writers · writing

The misery of writer’s block

helena fairfax, writer's block, writing tips
Attack the Block. A great film! (But sadly not about attacking writer’s block)

All writers suffer from a block at some stage or another, and all of them suffer in different ways, and for different underlying reasons. Here’s how mine goes:

I go to bed thinking right, I’ll get up early tomorrow and get going with my new story. But even as I’m lying there, I’m thinking, ‘Why am I actually bothering to make a start, when I haven’t got anything to put down?’

Then the next day I’ll start bright and early, and suddenly my emails take on a massive importance. Then there’s Facebook to keep up to, and a photo I’d meant to upload for ages. And don’t forget Pinterest. I really need to click through the next few boards, because those pictures are amazing. Before I know it, a couple of hours have passed and I haven’t written anything.

By then my eyes are sick of looking at the screen, and so I get a cup of tea and I sit with a pad of paper. I write a couple of sentences and decide they’re rubbish. I draw a line under them, and keep them anyway, but by now I’m absolutely devoid of all energy. There seems nothing I’d rather do than lie down again. What is the matter with me?

When this first happened to me, I thought, well maybe I’m just mentally burnt out, and should just take a break from writing for a couple of days. And so I just gardened and did some mindless household chores, hoping my mind would free up. But when I went back to my computer, there was still nothing. I had a few ideas, but nothing that came and grabbed me by the throat. The days when I had a story I was burning to tell, when I rushed through all the boring jobs I had to do because I couldn’t wait to sit down and write, seemed to have vanished forever.

And so in desperation I picked up one of my vague ideas and thought, OK, just sit and write this one out. And every day I tortuously wrote helena fairfax, writer's block, writing tipsout how these two people met, what they looked like, filled in their backstory. Doing all this was agony, because I just didn’t care about these characters. Ever been in a meeting at work where everyone is just talking round and round, and the conversation is so pointless and witless you’re staring at the clock, wishing you could either run out screaming or just shout ‘Will you get to the point?!’ This is how I felt about my own imagination when I was in this black mood. It felt like battling against a wall of deathly boredom and lassitude.

Then all of a sudden I find one of my boring characters actually has an impassioned speech to say in my head, that I need to fit into the story. This totally dull creature has actually come alive for a few minutes! And before I know it, the heroine, too, has something important to say, later on. So now I have at least a couple of great scenes. Now there’s just the whole of the rest of the book to get down between these two scenes. Another inward groan. What a chore :(

I re-read the last part of my latest completed ms recently, and was surprised by how well it flowed. The whole story came together, all the characterisation neatly dotted and crossed, the conflicts resolved in a satisfying way. Instead of filling me with confidence, this just made me think, ‘Well, I’ll never write another story as well worked out as this again.’

And then I came across my handwritten notes for my last book, which were a jumble of desperate crossings out and random ideas, such as ‘Heroine is divorced and now wary of marrying again’ (this bore no relation to the final story!) and ‘Get rid of the son!!’ (What? That never happened!) My notes were such a mish-mash of utter rubbish, that I had no idea how the final polished story rose out of them, like a phoenix from a bag of garbage!

helena fairfax, writer's block, writing tips
End of writer’s block party. Music to dance to!


And then it struck me. Maybe this is how it is for me at the start of a new project. I’m anxious that my muse has totally gone. I’m desperately writing down different directions for the story, none of them making any sense, and all of them filling me with the most crashing boredom. And then by repeated battering away and agonising, eventually something begins to give.

At the moment, my hero and heroine are in a car coming down a mountainside. There’s a grey mist descending, and a soft rain. I want very much to know what they’re saying to one another. I’m so glad I persevered through the thick fog of my own creative process to get to this point.

Last week I wrote a post about Catherine Gaskin, a prolific writer who sold books in the millions. She described writing as ‘a slog’. Her words gave me hope that I’m not alone!

