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Writer's Block

writers_block.mp3 Listen to the Podcast about Writer's Block


Do you find yourself regularly struggling to get started on a piece of work? This may be caused by procrastination, or writer’s block. Procrastination involves ‘putting off’ work which seems daunting. If this applies to you, please refer to the separate specific issue link on ‘Procrastination ’.

Writer’s block describes an inability to work. It may happen every time you face a blank page or screen resulting in screwed up pieces of paper, over use of the delete key, hours of pacing and a debilitating feeling of fear and frustration. There are many possible reasons for writer's block such as fear, anxiety, a life change, the beginning or end of a project.

It is important to think objectively about why you can’t work. Here are some possible causes of writer’s block:-

· Fearing being judged: Completing the task requires an end assessment and you may be concerned about this; receiving criticism or praise may be difficult for you.

· Not having the necessary information, knowledge or understanding: You may not have the necessary tools to complete the task in hand.

· Difficulty in expressing the meaning of what you want to say: You may struggle to put your thoughts into words.

· The missing link: You can’t connect what you know, to what is required.

· Defeatism: You no longer believe in your ability to work because you have been unable to on many other occasions and no-one can convince you otherwise.

· Perfectionism: Setting yourself extremely high standards and fearing falling short of these standards, as this would feel like failure.


Moving out of writer’s block

  • Create an environment that encourages you to work; a space where you won’t be distracted or interrupted. Be comfortable, but not too comfortable and establish a routine. Find out what works for you in terms of: lighting, temperature, noise levels, time of day and make changes if necessary.
  • Ensure you have all the equipment and information you need before you begin working. You may struggle to acknowledge with others any gaps in your knowledge. To avoid staying ‘blocked’, can you convince yourself of the benefits of asking for help?
  • Break down the project/assignment into small manageable steps and develop reasonable deadlines for each step.
  • Reward yourself with short refreshment breaks and avoid trying to write straight through the whole day. Manageable writing periods are best.
  • If you are feeling completely ‘blocked’, try free-writing on the topic. Try not to correct yourself as you write; instead, make notes such as ‘ADD DETAILS LATER’.
  • Try brain-storming or making a mind map of the information.
  • Try using a dictaphone to record anything that comes into your mind when you think of the topic even if it seems ridiculous; you are getting your mind working again.
  • Start asking yourself questions about the information you have recorded. What might it connect to? What other ideas does this lead you on to?
  • Try to ignore any critical voices in your head. Don’t aim for ‘perfect’; remember your objective is to get yourself working again. As your confidence grows your work can be edited and refined.
  • Consider praise/criticism as a normal consequence of producing work for assessment; something from which you can learn. It is the piece of work that is being judged, not you as a person.
  • Try talking to someone who doesn’t know anything about the subject – this may reassure you that you do know more than some people know (so it’s a bit of a boost) and it can get you thinking about the topic in simple terms to get you started.
  • If you are struggling to put your thoughts down in words, start by expressing things simply to get yourself working again.
  • Try producing anything, however rubbish it may seem to you at the time. Remember, the hardest part is getting started.

Useful resources

At the University of Warwick

For students at the University of Warwick  

Other Resources

A short animated film about experiential avoidance    
How to overcome writer's block Blog post aimed at fiction writers, which nevertheless has some helpful suggestions  
Available from the University Library:    
Practical guide to dealing with writers block Caroline Hall
Looks at different theories and perspectives on Writers block Zachary Leader


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