Surmounting Writer’s Block
The critical steps to reignite inspired creativity, growth, and productivity.
Writer’s Block Strikes
I was returning from a vacation and felt guilty about not working on or beginning a new newsletter article. Every time I would sit down to start, I would find myself distracted and doing other things or just feeling tired or overwhelmed by the immensity of the task with all its components. Some basics of the task even felt too difficult, such as coming up with new material, doing the research, working through the succession of drafts, multiple edits, and the final publishing process.
The worst was the mental ambiguity over how important it really was in my present life stage to do all this demanding, focused work. The arduous and challenging task, arguably, wasn’t meeting any required needs, such as earning a living to support myself, my family, and others. Career work was a major priority when I was younger, but not so much now that I am mostly retired.
Listening to the Inner Voice
Deeper in the recesses of my mind floats up the worrisome thought, “There are so many people out there that make a living, that are very skilled and manipulative in selling you their writing and publishing-related products for their own selfish needs and profits–the great American, capitalistic way. How do you know you are not being groomed, sold a lot of ideas and empty rhetoric, that to be successful, you need to participate in their program or course, buy their platform, writing tools or apps, consultations, or products? Are you spending more money and putting more effort and time into the promotions and products that end up not being needed by you? Are you being hustled with no chance of any return on your investment? Are you too susceptible or vulnerable to be in the league of writers and therefore just getting burned out from getting too drawn away from the joy of writing and creativity?”
I was tempted to list in my mind all the products and courses I had bought that were perhaps of some help, but their sheer volume and cost always took a significant chunk out of earnings without a clear or any long-lasting benefit. I recalled the many time-management or efficiency courses or related products I bought and tried out. Some wasted more time with their complexity and learning curve. You almost had to take a class with each to apply them to your needs, hoping they would be of some benefit. Maybe some were helpful, but few met my needs or led me to the promised land of mastery and success regarding the specific goals and projects I was pursuing.
The same voice, when it wanted to take a more subtle tack to undermine any weakened resolve to get restarted with my next writing project, that might be ready to take root, “Why do you want to do any projects so difficult and demanding if the likelihood of any success, notoriety, or financial gain are slim, given your lack of an existing audience to run out and buy any of your published works or to turn to you for a consultation? Is this a work of vanity or ego that wants to ride you over the cliff or exhaust you when you could do more social or health-oriented activities? Does this writing project have any real meaning or purpose for you, to drive you like your many years in a professional career when you had to get up at dawn and drive across town to your bustling office or the hospital? At least there, even though my office was percolating with all kinds of demands and stresses, it was gratifying and rewarding when you were helpful to others and earning a suitable income to take care of the needs of yourself and family.”
The other feedback from my inside voice of worry and fear, from my many years in medical and psychiatric practice, was: “Be worried that the reason you are feeling blocked from restarting a new writing project may be a medical or psychological problem. Your fatigue and tiredness could be the symptoms or warning of an underlying disease.” Then I would think, “Oh, here comes the differential diagnosis, but it could be right, and I’ve seen significant illness underlie what seemed like mundane complaints throughout my career. You better worry, pay attention, and investigate.”
The Inner Diagnostician
My astute, well-trained inner diagnostician loved to put me through the wringer, which I hoped I had avoided when working with patients during my medical career. But maybe I slipped up sometimes, and karma was catching up with me, or simply the fear inevitable with aging. The diagnosing inner worrier would step back a bit to more rational reasoning, “You have itchy eyes and some postnasal drip, stupid you, it is just allergies, which are high this time of year, that leave you exhausted with irritable eyes, and you just don’t want to put in a lot of reading or computer time. Just take some antihistamines and get some more sleep.” That sounded helpful but left me worried about many more possibilities. “Maybe the tiredness and lack of resolve to start a new article were you needing to wake you up to the possibility of losing some of your natural abilities with age. You can’t push yourself or be motivated as when you were younger. It could be, as likely, that you need to find the same meaning and purpose when getting caught up in too many things, which end up being more demanding than you can do.” I remembered my mother’s favorite expression: “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”
From my career as a professional caregiver and diagnostician, I knew that many medical or psychiatric problems could be hidden and can present with symptoms such as difficulties in accomplishing things that are usually easily doable. Often, when falling short in the past, there would be an easy remedy as getting more rest, better nutrition, and social support. Maybe the answer would be to take a little break or a vacation or wait for the inspiration to hit to pick up my efforts to get productive again. I knew of all the tests available to check for hidden illnesses that came with the training in my profession for what to do and look for. I had been diligent over the years, probably with more resources than most people, and done all the routine evaluations. So, I felt some confidence on the medical side.
