Writer's Block

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

writer's block
"Sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better," says American author Anna Quindlen. "Not writing at all leads to nothing" (quoted in Parade, April 20, 2012). (Dominik Pabis/Getty Images)


Writer's block is a condition in which a skilled writer with the desire to write finds herself unable to write.

The expression writer's block was coined and popularized by American psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler in the 1940s.

"In other ages and cultures," says Alice Flaherty in The Midnight Disease, "writers were not thought to be blocked but straightforwardly dried up. One literary critic points out that the concept of writer's block is peculiarly American in its optimism that we all have creativity just waiting to be unlocked."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "You don't know what it is to stay a whole day with your head in your hands trying to squeeze your unfortunate brain so as to find a word."
    (Gustave Flaubert, 1866)
  • "Why is suffering a major criterion for writer's block? Because someone who is not writing but not suffering does not have writer's block; he or she is merely not writing. Such times may instead be fallow periods for the development of new ideas, periods Keats famously described as 'delicious diligent indolence.'"
    (Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain. Houghton Mifflin, 2004)
  • "Although it can be triggered by any number of internal or external stimuli, the vital function that writer's block performs during the creative process remains constant: inability to write means that the unconscious self is vetoing the program demanded by the conscious ego."
    (Victoria Nelson, On Writer's Block. Houghton Mifflin, 1993)
  • "I think writer's block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible."
    (Roy Blount, Jr.)
  • William Stafford's Remedy for Writer's Block
    "I believe that the so-called 'writing block' is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance. . . .
    "Well, I have a formula for this that may just be a gimmicky way of explaining it. Anyway, it goes like this: one should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing."
    (William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl. University of Michigan Press, 1978)
  • Eminem on Writer's Block
    "Fallin' asleep with writer's block in the parking lot of McDonalds,
    But instead of feeling sorry for yourself do something about it.
    Admit you got a problem, your brain is clouded, you pouted long enough."
    (Eminem, "Talkin' 2 Myself." Recovery, 2010)
  • Stephen King on Writer's Block
    - "There may be a stretch of weeks or months when it doesn't come at all; this is called writer's block. Some writers in the throes of writer's block think their muses have died, but I don't think that happens often; I think what happens is that the writers themselves sow the edges of their clearing with poison bait to keep their muses away, often without knowing they are doing it. This may explain the extraordinarily long pause between Joseph Heller's classic novel Catch-22 and the follow-up, years later. That was called Something Happened. I always thought that what happened was Mr. Heller finally cleared away the muse repellent around his particular clearing in the woods."
    (Stephen King, "The Writing Life." The Washington Post, October 1, 2006)
    - "[M]y son, fed up with hearing me complain and whine about my 'illness,' gave me a present for Christmas, Stephen King’s On Writing. . . . The simple theme of this remarkable book is if you really want to write, then shut yourself in a room, close the door, and WRITE. If you don’t want to write, do something else."
    (Mary Garden, "Writer's Block." Absolute Write, 2007)
  • The Trick
    "[Y]ou don't want to face the blank page. You'll do anything to avoid writing. You'll go clean your toilet before you write. So I finally figured it out. I've done the most writing this year because of a trick I've figured out. . . . The trick is you gotta find something worse than writing. [Laughing] That's it. That's the trick."
    (Robert Rodriguez, quoted by Charles Ramirez Berg in "The Mariachi Aesthetic Goes to Hollywood." Robert Rodriguez: Interviews, ed. by Zachary Ingle. University Press of Mississippi, 2012)
  • The Lighter Side of Writer's Block
    "[Writing is] brutal, slogging work, comparable to coal mining, but harder. You never hear coal miners complaining about Coal Miner's Block, wherein, try as they might, they simply can't bring themselves to mine another piece of coal. Whereas this kind of tragedy befalls novelists all the time, which is why so many of them are forced to quit working altogether and become university professors."
    (Dave Barry, I'll Mature When I'm Dead. Berkley, 2010)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Writer's Block." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/writers-block-1692613. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Writer's Block. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/writers-block-1692613 Nordquist, Richard. "Writer's Block." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/writers-block-1692613 (accessed May 30, 2023).