Writer’s Block and Anxiety

It’s 9:47 PM, and I have only written 1,172 words in the past 58 minutes. I feel like I am running at 100 mph with a two-ton weight chained to my leg. I feel like I am not getting anywhere, and I feel like I am going unbelievably slow. The funny thing is I know I am not going that slow. In fact, looking at my spreadsheet (which you can read more about here “tracking your progress,”) I know I am doing far better than I was three weeks ago. I used to write at about 500 – 600 words per hour, and now on a bad night, like tonight, I’m still hitting 1234 words per hour.

Maybe it is just because I had a few days where I was close to 2,000 words per hour. It felt like the words were flying off my fingers faster than I could type, except my hands somehow were keeping up with my mind, which was a great feeling. So when my hands are outpacing my thoughts I guess that makes things feel a bit slower. Well before writing this post, I told myself I should think positive, instead of thinking of the negative things which sometimes haunt my mind. Things like, I’m bad at this, or my manuscript must suck, or why even bother. Instead, I told myself to focus on the things I know I am good at, what my beta readers have told me I am good at, and as it turns out, UNC agrees with that idea.

“Writing anxiety” and “writer’s block” are informal terms for a wide variety of apprehensive and pessimistic feelings about writing. These feelings may not be pervasive in a person’s writing life. For example, you might feel perfectly fine writing a biology lab report but apprehensive about writing a paper on a novel.

You may struggle when you are:

  • adjusting to a new form of writing—for example, first year college writing, papers in a new field of study, or longer forms than you are used to (a long research paper, a senior thesis, a master’s thesis, a dissertation) (Hjortshoj 56-76).
  • writing for a reader or readers who have been overly critical or demanding in the past.
  • remembering negative criticism received in the past—even if the reader who criticized your work won’t be reading your writing this time.
  • working with limited time or with a lot of unstructured time.
  • responding to an assignment that seems unrelated to academic or life goals.
  • dealing with troubling events outside of school.

This is how I was feeling. I was fine working on my world building, I was making excel sheets left and right first the word count tracker, and then a fictional language creator/manager (more on that in the new few days) but when I sat down with my manuscript, working on a chapter that I had been excited to write, had plotted ou from beginning to end, it just seemed that nothing was going to come of it. I knew I needed to fix that.

Identify your strengths

What was  I good at, well my beta readers, who I have begged and pleaded with to give me as brutal of feedback as they can, have told me many good things. Such as I can paint the scene for them where they feel like they are there. They can picture every detail and get sucked into the story. They love the descriptions I use, the way I link the plot together. So while I might have some work to do on characterization (I’m doing a lot better, I promise) I don’t need to focus on that right now. Not that I don’t need to improve, but if it makes me feel like crap and stops me in my tracks, I can focus on the positive for now, and tackle the hard stuff tomorrow.

So what are your strengths? UNC gives some great examples. Maybe you

  • explain things well to people
  • get people’s interest.
  • have strong opinions.
  • listen well.
  • am critical of what I read.
  • see connections.

Whatever it is you do well, focus on that when you feel like you’re up against at an emotional wall. Don’t let your inner editor and critic tell you that you suck, tonight, they suck.


6 thoughts on “Writer’s Block and Anxiety

  1. BS. 500+ Words / hour is no writer’s block. Writer’s block is

    a) 0 words / hour or
    b) n words / hour but you throw them away.

    Everything else is just different approaches to work.

    • Hey Tagschattten, thanks for dropping in and leaving some feedback! While I agree that it might not seem like writers block to some, I would argue if you write 500 words and then can’t write anymore, would that not be writers block? Isn’t the inability to produce words or producing words you throw out writers block? I don’t think that there needs to be a division by a period of sleep or whatever else one might have between writing sessions to consider it writers block. I personally don’t think you have to be stuck from the beginning of your writing session for it to constitute as writers block, but to each their own.

      I just hoped the post would help others struggling with not only writer’s block but also anxiety.


      • If I left the impression to doubt your motives and intentions, please forgive me. That I don’t. I just think you do not have an all to clear concept of a true block. You describe more of a “struggling”, a “rough patch”, which may or may not lead to a block. A true writer’s block, however, is one the most frightening experiences you may encounter. You lose your inner voice. It turns silent all of a sudden.

        Let’s elaborate. Let’s say you have written two modestly succesful novels, hey, even the critics liked it, and you’re mid-swing on your third. In my case I would write 3000 words a day at most, usually more around 1200 to 1500 in that situation. Your editor can’t wait for the next pages – he is f***ing thrilled.

        And then, all of a sudden, your inner voice turns dead. You can’t write anymore. You lost it. For this day. Then the next day. And the next. After a week you force yourself to write on. It gives you almost physical pain, but you try. 1000 words, okay. You read them the following day. They stink, you know it, it’s obvious, you throw them away. Lather, rinse, repeat. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, deadlines loom, seasons turn and you don’t return the calls of your editor. The novel you have been working on all the while dies inch by inch.

        *That* is writer’s block. I hope I could convey the horrors, English is not my native language. A few popular psychological tricks like “focussing on your strength” do not help. As a writer you know your strenghts. You know your weaknesses. You dealt with them over years day-by-day. It is not an “emotional wall” you are fighting. It is an almost psychosis-like state that slowly strangles the part of you you value most. Every day you live with the fear to never write a good sentence again.


        • I totally get what you’re saying, and I think that you’re are describing writers block spot on, a very very bad case of it in fact. I myself hit that wall a few months back and stopped writing altogether. I had been in the zone, doing good, getting great feedback from readers when all of a sudden I couldn’t do it anymore. Nothing seemed right, and no matter what I did I could not get words on the page. This time around, I didn’t hit that wall, I was able to get past it before I stopped me in my tracks as it had before. I did physically feel pain in my head trying to get something out, but I took that step back and evaluated the situation. What stopped it from going into full blow writer’s block were the things I listed above. I think if I had not done those things, I would have dwelt on the negative thoughts and feelings which would have only served as a catalyst to increase the speed at which the block came on.

          Hope you yourself have overcome the block.

          Have a great night, and good writing!

  2. I think that this is more of a funk than writer’s block. Both are terrible to have, but at least in a funk you have SOMETHING on the computer screen. When your inspiration runs dead there’s just nothing there, the screen’s blank, and you’ll wish you could at least type a thousand words in an hour. Also, I think a lot of people are just hyper critical of themselves, causing funks to naturally happen. They look back on how they wrote this many words, or how they made an awesome bit of dialogue. Then they take a look at what they wrote today and it’s…mediocre, to them anyway.

    The only way out of a funk or writer’s block is to just push the whole thing away and focus on something else. Give the mini writer in your head a chance to nap, and then a few days later go plunk away at the keyboard.

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