September 4, 2023
Unshackling the Muse:
Answering Your Questions about Writer’s Block
Host Carma Spence answers the top 15 questions authors have about Writer’s Block
Episode 36: Unshackling the Muse: Answering Your Questions about Writer's Block
In this episode of The Author Switch Podcast, host Carma Spence taps into both research and personal experience to answer the top 15 questions that authors have regarding writer’s block.
Recap & Takeaways
- 01:59 What is writer’s block?
- 02:43 What causes writer’s block?
- 04:50 How can I overcome writer’s block?
- 06:09 Have you ever had writer’s block while writing a book and how did you overcome it?
- 08:45 Is writer’s block a psychological or creative issue?
- 09:55 Are there any strategies to prevent writer’s block from happening?
- 11:01 Can writer’s block affect different types of writing, like fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc.?
- 12:07 Is writer’s block a temporary phase, or can it be a chronic problem?
- 13:45 How can external factors like stress, deadlines, or personal issues contribute to writer’s block?
- 14:59 Are there any successful authors who have shared their experiences with writer’s block and how they overcame it?
- 17:32 How do different writing environments or routines impact writer’s block?
- 18:28 Is it possible for writer’s block to signal a deeper problem with my story or project?
- 19:50 Can writer’s block sometimes indicate that the current project isn’t worth pursuing?
- 20:32 Are there any mindfulness or meditation techniques that can help with writer’s block?
- 21:51 How can I distinguish between a lack of inspiration and true writer’s block?
Transcript for Episode 36: Unshackling the Muse: Answering Your Questions about Writer’s Block
Hello and welcome to episode 36 of The Author Switch, the podcast dedicated to helping you turn on the author switch. in your mind so that you can write the book or books that you were intended, meant, and born to write.
My name is Carma Spence, and I am your host of this podcast. And just in case you’re new to my world, I am an award winning and bestselling author.
Two of my books have made it to bestseller, one of which won three awards. I’ve been a published author for 16 years and I have been in marketing and PR for 30 years. So I know a thing or two about writing and as most writers attest whether they want to or not, I have also experienced writer’s block.
But I’m on a mission to, if not eradicate it, at least lessen its impact on your life. Because my next book, The Author Switch, is going to be all about this particularly insidious form of creative block. And so, in my research, and just in talking with fellow authors, I have been asked a lot of questions about writer’s block: What it is, and how to fix it.
And so that’s what I’m going to be talking about today. I’m going to be answering the top 15 questions about writer’s block.
Now, the first one is kind of basic, and that is what is writer’s block? Now, some people out there will tell you it is a myth, that it doesn’t exist, and they are wrong. They are absolutely 100% wrong.
Writer’s block does exist.
What it is, in essence, is a form of creative block that affects writing. And what happens when you have writer’s block is you’re either unable to write new copy, write new content, or you have a slowdown in your production. So basically it means like you’re trying to write, but nothing comes out, or very little comes out.
And honestly, it can be quite painful if you don’t know how to deal with it.
So that leads to the second question: What causes writer’s block? Now there’s a lot of information out there about what causes it. And honestly, there’s probably no definitive, this is what causes it, because a lot of people approach writer’s block as if it is a thing in and of itself.
And it’s not.
So, writer’s block has more in common with a sneeze, which can be caused by a cold or allergies or pepper or all sorts of things. There’s so many things that can cause a sneeze. Well, guess what? There are lots of different things that can cause writer’s block. And I will go into that a little bit more, but basically I’ve looked at the research.
And I’ve done my own research and I’ve kind of identified six sort of high-level causes of writer’s block. And I’ve talked about those in an earlier episode of The Author Switch, which I will put a link in below. But in a nutshell, they are Mind Goblins. Those are like mental mindset issues.
Emotional Hobgoblins. Those are emotional issues that can block your writing.
There are Body Banshees. That’s when something in your physicality causes you to block.
There are Environmental Ogres, and that’s when something in your environment causes you to block, and honestly, some of the research I’m looking at that have to do with environmental ogres is pretty darn amazing.
There are Creative Krakens. Those are like things that happen in the creative process that can cause you to block.
