Writer's Block: Why Do We Get It?

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I have been puzzling for the past two days over what topic I should discuss on my first science blog. However, no matter hard I tried, I could not seem to think of a suitable topic. Stupid ideas kept popping into my head over and over, and I was becoming increasingly frustrated. Well then it hit me. Not literally, thank goodness, but I knew that I had writers block. And I really wanted to find out why. And what better way then to blog about it? 
writersblock.jpgAs it turns out, unsurprisingly, writer's block is a psychological issue that occurs as a result of various factors. Distractions, lack of interest, loss of inspiration, these are all pretty self-explanatory when it comes to writer's block. How can you write a well-thought out blog entry or story if you keep getting distracted, or if the topic is simply not interesting enough for you? What if you aren't inspired enough? It can be hard to think of the right words to put down in these cases. In this article, J.K. Rowling even admits to getting writer's block! 

However, one big factor of writer's block, according to Rosanne Bane, is stress. According to her, neurologists have found that when a person is stressed of threatened, a part of the brain stem called the Reticular Activating System shifts control from the cerebral cortex to the limbic system. This causes a fight or flight response, behavior that is instinctual for humans. Without input from the cerebral cortex, that person is temporarily unable to preform analysis and creative thought. The person is often unaware that the shift happens, and becomes increasingly frustrated. He or she will attribute this with laziness and lack of willpower or creative ability.
Learning this information really helped me realize why I could not seem to think of anything creative or interesting to write about. Firstly, it was pretty late at night so I was extremely tired, and couldn't really focus seriously. I kept on getting distracted by Facebook and my I phone, and since I was sitting on my bed, I kept drifting off. I'd also been pretty stressed about the homework I'd been getting from my classes, and I was becoming increasingly frustrated that I could not come up with a topic.

So what is the best way to cure writer's block? Honestly? Just sleep on it. Your body and brain both work hard every day, and it is not very likely that you will come up with a revolutionary idea at one in the morning while stressing over a mountain of homework and the meaning of life. Give your brain a rest. My high school physics teacher once told me that when he could not figure out a difficult problem, he'd sleep on it, and upon waking up he'd know exactly what to do to get the answer. 

Another way to prevent writer's block? Prevent stress. Don't save all of your work for the last minute. And if you are stressed, take a breather. Put on some relaxing music, breathe slowly, and remember that you are alive and well and that you can do this. Take a mental break for a while and come back to it. You might just have a revelation. 

Picture: Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

1 Comment


I really enjoyed your post, and writer's block is something that like most people I can really relate to. Reading this post reminded me of a podcast I listened to a little while back which was an interview with John Lehrer on how creativity works. He talks about how there are two sides to it, one is the 'grit' side which is just forcing yourself to sit down and focus until something comes out. The other side is in line with what you were talking about. It's a moment of insight where you are simply supposed to stop thinking about it and do something else. He talks about the importance of unconscious thought processes, that "our unconscious is the massive supercomputer inside your head; it's a parallel processor; it can actually take in and digest a lot more information than your conscious brain." So when having writer's block, sit down and blow it out but if that doesn't work just relax and chill and try to forget about it and this can help lead to moments of insight.

Thanks for your post. You can listen to the podcast at http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2012/06/jonah_lehrer_on.html

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