with non-experts
  • Create and use questionnaires and surveys
  • Ask follow-up, open-ended questions
  • Freewrite about how the idea could intersect with one of the random bits of information that has floated into your awareness

If your list includes other steps, please share those in a comment.

Getting Ready is Not Writer’s Block

flying book canstockphoto3971643 (2)No, you don’t have to take ALL these steps. But you do need some variations of these steps to get through the early stages of the creative process. (Stages of the creative process are described in Chapter 4 of AWB.)

Some writing projects require more development time than others. Email, for example, is typically stream-of-consciousness typing with no more than a few minutes of forethought and even less time for reviewing and revising before sending.

This is why there are so many badly written, confusing, irritating and irrelevant emails.

If you want to write something more relevant, persuasive and beautiful than bad email, you have miles of ground to cover between being inspired and starting a draft.

You’re not supposed to be inspired with a great idea one moment and start writing it the next. The time between the inspiration and the draft is NOT writer’s block.

Ignoring or discounting the actions you need to take to get ready to write will not only make you feel blocked and therefore miserable, it will keep you from getting ready.

Give your ideas the respect and development time they deserve. Give yourself permission to not write immediately, not in a procrastinating, I’m-going-to-ignore-this-until-an-hour-before-the-deadline kind of way, but in an expansive, exploratory kind of way.

Next post: What else is mistaken for writer’s block? Feel free to make guesses and suggestions in a comment.

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12 Comments on “Looks Like Writer’s Block, But It’s Not”

  1. evelynkrieger August 9, 2016 at 10:08 am #

    I’m recovering from traumatic stress and grief. During the last few months I felt like I lost my words. I don’t call this writer’s block. I know what that is from past experience and this feels different. I’ve returned to your book, Writer’s Block, which I hadn’t needed to look at for a few years. I’ve begun to see that the same strategies can still apply. I’ve had a brain and writing injury, similar to the stroke analogy given in chapter 7. I may not be ready to return to my novel-n-progress, but I can take baby steps by writing about what I am currently experiencing. Maybe then the words will return.


  2. Glynis Jolly August 5, 2016 at 6:27 am #

    I’ve had an idea rolling around in my head all summer. I’ve done some research and have written plot summaries, all similar but different. I’ve done character sketches and “saved” specific places on a map for settings. Still, the first paragraph is all I have of the story. Yet I don’t feel as though I have writer’s block. It could be this story needs a different approach.


    • rosannebane August 5, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

      Glynis, I recommend you spend more time imagining and discovering the story before attempting to draft.

      There is a four-post series on this starting at https://baneofyourresistance.com/2013/01/22/why-skiers-and-writers-need-to-scout-the-route/

      I highly recommend Robert Olen Butler’s method of dreamstorming before drafting or doing overly analytical outlines. Check out his book From Where You Dream.

      From time to time I offer classes on Entering the Creative Flow/Dreamstorming at the Loft Literary Center both online and in-person. https://www.loft.org/classes/ (You’ll find me if you search for Creative Process classes.)

      Have fun! I think you’re at the part that is the most fun if you can let go of worrying about “not writing” (you are doing Product Time; only 1 in 6 stages in the Creative Process involves fingers on the keyboard or pen on the page).


  3. maiziefrannie August 4, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    For Imadden42, I agree that getting it right and all that research would be necessary for that subject matter in a novel. Lots of work. Hope it turns out well for you.

    If it’s writer’s block or not, my difficulty is hurdling the emotion packed journals that are the substance of my recovery/healing memoir. Perhaps the last paragraph in the article saying,”Give respect……is the best way for me to approach this writing.


    • rosannebane August 5, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

      Maizie, I’ve worked with clients writing memoir based on painful issues and I “get it” about hurdling the emotional aspect. One of my clients struggled with the grief she was writing about leaking into her day after writing and found that adding a closing ritual (she already had an opening ritual) REALLY helped. There’s a whole chapter about Rituals and Routines in Around the Writer’s Block and you might want to look at: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/56-FE4-WeirdWritingRituals.html
      Best of luck to you. It is challenging, but that’s what recovery is about. I have confidence that you can and will write your memoir.


  4. lmadden42 August 4, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

    This makes me feel more comfortable about the several years , yes years, I’ve spent researching and thinking about the novel I’m now finally outlining. It’s Regency, involving Jewish characters and Quakers, along with minor aristocracy, so important to get things right, from legal, to social, to the nitty gritty of daily life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • rosannebane August 5, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

      Lmadden, I’m glad to hear my post helped! I’m not usually a Regency reader, but the combo of Jewish and Quaker characters is intriguing. Please add me to the list of people you’ll send a notice to when your book is published. Kudos for taking the time it takes to get it right.


  5. Joel D Canfield August 4, 2016 at 9:41 am #

    I needed a reminder not to rush to print, but I didn’t expect such a roster of things to include in the process. Already shared this all over the place; excellent stuff.


    • rosannebane August 5, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

      Thanks Joel! I debated putting in such an extensive list; I’m delighted it struck a chord with you!



  1. Getting A Handle On Your Writing Insecurities | Figuring it Out - February 17, 2017

    […] Image found here. […]


  2. What Else Looks Like Writer’s Block But Isn’t | Bane of Your Resistance - August 12, 2016

    […] Writers do ourselves a great disservice when we label everything outside Verification as insignificant at best or as procrastination/laziness/lack of will power/writer’s block at worst. (More about how the essential steps between getting a great idea and writing about the idea can look like writer’s block in the last post.) […]


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