In terms of the psychological, though I had some difficulties with panic and anxiety when younger, I had never had any difficulties with significant depression. I knew how it could often present with such complaints as worry, fatigue, loss of meaning, motivation, joy in doing things, and sleep difficulties. So, writer’s block can mean many things to different people but is often the simple loss of direction, motivation, inspiration, perspective, too much overwork, fatigue, or the lack of new ideas. When stuck or experiencing uncomfortable or painful emotions or physical symptoms, it is sensible to have the wisdom to seek feedback and gain the perspective of friends, colleagues, and others. Professional helpers or teachers can be essential in times of deep distress or need.
The Creative Process Running into Obstacles
When the creative workflow gets impeded or stops, it gets labeled by writers as “writer’s block.” To some, it is a feeling of being stuck in the writing and creative process and unable to begin or complete new writing projects and creations. The underlying causes and contributing factors are many and unique to the individual. Overcoming or investigating obstacles to creative flow and production is usually a worthwhile and vital step to pursue. In doing so, one may open the doors to new learning, find a new direction, and get more in touch with the realities of yourself and the larger context in which you exist and live. The symptoms may be a warning of more profound issues or problems, possibly medical, psychological, or spiritual unique to the individual. Interference in the creative workflow may mean that it is time for a reality check and redirection of one’s efforts and a call for re-evaluation or appropriate corrective actions.
The creative person may feel their problems come from lacking fresh ideas, the needed experience, or “natural” talent. Researchers in the past found self-doubt and associated issues. One was the sense of apathy when the writers felt constrained by the conventions expected of writers and struggled to find and keep their creative spirit alive. Another was anger when a writer was too egotistical or vain if their work was unnoticed. Fear and anxiety over not being good enough, worthy, or talented as a writer were also common. The fear of failing with one’s inexperience and limitations would sometimes devastate a writer when their work was compared to accomplished writers.1
Traps and False Paths
There is always the risk of seeking false paths to unlock creativity or to expand beyond the place where we might be stuck in our work or mental preoccupations and worries, or burnout and fatigue. Many get introduced to using drugs or alcohol in their childhood or in association with a drug-using culture. There is the risk of becoming habituated to using addictive drugs or getting involved with the dangerous use of hallucinogens. The use of hallucinogenic substances has become an avenue of interest for physicians and therapists, as well as people having depression or those seeking to get unstuck or remove blocks to their creativity and inspiration. The dependence on drugs to get high or get inspiration can be risky, as drugs can be mixed with additives or have excessive potency in non-standardized preparation. The self-use of these, often illicitly got substances, can be incredibly risky when taken by oneself or in programs run by untrained individuals lacking structure, professional standards, and supervision.
Well-structured mental health and psychiatric programs now use hallucinogenic therapies showing promise in safe, well-supervised, and structured programs. For centuries indigenous and tribal cultures have used plant and herbal substances as part of their spiritual and religious practice or rites of passage, usually done in a group context with an experienced shaman. Do careful research if interested in medication or hallucinogenic-assisted therapies and seek professional guidance from trusted people with expertise in these areas. If you are already suffering from substance use disorder or problems, especially opiates, seek professional help. In the situation with opiates, there has been a high death rate from illicitly obtained pills or drugs laced with a lethal substance.2
In the spiritual dimension, there might be a need to gain help in areas beyond the simple loss of inspiration and meaning or the mild physical and mental burnout. Spiritual attunement may be an avenue for those with entrapment in isolative mental configuring and processing with a loss of perspective of what is beyond our reasoning and mental capacities–the need to seek greater truth, understanding, or perspective about the whys and wherefores of our existence and interdependence on others for our substance and well-being.
A spiritual teacher or guide may help to elevate our thinking above the mundane to see beyond our limited vision and horizons. Many simple or sometimes more demanding spiritual practices often are as important as health, physical care and exercise, nutrition, or any self-help-oriented programs. I try to keep myself involved with dream/idea journaling, mindfulness, and meditative, yoga-type practices. I also value the company of people that embrace spiritual awareness and enlightenment. All said and done, why was I still stuck and wanted to unlock the flow of renewed passion and zest for creativity?
Getting Unstuck and Back into the Flow
I finally got unlocked and back into my creative flow by getting some extra rest, taking some antihistamines for allergies and nutritional supplements to ward off a possible viral infection, reviewing my dream/idea journals, and just starting with the simple, heartfelt story of what was going on in my mind. I relaxed and accepted the need to take a vacation from my work, spend some meaningful time with my significant others and support community, and get back into a consistent program as with my exercise, swimming, and yoga. Also, the simplicity of just getting started again by focusing and beginning back with a small piece of the new writing projects opened the floodgate and released my energy and creative spirit. With the topic of writer’s block, I explored the many things that often get me stuck by being reminded to look under the surface for possible significant medical, psychological, or spiritual issues that may need care and attention.
