This morning, I came across a list of tips on how to get through ten different kinds of writers’ block.

Pro Tip: there aren’t “ten different kinds of writers’ block.” There isn’t even _one_ kind. There is no such thing as writers’ block.


On a physical level, writing involves just sitting in a comfy chair and doing this for hours (mimes typing). This creates the entirely false impression that writing isn’t hard work. It is. Every writer seeks one of those effortless days in which it seems like you just go into a trance, and the thread keeps revealing itself as fast as you can pull it. But! That’s rare.

Every driver hopes that they’ll get to their destination in forty-three minutes, just as the GPS promises, without encountering any traffic, construction, accidents, or unclear road signs.

Every contractor hopes that the walls of this house’s kitchen were built plumb and level and according to building codes, and that the custom-cabinet maker built these units to the exact measurements provided.

Every cook who ever made a Thanksgiving dinner wants all of the parts of the turkey to be equally succulent, for the skin to be a crispy golden brown, and for the bird to be on the table on time.

Every scientist who ever tried to solve a fundamental problem of theoretical physics wants the numbers from his predicted result to be so close to the experimental result that the difference is statistically insignificant and the theory is supported.

But those things almost never happen, either. There’s no mystical, mythical obstacle in any of these physical activities. There’s a goal, and there are a bunch of unforeseen obstacles preventing someone from reaching that goal. You took a serious wrong turn somewhere; the two pieces that are supposed to fit together perfectly don’t fit together at all; it’s become very clear that you’re not going to be able to carve a food-porn-grade turkey at the table in front of your guests at 1 PM; your theory suggests that E = MC Hammer.

So you just crack your knuckles and work on the problems. You acknowledge that you went the wrong way and you get back in the right direction; you modify one piece or the other so that they do fit; you stop mourning the loss of your original plan and embrace a new one that’s just as good; you put it aside and determine to go back to it in a week or two with fresh eyes.

As a writer, you are never “blocked.”

Here, let me say it again, with more markup tags:

As a writer, you are never “blocked.”

The fact that you’re not actually writing doesn’t mean that you’re not actually working. You’re also working when you’re thinking. Figure out what the problems are and _solve_ them. Solve them in a half-assed way if you have to; slap enough duct tape over the problem that you can proceed to the next step. Go back later and improve it in the editing process.

Or! Just put the whole thing aside. Just for now. Even in the worst, most frustrating situation, you’re not “blocked.” You just can’t make any progress on this one thing.

So write something else. One good page about anything in your line of sight will prove that you can still write, and even if it doesn’t help you with a project that’s due soon it’ll still exercise those muscles that convert synaptic misfirings into something readable.

Or, walk from the desk to the sofa and read something else. Reading something that’s very good will inspire ideas of your own. At minimum, you’ll stop thinking about the kind of writing that you hate (your own Projectus Horribilus) and start thinking about writing that you love (Wodehouse; always reliable).

Or just knock off work for the day.

But don’t say you’re “blocked,” ever. And for the love of almighty God, don’t seek answers from the sort of madmen who insist and reinforce the idea that “writer’s block” is a real thing.

Your brain is highly malleable. If you train it to believe that you need to pull over to the side of the road and stop moving forward the instant a “Writer’s Block” indicator on the dashboard turns red, then over time, that’s the only solution it’ll ever offer you.

Writing is hard. That’s why so few people stick to it and actually finish things. It’s also why you have a right to be immensely proud when you finish something.

There is no such thing as “Writers’ Block.”


  1. Stephen Pickering

    In creative writing there is writer’s block. It’s caused when the critical factor of the brain comes in to do it’s thing before the lyrical side has had it’s chance to express itself. Easy to cure when one is conscious of that editorial factor coming in too soon. Just tell it to go away until at least the second draft.

  2. Walt K

    You’re right.

    Writer’s ‘block’ is bogus. For wusses.

    But writer’s ‘detour’, however, is real. Where you stop writing momentarily to take quick look at ‘Daring Fireball’ then end up pinballing across the internet for a few days, ending up eighteen nautical miles from where your prose is.

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  4. Stephanie

    Stephen, no offense, but before you make any more comments about writing, you may want to review basic grammar and the correct use of the word “its.”

  5. Sam

    At Stephanie — if your major hangup with writing lies within grammatical technicalities you’re missing the point. ESPECIALLY, with this article. I suppose you’d have a point if he was railing on grammatical issues — but come on, your takeaway from this is incorrect use of “its”?