And then finally this is the one cause of writer’s block that very few people talk about and that is a Spiritual Specter. And that’s when your disconnection from the divine causes you to block.
So that’s what causes writer’s block. There’s so many different causes and you need to identify which one or ones because it’s usually more than one is causing the block in order for you to find the right cure so that you can get unblocked and continue writing.
So that, that leads to question number three, which is how can I overcome writer’s block?
Well, step one, find out what’s causing it. You need to understand what is causing you to block so that you can unravel it and fix it. So it really depends on what causes it and I do have a writer’s block assessment that you can take. It’s absolutely free. I’ll drop the link in the show notes, but basically you take this quick quiz, and it will give you the general idea of which of the six causes are causing it.
Then you can go into the research to find out how to fix it. So like you could come up with, Oh, this is, this is being caused by a Mind Goblin. So then you go, and you find Mind Goblin cures. And, if you read the literature, the blog posts that are out there, if you just go to the internet and say, what causes writer’s block, and how do I fix writer’s block, they’ll give you these silly, superficial answers like, Why don’t you walk around the block?
Well, that works if you’re, if the cause of it is that you need something in your physicality to change. But if the reason why you’re blocked is because you didn’t get enough sleep last night, walking around the block ain’t gonna fix it. So you really need to understand what causes it so that you can find the right cures.
Question number four is, Have you ever had writer’s block while writing a book, and how did you overcome it? Now, before I really started delving into writer’s block and doing the research, I thought I had never really experienced it. Because I’m a pretty prolific writer. I write pretty much every day something.
And so if, if something is, is not working right now, I just move on to a different project and then I come back to it later. And I never really thought of that as being a form of writer’s block. So, the story I wanted to share with you is when I was writing Public Speaking Super Powers. There was one chapter in there that I really struggled with.
I knew I wanted that information in the book, but I just, I couldn’t get myself to start it. So even though it wasn’t the last chapter in the book, it’s the last chapter I worked on. So that was my form of writer’s block, and actually what was interesting is that by doing those other chapters, it actually helped me process the information from that one chapter that was giving me trouble, process it subconsciously.
So by the time I was ready, By the time I had to write the chapter because there was nothing else to write, I was ready to write it. So that’s how my experience of writer’s block is. And honestly, if I take that as an example, I’ve probably experienced writer’s block many, many times. But my way of dealing with it is always just to move over to another writing project and let my subconscious deal with it.
I just didn’t know that’s what I was doing. So, I wouldn’t be surprised that a lot of those naysayers who say that writer’s block doesn’t exist, they probably have experienced writer’s block, but just didn’t recognize it. Because writer’s block can be really, really bad. Like there’s a story of a journalist who had his writer’s block for 30 years.
He’d come into work, and he would not write for 30 years. Now, I don’t think you could do that today. You’d get canned, but he was a well-respected journalist at the time, and so they let him do it. He was a, he worked for The New Yorker. So, it can last a really long time, it can be very intense, or it can be more mild and you just move to another writing project right on that and you come back and it’s fine.
Writer’s block has a range of intensity, a range of causes. It, it’s hard to pin down.
Question number five: Is writer’s block a psychological or creative issue?
Okay, short answer, yes. Short answer, yes. Because yes, it can be a psychological problem. Yes, it can be a creative problem. Yes, It can be both at the same time. Or yes, it can be them separately. And yes, it can be something altogether different. This is why you need to understand what is causing your writer’s block, what is causing you to procrastinate, and not write, and not write, and not write. What’s causing that blank page to mock you.
You need to understand the underlying cause. And again, I have a free quiz that you can take. I’ll drop the link in the show notes below. It takes maybe five minutes to do, and it’ll get you into the ballpark of what might be causing your writer’s block. And the beauty of it is that you can take the, take the quiz every time you feel blocked and uncover a different cause. Or the same cause, it really depends.
So question number six is: Are there any strategies to prevent writer’s block from happening? Now it depends on, again, it depends on the cause of your writer’s block and the intensity of it. But there are certain things you can, you can do that will reduce your chances of being blocked.
One is writing an outline. And what’s really good about an outline is it can help organize your thoughts so that you don’t get Creative Krakens. And sometimes it helps you get over the humps that are caused by some of the other monsters that cause writer’s block. Also, mindset, working on your mindset so that you have a growth mindset, that you uplift your mindset so it’s more positive.
