13 Writers on Writer's Block

By Emily E. Steck

The psychological condition was first coined in 1947 by Edmund Bergler to describe a dry well of creativity, usually from writers who have developed insecurities. Here are thirteen successful writers on what they believe writer's block is. 

  • Neil Gaiman

    “Suggestions? Put it aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it (printouts are best I find, but that’s just me) as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time.” 

  • Mark Twain

    “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

  • Ernest Hemingway

    “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”

  • Charles Bukowski

    “Writing is something that you don't know how to do. You sit down and it's something that happens, or it may not happen. So, how can you teach anybody how to write? It's beyond me, because you yourself don't even know if you're going to be able to. I'm always worried, well, you know, every time I go upstairs with my wine bottle. Sometimes I'll sit at that typewriter for fifteen minutes, you know. I don't go up there to write. The typewriter's up there. If it doesn't start moving, I say, well this could be the night that I hit the dust.” 

  • Hilary Mantel

    “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”

  • Terry Pratchett

    “There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write.” 

  • Megan Spooner

    “Writer's block' is just a fancy way of saying 'I don't feel like doing any work today.” 

  • Barry Lyga

    “I don't believe in writer's block. Writer's block is when you're running down an ally and all of a sudden you're trapped by a brick wall. You can't go under, over, or through it. You're stuck. But the problem isn't that you can't pass the brick wall. You see, the problem is that you went down the wrong ally.” 

  • Elmore Leonard

    "You hear of writers having such a tough time. They say, 'I can't make it work', and I always think, 'Why not?' I don't believe in writer's block. I've only been stuck briefly but then something will interrupt my day. I'll focus on that and when I go back to my work, I'm not stuck any more.When I started out, I found a writer I liked and learned from him. I liked Hemingway because he didn't use too many words. He'd leave out descriptions of people so the reader could visualise what the characters looked like. When I saw he did that, I thought to myself: 'Hey, I can do this.'"

  • Alexander McCall Smith

    “Writer’s block is a load of nonsense – I’ve always been a bit suspicious of it. It’s more likely to be a symptom of depression or maybe they’ve just got nothing interesting to say. Using your imagination to create a work of fiction involves exercising the mind and the more you do it, the more adept you become. I go to Botswana for a couple of weeks a year and I just open my eyes to the opportunities in everyday life. Most of my writing is what I have in the bank of memories I’ve accumulated.”

  • Charlaine Harris

    “I think writer’s block is a way the brain has of telling you you’ve taken a false step. I think you need to wait a day or two, then start reading your work from the beginning, and the false step should become apparent.”

  • Norman Mailer

    “Writer’s block is only a failure of the ego.”

  • Anne Lamott

    “The problem is acceptance, which is something we’re taught not to do. We’re taught to improve uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings. But if you accept the reality that you have been given – that you are not in a productive creative period- you free yourself to begin filling up again.”