Tips and Points to Ponder
1. Sometimes, there is the need to get unblocked and back into the flow by “leaning” into and processing what is coming into awareness that may be related to current difficulties. There may be a reluctance to uncover and process uncomfortable feelings, worries, and emotions. A concern might be that something dreadful or profound is underlying a loss of a usually readily available functioning as with creative flow and production. The daunting task of looking into or examining what may relate to changes in your mental or physical functioning is often required. Critical clues and answers are usually there and can help get you out of a rut or immobilization. Some are skilled and comfortable doing the task by being open to the awareness of thoughts and emotions, and perhaps past traumas may need the support of a compassionate and skilled other. Some learned or gained therapeutic skills to face underlying issues and feelings can be learned from programs with qualified teachers.3
2. There is always the risk of seeking false paths to unlock creativity or expand beyond where we might be stuck in our work, mental preoccupations and worries, or burnout and fatigue. Many get introduced to drugs or alcohol in childhood or are associated with a drug-using culture. There is the risk of becoming habituated to using addictive substances or getting involved with the dangerous use of hallucinogens. The use of hallucinogenic substances has become an avenue of interest for physicians and therapists, as well as for people having depression or those seeking to unleash creativity or get unstuck or remove blocks to their creativity and inspiration.
3. The dependence on drugs to get high or inspiration can be dangerous, as drugs can be mixed with toxic chemicals or additives or excessive dosing in non-standardized preparation. The self-use of these, often illicitly obtained, substances can be exceptionally high risk when taken by oneself or in programs or treatment by untrained individuals in programs lacking structure, professional standards, and supervision.4
4. Stimulant-like substances or drugs excite the mind and can make one very exuberant and over-energetic. Mental activity and behavior will excessively speed up with the synthesis of a lot of new patterns of information that may be useful and rational or not. At the extremes, one may appear manic or even psychotic with racing thoughts and incoherence. Using natural ways to stimulate the mind and body can bring release from mental sluggishness or mild depression as engaging in energizing social activities, recreation, sports activities, or doing things involving active movement and exercise of the body to increase your circulation of healthy blood flow to all your vital organs including your nervous system and brain. Getting outside into nature, walking, gardening, biking, and other activities revitalize the body, mind, and spirit. Explore new topics of interest, as in friendly conversations with valued and interesting others or in listening or taking part in educational activities that challenge yourself to achieve or accomplish a new goal or something you have thought about doing but have resisted for illogical reasons. Try some new creative endeavors.5
5. Well-structured mental health and psychiatric programs are now utilizing hallucinogenic-type therapies showing promise in safe, well-supervised, and structured programs. For centuries, indigenous and tribal cultures have used plant and herbal substances as part of their spiritual and religious practice or rites of passage, usually done in a group context with an experienced shaman. Do careful research if interested in medication-assisted therapies and seek professional guidance from trusted people with expertise in these areas. If you already suffer from substance use disorder or problems, especially opiates, seek professional help. With opiates, there has been a high death rate from illegally obtained pills or drugs containing lethal substances.
6. If you are too passive, stuck at your desk or computer, and inactive, consider picking and doing a simple exercise program to unlock more of your potential.6
7. Avoid being lured into schemes or remedies to ease your problems when experiencing overwhelm, productivity, motivation, and creativity issues. Do your research or get good advice from trusted sources to avoid seduction by clever marketing and sales promotions for products, courses, and such that may be unhelpful, costly, or potentially dangerous. Check out any underlying issues that might be present and seek help from trusted sources. Be open to feedback from knowledgeable others or professional sources when needed.
8. Be aware that when a person becomes too isolated in their intellectual activity. Some prefer working alone for better productivity and concentration, which may lead to a loss of perspective, context, objectivity, and insight, especially without feedback from others, or in not doing adequate research to get needed input for developing a realistic and reliable formulation or presentation.
I appreciate your interest in a topic so relevant to all trying to stay vital and creative. Please share this article with others. Thanks, Ron Parks, MD
I look forward to any feedback, response to my articles and posts, or questions I can respond to and answer. All comments are valued and give direction to our continued work and guidance in meeting the needs of our readers.
A special thanks to Jan Parks and Shan Parks, editor, for their valued feedback and assistance.
1 What is writer’s block and how to overcome: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-writers-block-how-to-overcome-writers-block-with-step-by-step-guide-and-writing-exercises;
An Analysis of Writer’s Block: Causes and Solutions: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10400419.2022.2031436?scroll=top&needAccess=true&role=tab&aria-labelledby=full-article
2 What Does Good Psychedelic Therapy Look Like? https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/03/well/mind/psychedelic-therapy.html?smid=nytcore-android-share
3 Tapping: Click for the video on YouTube on Tapping
4 What Does Good Psychedelic Therapy Look Like? https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/03/well/mind/psychedelic-therapy.html?smid=nytcore-android-share5
5 How Creativity Strengthens the Mind and Helps Cure Depression: https://academyofideas.com/2023/05/how-creativity-strengthens-the-mind-and-helps-cure-depression/6
6 Move do Strength Exercises: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/01/well/move/strength-exercises-aging.html?smid=nytcore-android-share