That can also help a lot mitigate the intensity and the length of writer’s block. So those are two things that I recommend for helping to reduce your chances of getting it and to shorten the length of time you do have it if you do get.
Question number seven is: Can writer’s block affect different types of writing like fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.?
Yes. Okay, I’ve got a short answer. Yes, it can affect any kinds of writing. In fact, a lot of the research that’s done on writer’s block is actually done on academic writing because the people who are doing this research work at a university and who is their pool of potential subjects? Students. But, yes, it can affect any type of writing because it is a creative block.
So it’s just a form of, I mean, there are artists who get blocked, there are sculptors who get blocked, there are dancers, actors, directors, any person who has a creative endeavor and needs to have some sort of creative flow come forth, can get blocked. And writing is just another form of creative block.
And I include academic writing in that because any form of writing, even if it’s nonfiction and factual, is a creative expression.
Question number eight. Is writer’s block a temporary phase or can it be a chronic problem? This, I’m beginning to feel like Svengoolie and his ongoing Perry Mason joke. Because this one also has a short answer. Yes. Yes, it can be temporary. And yes, it can be chronic. Again, it all depends on what is causing your particular block.
If it is something that is a chronic problem for you, then it can cause a chronic writer’s block. But it can also just be right now. So, for example, let’s say you’ve just experienced a loss. Hopefully, you’re not going to be sad and blocked for the rest of your life. Eventually, you will deal with the emotions that you’re having around this loss, and as that resolves itself, so will your writer’s block that’s caused by that.
Or it can be a chronic problem. This is especially true of mindset issues or chronic health issues. Those can be chronic and therefore cause a chronic writer’s block. But again, if you understand the cause, even if the cause is chronic, it does not have to result in chronic writer’s block. Because once you understand the cause, you can mitigate that chronic cause’s effect on your ability to write.
Because a lot of times it’s understanding the cause that actually helps resolve the block.
So, question number nine. How can external factors like stress, deadlines, or personal issues contribute to writer’s block? Now, this is interesting. There is a lot, a lot of research that suggests that stress, regardless of what causes it, can cause writer’s block. And, of course, deadlines. Some people are actually freed by deadlines.
Deadlines actually get them writing, whereas other people freak out with deadlines and freeze. So it all depends on what your relationship to the stressor is. How you will react in your creative endeavors. And of course personal issues can, can cause, I mean like that’s one of the cause, Emotional Hobgoblins can often cause a writer’s block.
And what I’ve also noticed in my own personal experience and in research is that Emotional Hobgoblins often are partnered with or become Mind Goblins. The two are very intertwined. So yes, external things can cause you to be creatively blocked because of how you are dealing with that stressor.
Question number 10. Are there any successful authors who have shared their experiences with writer’s block and how they overcame it? Yes, there are a lot of them. In fact, most recently would be George R. R. Martin. He’s the creator of the Game of Thrones books, which became the Game of Thrones TV show. And it was really interesting to kind of like follow that story because he kept putting off writing his next book, and it was almost like the TV show continually catching up to his books that actually caused the block because he felt like it’s happening too fast, it’s happening too fast, and he blocked himself and he would like avoid it by like, oh, I need to go to a conference.
Procrastination and avoidance. There was probably something else going on. I did not have a conversation with Mr. Martin, so I don’t know his underlying cause. But if you read what he was sharing, it’s probably very likely that he was dealing with some form of imposter syndrome. That’s my, that’s my superficial guess. So, he was very vocal about his writer’s block.
J. K. Rowling has also shared about writer’s block and, and to go back farther, F. Scott Fitzgerald as well.
So, in fact, and Stephen King has also talked about having writer’s block.
So, there are famous authors and writers out there who have shared their stories about writer’s block. And then, of course, there are writers who’ve written memoirs about, for example, the journalist I was telling you about. I’m not sure he shared it, but there has been a bunch written about his writer’s block, because he lasted for 30 years. Egads. I can’t imagine. It must have been painful because he was a consummate professional.
Anyway, so yes, the answer to that is yes, there are famous writers who have shared their struggles with writer’s block, because no matter what people tell you, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it happens. and it’s okay.
