I used to be considered a "gifted" writer, winning contests and getting praise all throughout my school days... but I've lost it, completely. I have little to no desire to write, what I do write is forced and ugly and plain... It's writer's block that has been going on for years! I don't have a lack of ideas, it's literally just a forgotten skill. Do you have any advice on long-term writer's block? Or maybe an explanation?
Darling, don’t waste time worrying if you’re not “gifted” anymore because, I promise you, you still are.
I know that I have that same tendency, too. When it’s been a while since I’ve written and I can’t get back into it, my automatic thought is, “I lost it. I had it and I lost it. I might as well join Corporate America because my soul is dead.”
But there are a lot of explanations for why your writing isn’t coming out how you want! I’ll list a few of them below…
Explanations for Writer’s Block
- You’re out of practice. I can tell a difference in my “skill” after a week without writing – so if it’s been years? You’re probably very rusty. If this is the reason you’re struggling, my advice is to push through and write crap. Even if it disappoints you or you sit there thinking, “This is terrible this is terrible this is the worst,” just do it. Just force yourself through it. Eventually, I promise from experience, something halfway decent will come out. And it’ll get better from there.
- You’re lacking confidence. Another big ailment of mine – if I haven’t written something I liked in a while, I can count myself out before I start. So even if I push through and write, I either self-edit the whole time or I delete it when I’m done. That creates the effect of Returning to Square One, which negates my work in the first place. If this is the case for you, my advice is to look closely and find something to like about your writing. Even in The Worst writing I’ve ever done (and trust me, 2013 me was a nightmare to read), I’ve found a way to compliment myself. So read your stuff like you’re critiquing a five-year old. You’re not gonna sit there and tell a kid, “Dude this sh*t sucks lol delete your account.”
- You’re clinging to old ideas and old methods. If you “used to” write for X fandom or you “used to” write before class every day, that’s not a good enough reason to keep doing it. If you “used to” write without an outline or you “used to” feel like a damn wizard when you wrote, that doesn’t mean you’re able to do that now. And that doesn’t mean your talent has decreased. Writers are different in every new season – adjust for yourself. Stop expecting yourself to work under ancient systems and expectations.
- You feel uncomfortable with your author’s voice. This can be a simple matter of feeling inadequate/nervous – or you could even be annoyed with your own voice/writing style. This can worsen the more you read other classic books with “better” voices and compare yourself. If this is the case, my usual technique is to try to “rewire” my voice – try a different POV style or tense. This can change how your voice sounds, which can make it easier for you and your narration to play nice together.
- You can’t find the right character. This sounds like a small issue, but it makes a huge difference. If you’re unable to find/create a relatable or likable character, you’ll feel uncomfortable no matter what story you write. It’s like if a principal ballerina were to try to perform her signature piece in a smelly school mascot costume. You know what to do, but you’re just not in the right outfit! So it feels clumsy. It makes it hard to see how you look or what you’re doing wrong. It makes you feel like a bad ballerina! So try taking the time to find a good character. Fanfiction can be a good transitioning activity for you – pick your favorite book/movie/TV character and write in their POV until you feel comfortable again.
- You’re mentally or emotionally unhealthy. This sounds judgy, but trust me – 90% of my writer’s block crops up in times of poor mental health or emotional stress. Just like you can’t play baseball with broken ankles, you can’t write if your heart or your brain aren’t up to snuff. So assess yourself for undue stress, depression, anxiety (my big one), or mental exhaustion. Beyond that, make sure your heart isn’t clogged – so to say, make sure you’re emotionally accessible for writing. If you’re deep in grieving, dissociating, or facing any kind of emotional blockage, your writing is definitely going to suffer. It might be best to take time to work on these issues – otherwise you’re trying to row a boat with holes in it.
These are some of the main ones I’ve encountered in my time – and they’re definitely not the only explanations. If none of these ideas help you to get started again, be sure to message me! I’d love to discuss it with you personally :) I know how awful that limbo can feel and I definitely want to help if I can.
Thanks again, and happy writing (hopefully)! <3