Are you a writer, and do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you combat it? If you have any tips at all, or any stories to tell from your own experience, I’d love to hear from you!







20 thoughts on “The misery of writer’s block

  1. Aloha Helena,

    OMG… LOL… you make me laugh. :-) I can SO relate to this. I feel the same way at the moment. I love the bits of paper you found afterwards. LOL. I HATE it when the Muses are away, which they are at the moment.. What started out as a two week holiday in the Bahamas, seems to have turned into a 5 month extended ‘holy-day.’ My only hope is that their visa’s run out soon and they have to come back!

    God, it must have been lovely to get that piece coming in. I can just feel it. I know exactly what that feels like. I love the boring characters, then all of a sudden, they look interesting. Kind of like when you’ve been talking to someone at a party say, and you’re wondering if you can fake a heart attack to get away. Then suddenly, they say something and you turn and look at them and think… Oh… you’ve got a brain or wow… I like that thought. I want to hear more. :-)

    I have a friend who was good friends with Michael Jackson. When he died, it took her about a year she said to find her creativity again. She’s a Hollywood screenwriter. So, I always think of that when I’m convinced, I will NEVER EVER write another decent word again in my WHOLE ENTIRE life. Yes, I do get a wee bit dramatic when it feels like this. LOL.

    I love you piccies with this blog too!! Perfect. That was fun and really interesting thanks Helena. I suspect that coming back from an award ceremony is not helping things either. It seems such a lot to live up to, doesn’t it. I think sometimes I put lots of pressure on myself internally.

    Well, I’m hoping the Muses have come back from their wee holy-day for you and that you find out what the hell they’re talking about going down the road. Now… I’m curious myself. :-)

    Great blog. Aloha Meg :-)


    1. Aloha, Meg! I’m sorry to hear your Muses are still living it up in the Bahamas without you :) That’s a great image. I’m absolutely sure they’ll come back to you, because you write in such a witty and entertaining way, and your FB page is really inventive. (And if anyone hasn’t discovered The Lush and Blush Club yet, you’re in for a treat!)
      I understand how your friend felt after losing Michael Jackson. Writing can be a double-edged sword for bereavement or depression. In some ways it’s good therapy, and it’s tempting to throw yourself into it wholesale. In other ways it just adds to your depression, because when you’re blocked you feel even more miserable and generally useless.
      Putting pressure on yourself is also a good point you raise. I heard someone say you should give yourself permission to write the worst thing ever when you’re blocked. Well, I think out of desperation I finally gave myself permission to write characters who were dull and who no one would ever want to read. My characters are slowly becoming interesting people. Your image of the party is another great one!
      The advice from all writers I’ve interviewed is “Never give up”. The story I’m writing now might not be the best ever, but I finally feel a little bit proud, and not totally useless, because I haven’t given up, and am still battling on.
      Keep on keeping on, Meg, as I know you do – and good for you! Hope the Muses come back tanned and toned and ready to go :) Aloha!


      1. Arghhhh.. Just left you a big long post and it wouldn’t post. Now lost forever. Grrr…

        In short… yes… grrr, little buggers, not even a postcard!!

        And thanks on my writing and The Lush and Blush Club. Come and have a wee look everyone. We have fun. :-) We’re redheads. Do I need to say any more :-)

        Hang in there with your writing. Do the ‘morning pages’ if you’re really going mad. They DO help. I should do them myself. Email me if you don’t know what they are. Julia Cameron’s ‘morning pages.’ They unblock me quite often actually.

        Thanks Helena… hang in there. It will get better. Your Muses WILL come back. They’re probably still in London, having a high old time, wee monkeys!!

        Aloha Meg :-)


  2. Helena, I enjoyed your post. I get frustrated when I’m working on a novel and the story won’t move along, so then I create puzzles or work on a children’s book so that I can at least make progress on something. But, at that point I feel like I’m forcing work. I have found that taking a motorcycle, jeep ride or a snowmobile ride in the winter helps clear my head.


