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The Psychology Behind Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a locked door without a key. Writer’s block is entrapment. Stifling.

A few weeks ago, any creative impulse I may have had dissipated, as I gazed at the blank space on my computer screen and the empty pages in my notebook.

Why couldn’t I tap into inspiration? I was feeling a lot, so why couldn’t I produce something really great? Write what you know, they say. It’s all ‘grist for the mill,’ they say, but my heart couldn’t catch up to my pen.

Frustration paved the way to this post — the psychology behind writer’s block.

A 2011 article on Psychology Today featured an interview with Emmy-award winning writer Gene Parret. He believes that fear underlies writer’s block.

“Fear that you won’t be able to write a complete book,” he said. “Fear that you won’t be able to interest publishers in it, fear that it won’t be good enough, fear that others won’t like it.”

He suggests that in order to transcend debilitating reservations, writers should write what they wish to write (to the best of their ability) and conduct the process one step at a time.

“Why make a publisher’s decision about your book before you even write the book?” he noted.

A 2012 Psychology Today article discusses the challenges of embarking on a new project — in other words, sitting in the chair and staying put.

“The prospect of having to invent an entire world is a little like having the creative responsibilities of God — with none of the superpowers,” the article stated. “The task feels impossible.”

This post refers to the state of flow. Without a sense of flow, writers may feel paralyzed, stagnant in their rut.

Instead of fixating on how to express yourself well, think about expressing yourself freely.

“For the adult writer to reach a flow state, she has to do something counterintuitive: she has to accept flawed writing,” the article said. “This is why one of the homework assignments I often give to blocked writers is to start with the worst sentence they can imagine. If they can get through that and keep going, then they can start to flow. It’s as if flow is pure, clean water trapped behind dirty, disgusting sewage. If you can’t welcome the sewage and let it flow through you, you will never be able to get to the pure stuff.”

Finally, a 2013 Psychology Today article highlights a study conducted by the University of Michigan. It illustrates that many individuals have counterintuitive circadian rhythms: the daily cycles of creativity via physiological and cognitive activity.

In the study, two kinds of problem-solving were assessed: creative insight ability (abstract,”out-of-the-box” thinking) and analytical tasks (requiring you to work steadily toward answers).

The study concluded that self-proclaimed “morning people,” who feel more productive in daytime hours, are actually more adept at creative problem-solving in the evening. The opposite held true for those who claimed they were more focused at night.

Writer’s block is steeped in psychology. Whether it stems from fear, a botched state of flow, or a miscalculated work schedule, once its roots are understood, the easier it will be to overcome.

Time to open that locked door.

Locked door photo available from Shutterstock

The Psychology Behind Writer’s Block

Lauren Suval

Lauren Suval studied print journalism and psychology at Hofstra University, and she is a writer based in New York. Her work has been featured on Thought Catalog, Catapult Community, and other online publications. Lauren's e-book “Coping With Life’s Clutter” and her collection of personal essays, “The Art Of Nostalgia,” can both be found on Amazon. Lauren's latest E-Book, "Never Far Behind," a collection of poetry, is available on Smashwords, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. She loves to be followed on social media, including her Facebook Writing Page,

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APA Reference
Suval, L. (2018). The Psychology Behind Writer’s Block. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 16 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.