When it Feels Like the Words Will Never Come Again
Examining long-term writer’s block, its causes, and what to do when it strikes.
If you are a writer, chances are you have experienced writer’s block.
When I think of writer’s block, I usually think of a short-term, temporary condition. There is a lot of advice out there on how to come up with ideas when you are having trouble finding a writing topic, or how to come up with the next words in your story.
But what about when what you are experiencing feels like more than a temporary block? What if you’ve tried all the tips and tricks that can you find, and yet you still can’t seem to put any words on paper?
What if it feels like you will never write again?
I’ve been writing in some form or another for as long as I can remember, whether it was my childhood stories that were mostly self-insert fantasy, my angsty teenage poetry, or the short stories and essays that I wrote while I was in college. More recently, my main writing outlet has been blogging, but I still write fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction.
However, I would say that I have been writing “seriously” — by which I mean with the intent of writing something that I could publish and make a career from — for the last five or six years.
In that time, I have experienced countless bouts of writer’s block. And there have been many, many times where the will to write left me altogether, and it felt as if I might never write anything of substance ever again.
So why does this happen? I’m not an expert, but in my experience, there are three main causes of long, seemingly unending stints of writer’s block.
Problems with mental health
I have dealt with anxiety and depression off and on since I was about twelve or thirteen. During times where I was having a particularly bad episode of depression or my anxiety was worse than usual, writing became almost impossible.
When problems with mental health are at the root of my inability to write, it doesn’t really matter how many writing exercises I try or productivity tips I read about. The will to write simply isn’t there.
Mental health issues can make it hard to concentrate, come up with ideas, feel motivated, or even see the point in writing at all. When I do write while depressed, my writing tends to be negative and a little dramatic (which is why I wrote so much sad, angry poetry as a teenager).
What’s more, the longer I don’t write, the harder it is to start writing again. When I am struggling with my anxiety and depression, usually the only things I can do are wait it out or force myself to just write a line or two of something, even if that is just a couple thoughts about my day in my journal.
Past rejection/fear of future rejection
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say that you shouldn’t let fear of rejection stop you from writing, I would be on a luxury vacation to Europe right now. But the fear of rejection is very real and is another common cause of long-term writer’s block.
For me, this fear is not always conscious. It’s not like I constantly go around thinking that everything I write will be rejected. More like, if I’m already having trouble coming up with something to write, the little voice in the back of my head goes, “Oh, it doesn’t matter anyway because nobody is going to read it.”
If you’ve experienced rejection in the past, then your fear might be even worse, or you may feel like you are a terrible writer because of your rejection. That doesn’t mean these thoughts are reasonable or true. I’ve been rejected from journals and from writing jobs, but I don’t think all of my writing is and always will be trash. I realize, logically, that there are a lot of talented writers out there, and I am not going to get every writing job or be accepted to every journal I submit to.
Still, rejection isn’t fun. And I would be lying if I said that I didn’t ever wonder if my writing really is just terrible. But even if my writing isn’t where I want it to be right now, that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. It just means I have to write more. And risk getting rejected more.
I also like to think of all the successful authors out there who were rejected many, many times before they finally made it. Stephen King, JK Rowling, Margaret Mitchell, Madeliene L’Engle: all of these authors faced tons of rejection before eventually going on to produce bestsellers.
While not everyone will have the same success as these authors, the point remains: a few rejections does not a failure make.
Feelings of Shame or Embarrassment
This ties in pretty closely with a fear of rejection, but stems less from the idea that your writing will be formally rejected and more from a fear that other people, including and maybe even especially those you are close to, will judge you harshly or think differently about you based on what you write. This can be particularly true, at least for me, when the writing is non-fiction or otherwise highly personal.
This fear of embarrassment is the main reason that I’ve always had trouble being super open about my writing with the people I’m closest to. If some person I don’t even know on the internet doesn’t like what I have to say, oh well. But if someone I love doesn’t like my writing, it feels more like a personal judgment against me.
Feelings of embarrassment are another big reason for my longer-term bouts of writer’s block, especially when it comes to non-fiction writing. I start to worry that, even if I finish it, I could never let anyone I know read it, and so it could never be published, so what is the point of writing it in the first place.
There are only two bits of advice I can offer if you are struggling with feelings of shame and embarrassment when it comes to your writing. This first is to write with the idea in mind that no one ever has to see it if you don’t want them too. Even if your ultimate goal is publication, you can still give yourself permission to act like no one you know will ever read it so you can at least get that crucial first draft down.
The other piece of help I have is to reassure you that it is unlikely that your family and friends will be as judgmental and unsupportive as you fear they will be. Unless you are writing a vicious hit piece on your family or something, chances are if they love and respect you they will support you in your writing if it is important to you.
And if by some chance they aren’t, the world will not end. You will just need to find the people who are supportive of you, and maybe reevaluate how important the negative person’s opinion is in your life.
Some final thoughts
If you are going through a time where you feel like you might never write again, it might be helpful to try to narrow down where those feelings are coming from. Whether it’s one of the three areas I listed here, or something else particular to your life, by at least getting to the root cause of your block you may be able to better figure out how to fix it.
With all that being said, if you find yourself feeling as though you may never write again, for whatever reason, at least know this: you are not alone. The words may not come today, or tomorrow, or next week or month. But if writing is a part of you, if it something you feel called to do, they will come again.
Grace Carlson is a writer from Washington. She writes about travel, mental health, writing, and books. Sometimes she’s funny, or at least that’s what her mom says. Visit her blog, A Passport And A Pencil.