At least, not in the way in which people think it does. In my opinion, the theory that writers sometimes sit in front of a blank screen and are unable to have any words come to them through seemingly sheer randomness is a fallacy.
But that’s wrong! I hear you say. I’ve had writer’s block loads of times! No, you haven’t. You’ve had a problem with your book. Let me explain.
Writer’s block, as a specific concept, is described by Wikipedia as a condition “in which an author loses the ability to produce new work”. This concept, on its own, just does not exist as far as I can see. Rather, I’d suggest that the inability to start, continue with or complete a writing project is actually due to a number of different problems. Writer’s block is not the problem; it’s a symptom of the real underlying problem.
So what are these underlying problems?
1. Poor planning
Many writers pride themselves in being ‘pantsers’ — that is, they don’t plan and instead like to fly by the seat of their pants, writing freely. If you often get stuck and find yourself unable to complete a piece of work while writing in this style, I’ve got news for you: you’re not a pantser. That’s absolutely fine; I’m not either. That’s why I write murder mysteries, which require an awful lot of planning.
A number of times I’ve got stuck halfway through books because I’ve not planned carefully enough. Whether you choose to use the snowflake method, beats or any other form of planning, try to plan your novel by starting first with a one-sentence description, then build it out to a synopsis of one or two A4 pages. After this, flesh it out into chapters, scenes and beats. By the time this is done, you’ll have your complete novel and will only need to write the prose.
If you’re still stuck, your problem might be procrastination. Again, that’s fine; I’m a procrastinator at heart too. Writing a novel (or even a chapter) can seem like a daunting process, which is why the process of breaking it down into small, manageable chunks can be hugely beneficial. Set yourself achievable daily targets and you’ll find that you’re soon well on your way to a finished novel.
3. The story’s gone dry
If you insist on pantsing and still get stuck, or if you’ve planned all your beats and find them difficult to write, you’ve probably let the story go dry. In short, it’s not interesting enough. This is your story, and if you’re bored with it you can be sure as hell that an anonymous reader is going to be pretty damn fed up by this point. For a reader to even take to your story, it’s got to really get your adrenaline going as its writer.
4. Lack of ideas
This is not strictly the same thing as the concept of writer’s block, but is another underlying cause of that symptom. Fortunately, ideas come to me very easily and I have notebooks stacked full of them, most of which will be potential novels (yes, my problem is procrastination) but for many people this isn’t the case.
Watch more television and films, read more books, play more computer games. I’m not suggesting you steal plots from anywhere else but I’ve personally found that the smallest little aspect of a film, TV show or book can spark something in my own mind, whether it be a particular character trait, location or perhaps your own personal theory as to whodunnit (as long as you were wrong, of course, as otherwise you’d just be copying the original).
So next time you’re sure you’ve got writer’s block, take a look at the four classic underlying causes and ask yourself which of them it really is. Once you’ve got that sorted, you’ll be well on your way to productive writing once again.