It’s kind of, in fact, sometimes it’s kind of part of the creative process because sometimes if there’s something going on with what you’re writing that’s triggering something else, it’s your brain’s way of protecting you. Believe it or not, writer’s block is a way to protect you. Sometimes you wish your brain would not protect you, but that’s the way it goes.
So question number 11. How do different writing environments or routines impact writer’s block? Now, it all depends on what’s causing you to be blocked. The research I’ve been poring over is lighting can affect your writer’s block, clutter in your environment can cause writer’s block, aromas in your environment, noise in your environment.
For example, if you work in a corporate environment and are in a cubicle, And there’s a lot of noise around you because the people around you are not writers and don’t need it to be quiet. Your productivity can be affected. You get sort of mini writer’s block that cause you not to be as productive as you could be if it was quiet.
So yes, noise, lighting, scents, colors, all these things in your environment can affect your ability to be a productive writer.
Question number 12. Is it possible for writer’s block to signal a deeper problem with my story or project? Yes, that could be. That’s what I call a Creative Kraken. A Creative Kraken happens when. There’s something going wrong with the creative process, and that could be one example of a Creative Kraken is when you set out to write your book, you intended to take the project or your character in this one direction. But as you were writing, somehow other things happened, and now you’ve written yourself into this little rabbit hole that doesn’t meet your intent. will not take you to your intended end. And so your subconscious says, hold up, we need to regroup and figure out how to get us out of this mess. So yes, it could be that there’s a deeper problem with your story or your project.
So if you’re feeling blocked and you can’t, and it’s not another reason, what you might want to look at is, did you write an outline to begin with? And if so, have you diverged from that outline? And is your diversion helpful? And maybe you should just rearrange your outline. Or is it not helpful and you’re going to have to chuck what you’ve written?
Question number 13. Can writer’s block sometimes indicate that the current project isn’t worth pursuing? Now that’s a tricky one because I know some people who would go, Oh, I’ve got writer’s block. I must just throw this project out of the window and it’s an easy way to go. It’s an easy way not to take ownership of what’s really going on.
So just because you’re blocked doesn’t mean that what you’re working on isn’t worth publishing. In fact, it may actually mean the opposite. It may mean that this project is so important to your psyche that your psyche is getting in the way of you going in the wrong direction.
Question number 14. Are there any mindfulness or meditation techniques that can help with writer’s block? Again, you need to understand what’s causing the writer’s block. If the block is being caused by some form of anxiety, meditation is really good at reducing stress and lowering anxiety, so yes, meditation could be helpful.
Also, there has been some research, I haven’t quite delved into that part, I’ve got it waiting for me to go through, that mindfulness exercises can help with writer’s block. But again, it really all depends on what’s causing it. You know, mindfulness is not going to help if the cause of your writer’s block is that you’re taking a brand-new medication that’s making your brain all wonky.
That’s, it’s not going to help, but it will help if, like, you’re not getting good night’s sleep and so the mindfulness or meditation will help you get a better night’s sleep. So again, you got to understand what is causing your writer’s block. And again, I’ll drop the link to the quiz in the show notes.
Free quiz. All you, you don’t even have to opt into my list actually. The way it’s set up right now, you can just take the quiz and there you go.
And here’s the 15th and final question. How can I distinguish between a lack of inspiration and true writer’s block? So, if you have a lack of inspiration, that means the ideas aren’t even there.
With writer’s block, the idea is there, but you can’t move forward with it. That’s how you tell the difference. So, if you have a project in front of you, it probably means you had an idea for that project. So if you are blocked, you’re blocked. But if you’re at the stage where like, I need to write something and I don’t know what to write about, that is less likely to be a writer’s block and more likely to be a lack of inspiration.
And a lack of inspiration can be cured by all sorts of different creative exercises, but that’s outside of the scope of what I’m talking about today.
So, there you go, the 15 most common questions about writer’s block. I hope that you found today’s information useful and helpful and that it will help you turn on that Author Switch in your mind so that you can write the books that you were meant to, intend to, and were born to write.
This is Carma Spence, your host of The Author Switch Podcast, saying bye for now. See you next week. Ciao!