Writer’s Block:The Stickiness of Stuck

What happens when you just can't get pen to paper. Your mind is full but nothing seems to flow to the page. How do you handle writer's block?

One of the greatest perks of being part of a blogging community, is the support and inspiration I receive from others. Thus was the case the other day when I was feeling a little stuck. I needed to talk it through and as usual all of my blogging friends were there to lend an ear and kick some butt! I wanted to share with you all today, one of my favourite writers who is there for me on a daily basis. I hope you all enjoy her post and find inspiration to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. I welcome today, a guest post by my fellow blogger, Henrietta Ross


Coleridge appears to be one of the first writers to have spoken about writer’s block. Most of the poetry he is remembered for he wrote in his mid twenties, after although he did other types of work, any ambitious writing project, inspired in him what he called ‘an indefinite indescribable terror.’


Writer’s bock as we now know it is quite a recent phenomenon. Before the nineteenth century, although all writers may have struggled with their craft, any creative inhibition synonymous with literature was unheard of. What changed you might ask.


Writers had always regarded what they did as something they controlled, you might say a rational and autonomous process, but the early Romantics believed that it was something a little more magical and otherworldly, something derived from a more mystical external process. Although other perspectives came to dominate throughout the century, the idea of the sensitive, rather unhappy, conflicted writer took hold in the public’s imagination, a notion that still steadfastly remains. Except now the concept of the ‘mad genius has been added to the exotic mix, most probably as a result of psychoanalysis taking off on America after the WWII.


Once compared to starving oneself, reliving some bizarre manifestation of the Oedipal complex, today, it is can be understood as a biochemical issue. In publishing, Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Kay Redfield Jamison made the case that much of the best poetry produced between the eighteenth and twentieth century had been by those suffering from Manic Depression. This not only highlighted the ‘mad genius concept beloved by society but also allowed for writer’s block to be seen from different angles. One that a prescription for Prozac might help with or even one manufactured by different responses in the limbic system, another derivative of our inbuilt fight or flight response.


It is not surprising then, that writer’s block is a western idea, it does not exist in many other cultures. In some ways, we can see it is perhaps something we have created ourselves, in keeping with popular culture. The philosopher, Ian Hacking has spoken about dynamic nominalism, the process whereby we invent a category, and then sort ourselves into it, behaving accordingly to whatever description applies. This could suggest that writers struggle with writer’s block simply because the concept exists and it is an easier go-to than uncovering the real issue behind their loss of prose.


This brings us back to language and the words we apply when we feel stuck. Do we not exacerbate the problem by using such loaded descriptions? Ironic that it is language itself that creates the conflict in a writer’s life don’t you think?


Whilst briefly explaining its roots, I must add that although I do not buy into the modern understanding of writers block, what I do have faith in is the creative process. I have always found that creativity follows this pattern …burst…..plateau…..burst and it is during the plateau phrases that one struggles as they are usually trying to force it.


We have to find a happy medium between having a disciplined approach and turning out 2000 words when lacking motivation (and remembering that motivation often comes after we start, not before) but also topping up our tanks when needed (and tanks always needed topping up). The saying, what we resist, persists is relevant in so many areas of our lives and we ignore it our peril. If that blank page is still blank two hours later and we’re slowly losing the will to live than surely we are resisting the process rather than merging with it.


Get up and find inspiration. As Jack London said, ‘you can’t wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club’. Top up that empty tank! Get outside, spend time in nature, spend time with people, read a book, scour the web, go out for the day. Do something, anything you love. Anything. Other. Than. Forcing.The. Process.


You need to refill your creativity in a natural way, soaking up everything around you. Listen, be curious, and always be proactive when using that club. Opportunities are too good to miss.


Alternatively, you could just write, write about feeling stuck. The annoying stickiness of all that stuck matter swirling around your brain is often undone by writing about it. Maybe, we are never really as stuck fast against that rock as we think, it’s just about focus and words,


Most importantly, these words, WRITERS BLOCK.


Watch the language you use, yes, we all become stuck, that’s called being human but don’t allow language itself to stop you arranging the alphabet in the way that delights you.




Henrietta M Ross is a writer and Blogger based in Scotland. When she is not metaphorically dumping her writing in impromptu places, you can either find her leaving your local charity shop with a wheelbarrow to transport the books, occasionally trying active mediation in a field as she wanders after sheep or dancing absurdly to cheesy eighties music because like Rockwell, she thinks somebody IS watching.

You can find Henrietta’s blog here: The Triumphant Weed

Follow her on Twitter at @HettsInDaHouse

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1 Comment

  1. Love your inspiring words on getting unstuck. Love the Jack London quote about going after inspiration with a club! I’m making myself sit down and live with that pain of stickiness and finding that only slogging through that mud seems to be the only way out!

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