    1. Hi Victoria, thanks for your comment. I like the way you do something else creative when your novel isn’t flowing. That’s made me realise that’s what I’m doing by gardening – at least it makes me feel I’m still creating something. I’d so love to do a snowmobile ride! What a fabulous way to clear the mind. Thanks so much for your helpful comment!


  3. LOL. Not laughing at you, Helena, but with you. Truthfully, I’ve never had writer’s block for more than a week or so…until now. It’s been FOUR MONTHS. My Muse is on extended leave…apparently…in the South of France. I hope she is having a good time, because I’m not.
    I have been working on a Paranormal/Historical/Mystery for over a year. It’s a YA story, my first. Totally out of my comfort zone. It is paranormal in the sense that there are psychic abilities, living gargoyles, and a few witches thrown in for good measure. It is historical because it takes place during the Great Depression. And it is a mystery about 3 little girls brutally murdered who “talk” to my MC, a 16 year old girl, and beg her to find their killer so their spirits can rest.
    I started this story knowing for sure who the killer was. I wrote 14 chapters knowing who the killer was. Then one morning, in the shower, another character started yelling at me about what a dummy I was, because it should be obvious that he is the real killer. Oh, GREAT. I went back to the first page and read all 14 chapters. Yep, he is correct. HE is the killer.
    So, a lot of editing in those first 14 chapters. Then chapters 15 and 16 moved smoothly along. Chapter 17. Page One. BLANK. It’s been BLANK for four lousy months! I’ve tried all the usual remedies: starting something else, taking walks, cleaning house, planting flowers. Uh uh, nothing has worked. Nothing has jump-started the mind working again. UGH.
    Sigh…sure wish that Muse would hurry up and come home.


  4. Thanks for sharing this, Helena. I think we all (or at least most of us) feel that way at times. My cure-all is to talk to my brother. Maybe you should give him a ring next time? lol


    1. Haha – great idea, Heather! Although actually my husband is very helpful when it comes to plotting romance novels :) Talking things though with someone interested really does help. Thanks for mentioning that great tip (and I’ll DM your brother on Twitter! :) )


  5. I had a bit of writer’s block a few years ago on my third unicorn novel. I finally ditched it to get the first one in order. Now I’m going to write it again, this time with a fresh mind. I have a tendency to just write and not care what comes out. I figure I’m kind of old and it doesn’t matter anyway. My whole life is not depending on it, unlike when I was in my twenties trying to make a living composing music.


    1. That’s a great point of view, Suzanne. Sometimes we demand too much of ourselves and are our own worst enemies. It helps to think let’s just write the bloody story – and get on with it! Thanks for your great comment!


  6. What a fun post to read! I loved it when you said the story rose ” like a phoenix from a bag of garbage!” I often get writers block when it comes to “in between” scenes. I have ideas of fun things I want to put in a book, but I never plan how the characters travel between them, so I usually write a few different scenes and pick the best one. More often than not I’m not interested in these sort of maintenance scenes, so I try to add little sparks of interesting things so that I’m interested, and then the reader will be interested too (at least that’s the idea…). I also write a jumble of notes for stories before I write them, or while I write, and I also find that somehow, a mesh of all this rambling and random speech from characters can turn into a good story. The only problem is doing it in any reasonable amount of time, because I usually find this takes a long time to get anything good out of it.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Mary-Jean! I can so identify when you say this takes a long time. I’d love to be able to organise my thoughts and get things written more quickly. Sometimes it just seems to take forever! And then that adds to my block, because I’m putting time pressure on myself. I also empatise with having all the fun scenes clear, but then having to get the nuts and bolts between scenes written in an interesting way. Anyone who says it’s easy to “churn out” romances ought to give it a try! Thanks for dropping by, and good luck with your writing!


