25 Famous Quotes on Writer's Block
October 24, 2023
Writers’ block. We’ve all experienced it from time to time. Staring at a blank page, watching a blinking cursor, and yet…not a single sentence feels right. Such is the curse of the writer.
Luckily you’re not alone.
Many of the greatest writers of all time have suffered from writer’s block at one time or another, and some of whom have been gracious enough to share their wisdom over the years on how they were able to bust through their blocks and create works that have lived on for many years later.
Below we rounded up quotes from 25 writers on writer’s block. Hopefully, their wise words will inspire you to return to the page and get typing!
“If I get frustrated, I’ll go eat something, I’ll go open another Diet Coke, I’ll go to the barn, I’ll distract myself, and then the parts in my brain that were working click and I get an idea. I read an article about how to learn to play a musical instrument. You practice, practice, practice on Friday, then you walk away. And then when you sit down on Saturday, you’re better. Not only because of all the practice but also because of the walking away. I’m a firm believer in walking away.”
— Author Jane Smiley
“In the middle of writing something you go blank and your mind says: ‘No, that’s it.’ You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying ‘I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for.’ [The cure for writer’s block is to stop] whatever you’re writing and [do] something else. You picked the wrong subject.”
— Author Ray Bradbury
“I think ‘writer’s block”’ is a natural part of the creative process for almost all writers. There are times when one is bursting with ideas and inspiration and all the necessary components—time, focus, etc.—are in place. But there are other times when one or more of those elements is missing and writing is more difficult as a result. I have written for long enough to accept these patterns, and to understand that the blocks are temporary, that eventually, if one sticks to a schedule and tries to write on a regular basis, something will eventually come. I think a lot of what people refer to as ‘writer’s block’ is the period during which ideas gestate in the mind, when a story grows but isn’t necessarily being written in sentences on the page. But it’s all necessary, in the end. If I am feeling stuck or uninspired, I usually take a break and read. That always gets me going again.”
— Author Jhumpa Lahiri
“I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me. I keep working steadily because I believe it is our privilege as humans to keep making things. Most of all, I keep working because I trust that creativity is always trying to find me, even when I have lost sight of it.”
— Author Elizabeth Gilbert
“Yes. It’s awful. It’s the worst feeling. It affects you in a couple ways because 1) You’re not turning out work that you’re excited by. 2) And the audience knows you don’t give a shit.
Luckily, I’ve been able to use Seattle to develop a lot of new material very quickly (for me) over the last couple of years. That’s a new phenomenon for me. Seattle tends to jog it out of me. I think it jogs it out of me because I have an audience who knows what I’m doing. They are supportive and let me play. Writer’s block is miserable and part of it can be just being in a really bad place. Sometimes if you’re just in a bad mental place, it doesn’t matter what work you put in. You have to fix bigger things than your writing.”
— Comedian and writer Hari Kondabalu
“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you'll never write a line. That's why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”
— Author Erica Jong
“If it doesn’t come roaring out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.”
— Author Charles Bukowski
“I think writer’s block is a bad name for a number of real problems facing writers, most notably of which is fear. Typically when I feel blocked, I’m really afraid. And almost always, that’s because my next step feels like a leap instead of just doing the next thing. If I feel stuck, I have to ask myself what am I really afraid of and is that really my next step? For example, if I’m working on a book and start to feel stuck, it’s usually because I’m doubting myself, wondering what right I have to talk about this topic. Who am I? But that fear is misplaced. It’s not the right time to worry about that. My job right now is to write the next 500 words, not worry what the critics will be saying a year from now.
The way out of this mess is through...I write through the block. That may sound ridiculous, but even when you’re blocked you can still write...Momentum is a writer’s friend.”
— Author Jeff Goins
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
— Author Stephen King
“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.”
— Author Jennifer Egan
“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.”
— Author Ernest Hemingway
“Every single project has its [moment] of not knowing where to turn next…A lot of times when we’re stuck, we’re just afraid. Or we’re dredging up all this stuff, overloaded with words and images. All these different things distract us from our own ideas…I’m a visual thinker, so I’ll try to get through the scene and seek solutions that way.”
— TV writer Colleen McGuinness
“You fall into that spiral. Step out and go and get in the shower and let the water run over you and something will click.”
— Writer/producer Kristi Korzec
“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘The cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”
— Author Maya Angelou
“Put it [your writing] 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.”
— Graphic novelist Neil Gaiman
“Do you ever go into the bathroom and sit on the toilet when you don’t need to take a shit? Do you ever just sit there completely empty and sit there and push? No, you don’t. You go eat something and then you live your life and what happens, happens. It’s the same thing with writing. If I don’t have an idea that I’m not absolutely terrified of losing, then I don’t bother to write.”
— Author Chuck Palahniuk
“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.”
— Author Mark Twain
“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.”
— Author Alexander McCall Smith
“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for 1,500 meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9 p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.
But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”
— Author Haruki Murakami
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page”.
— Author Jodi Picoult
“Confidence is a static state. Determination is active. Determination allows for doubt and for humility — both of which are critical in the world today. There is so much that we don’t know, and so much that we know we don’t know. To be overly confident or without doubt seems silly to me. Determination, on the other hand, is a commitment to win, a commitment to fight the good fight.”
— Author Anna Deveare Smith
“Writer’s block is the biggest myth out there. The idea that you’re just lost for any possible words isn’t some vague illness that strikes people when they’re trying to be creative. You’re not missing the words; you’re missing the research. All ideas are a combination of preexisting ideas. So if you’re “out” of new ideas it’s probably because you don’t have enough old ideas to combine. Go back and read more. Or spend more time mapping out the book. Don’t show up to the keyboard.” without a plan and then tell the world you have writer’s block. You’re lying to us and to yourself.”
— Author David Burkus
“I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.”
— Author Malcolm Gladwell
“Every day, writing. No matter how bad. Something will come.”
— Author Sylvia Plath
My best advice about writer’s block is the reason you’re having a hard time writing is because of a conflict between the GOAL of writing well and the FEAR of writing badly. By default, our instinct is to conquer the fear, but our feelings are much, much less within our control than the goals we set. And since it’s the conflict BETWEEN the two forces blocking you, if you simply change your goal from “writing well” to “writing badly,” you will be a veritable [fountain] of material.
— TV writer Dan Harmon
Written by: Brianne HoganBrianne Hogan is a freelance writer currently based in Prince Edward Island. A film studies graduate from NYU, her byline's been featured in Creative Screenwriting, ScreenCraft, The Huffington Post, among others. "Jurassic Park" is unashamedly her favorite movie (at this moment). You can follow Brianne on Twitter via @briannehogan