    Regardless, great stuff. Constant movement beats standing still and feeling sorry for yourself. Acknowledge the resistance, recalibrate, and keep moving.

  6. Al

    Hi Andy,

    Your article reminded me of a comparison between “writer’s block” and “quarterback’s block.”

    Writer’s block is just as nonsensical as “quarterback’s block” in a football game. If quarterbacks run a passing play and then don’t throw the ball to their receivers, it’s not because the quarterbacks have a psychological inhibition that stops them from throwing the football. The quarterbacks don’t have any open receivers or they don’t see a receiver who’s open or they’re running from a 300-pound defensive lineman. Quarterbacks can always throw the ball. They may throw it well or they may throw it poorly, but they can always throw it.

    Likewise, writers may write well or they may write poorly, but they can always write. If writers have trouble writing, they don’t have the information they need to write.

    If you are experiencing writer’s block, ask yourself whether what you are writing contributes to your goals and strategies with your audience. Go back and think through the way you organized the content based on your goals and strategies. Do you have ideas that don’t belong together? Do you need to make some changes to the organization? Do you need to work on information in another section of your document so you can better understand what to put in the section that you’re having trouble writing? As soon as you understand the source of your difficulty, you’ll be able to write.

    Oh, and thanks for the moving tribute to Steve Jobs. He was responsible for amazing changes but also simple, wonderful changes like caring about customers.

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  9. Dan H

    Reporting on deadline for many years left me no room for (nor tolerance of) excuses such as “writer’s block.”

    In addition to the built in incentive of the deadline itself, a useful tip to get the words flowing is to skip that first paragraph which refuses to appear and instead start right in with the second.

  10. Toffer Surovec

    Andy, I didn’t read all of this. I skimmed it though. Why? Because I agree with you, It’s all there in the title and I could be writing instead of reading it. I skimmed the article you are responding to and it made me a little sick.

    Thank you for being honest and letting people know that creative work is more binary than people make it out to be. Either you are creating or you’re not. It’s when we get into whether what you’re making is good or not that things get gray.

  11. Michael A. Robson

    Dear Andy,

    Just wanna say I totally appreciate your quick wit, and your love for writing. I picked up “On Writing” because you recommended it on TWIT a few years ago, and have since gotten back into creative writing. I love it!! Please keep writing more… about writing! ;)

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  13. Rich

    This of course also applies to affairs other than writing. Something stopping you from doing X? Don’t just sit there lamenting about it; do Y instead. Y may be something that also helps do X, or it may be its own task needing completion that’s unrelated. Heck–in some cases, all you need to get moving on X again is a bit of waiting; here it doesn’t matter much what Y is.

  14. David

    I like your post quite a bit, Andy, and agree with it… however, when I went to the article you referenced I was mighty confused: that article says, in the second paragraph, that there is no such thing as writer’s block. So what exactly are you railing against? As a writer for 30+ years, I found their discussion of ten sources of, let’s call it Writer’s Angst, to be very informative. After reading that article I really found myself at a loss for what raised your hackles.

  15. Gregory West

    “Many fine people were out there living, people whose consciences permitted them to sleep at night despite their not having written a decent sentence that day, or ever.” –Jane Steinberg

    Try reading Dillard’s “The Writing Life”. Good read.

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  18. Max Leibman

    Thanks, Andy. A damn fine essay and a good reminder that there are reasons I’ve been procrastinating two pieces all week. The thing I struggle with most as a writer is remembering how hard it is, and that it’s generally been just has hard for most of the work I’m most proud of.

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  20. West

    Sure there is. Your article seems to define it in terms of work. You address this by suggesting that detours and breaks are part of the process and count as work so there is no “writer’s block,” but if the writer is trying to write but can’t, there’s a block there. It may be for the reasons you suggest, but that doesn’t negate it’s existence.

    This sounds like a professional gripe. Fair enough, but the term is not limited to the professional writer.

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  22. Frank

    Thank you! I have never been very good at writing, however I found the most important thing is to just start, write anything. Start at the end, middle or even random thoughts, just write something. You can always organize things later on the rewrite. Before the days of computers I remember going though tablets of paper. Today a simple word processors makes it easy. Thank goodness for cut and paste.

  23. R.Chenoweth

    This “leave a reply” rectangle that I’m currently typing in (mimes writing) certainly resembles a block or maybe more closely a brick………………………… uh, …………. sorry, “Typers Brick”.

  24. Mark HH

    It seems a bit ironic that it has been almost a month since you posted to this blog. I’m betting it is just “writer’s negligence”.

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