  7. Oh, Helena. So funny. As someone said, not laughing at you but with you. My friend Jerrie Alexander (She won’t mind my saying this about her. She acknowledges it’s true.), swears up and down she’ll never, ever write another book, much less as good as the last one! She moans and groans and woe is me for sometimes as much as a month, until her friends and family are threatening to kill her. Finally the story clicks and she’s off and running.
    All y’all (as we say in Texas) are mostly pantsers, and I think that makes this particular bane of writers worse for you. Those of us who mostly plot (even though we may pants our way through scenes), have some direction from the beginning. Sort of a road map.
    Now, I’ve heard from enough pantsers that the mere idea of the slightest outline or guide, makes them shake as if they have the plague. So I’m not suggesting that you try this. But several of you have said what I do and many others: sit at the computer, put your fingers on the keys and type. Doesn’t matter what trashy garbage comes out. You can fix that. You can’t fix the blank page. :)
    My biggest problem is what you mentioned at first, Helena–Social media. But I’m taking a break from everything this weekend to work on my wip. It has some major issues in it’s first 27 K words. I’m dreading the hard work ahead to fix it. SM in all it’s forms (eg. this blog) makes me feel like I’m writing. We all know I’m not, LOL but it feels like it.
    So no SM for me this weekend, but to post my #100happydays post on FB.
    And to all of you with your Muses off galavanting the globe, tell them to get back home; because you’re writing with or without them and they could find themselves out a good job. LOL Good luck.


    1. I so sympathise with your friend Jerrie! And sometimes I think I must drive my poor old husband mad with my ups and downs of writing :) I’m so glad I wrote this post, and found out I’m not the only one who swears she’ll never write another book.
      Hope your social media free weekend works well, Marsha. All that stuff is useful for info, and I’ve got to know lots of people on FB, etc, but it certainly is a time suck! Thanks for your super comment, and hope all those holidaying Muses are packing their bags!


  8. Boy, do I ever know what you’re talking about.I think my muse just moved out and ran off to somebody more creative. I spend so much time reading and lining up speakers for F2K/WVU that I don’t write as much as I should.

    I enjoyed reading all the comments as well as your post..


  9. Hi Helena and all those who commented. I will definitely tweet and FB this post. I’m not sure I call it “writer’s block” so much as getting stuck. I have gotten stuck any number of times. Usually in the middle of the story, wondering where it’s gonna go next. For me, I must get away from the computer completely. Do something mindless, like exercise or a nice walk. I like the idea of traveling to the South of France :-)

    Another way for me to get unstuck is to go back and read everything I have written. If that doesn’t jar me from my inertia, then maybe the story is not ready for me. Maybe I need to work on a new story for a while. I can come back to this story later and perhaps the muse is sitting there feeling jealous and neglected and ready for some attention. That’s my hope, anyway!

    Thanks for a fun post.


    1. Hi Joan, I like your point about the difference between “getting stuck” and real writer’s block. I don’t mind getting stuck so much. In fact sometimes I quite enjoy it. Like you, I get away from the computer and do something different, and try to work out in my head how I can make the next part of the story work. For me, this is like doing a puzzle, and I actually enjoy this part of writing.
      When I’m blocked, though, there’s no enjoyment in it whatsoever. It’s like I describe in my post: all my writing and my characters just fill me with boredom, and I’m just not interested in working it through. It’s a different feeling.
      I like the idea of reading back some of your writing. That might help. Thanks very much for your tip and your useful comment!


  10. Hope your muse is still with you now, Helena! Great post – I never think of it as writer’s block as I just go off and work on a different type of writing, but I do get stuck in the middle of a novel at times. That’s why I love re-writing rather than the initial slog of getting it all down!


    1. The Muse is back and helping herself to tea and buns at the minute, Ros. Hooray! I’ll make the most of it :) She’s very fickle. And I know exactly what you mean about re-writing. I never mind it at all, or editing. “Slog” is the word for getting the first draft down, though!


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