Posted by: Cathy | October 17, 2012

Symptoms versus Root Issues

A writing or creative block is one of the most painful things an artist can experience; but a block doesn’t just happen, it is the symptom of a larger issue. I’ve experienced my share of writing blocks, some of crippling mass. They all feel the same, even though their causes are different.

Causes of my writing blocks have included the following: procrastination on supportive work (historical research, proper plotting/planning, etc.), outrage upon discovering someone else with a similar idea, fear over completing the first phase of a project, and insecurity with the content I was writing.

It’s easy to dismiss your fear and insecurity by saying “I have a block,” but you can’t cure a block, you can only deal with the causes. Trying to get over a block without addressing the causes is like trying to punch through a brick wall with your fist; you’ll only hurt yourself and get nowhere.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
-Albert Einstein

If you find yourself blocked, the first thing to do is to take a step back. Stop what you’re doing, get some fresh air, and put some space between you and the problem. Maybe take a few days off, or even a week, and try not to think about it.

Once you’ve taken a break, write down just the facts; ignore the story you’ve built around the issue. For example, the story around one of my blocks might have been, “This novel is too difficult to write, it’s impossible to find the historical research I need to complete it.” The fact is, what I needed to learn wasn’t in the first six or so sources I tried and I don’t know where else to look, so I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s challenging, but not impossible. If I really want to finish the novel, I need to keep looking or change the plot so I can drop that piece of historical research and move on. (I must say, that last bit just blew my mind! It never occurred to me to drop it until I wrote that sentence. I may be able to get back to that story next year :3)

After you’ve written down the facts, take another break; go for a walk or go make a cup of tea. Then sit down again with your facts and decide where you can take action. In my previous example, I can brainstorm more sources to research or I can look at my plot and see what changes would be necessary if I drop that piece of research. If the fact is you’re afraid to take the next step with a project, write out the details of what the next step entails and try to pin-point what exactly is making you hesitate; journal to explore your feelings about it; and maybe find someone who has gone through the same process and ask how they did it.

Once you have some action items figured out, you can plan to move forward again.

You can move past your block or problem. Don’t get bogged down with symptoms. The only way to solve it is to address the root issue.



  1. I LOVE your comment that: “It never occurred to me to drop it until I wrote that sentence.” That is a *fantastic* revelation to have. I am looking forward to seeing where you take this story 🙂

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