I’m a Bad Writer: Why Can’t I Write?

We’ve all been hit by writer’s block to some degree! Poets, novelists, screenwriters and writers in many other fields have all discussed this condition. You might ask yourself, why can’t I write? You might also be tempted to think, I’m a bad writer.

It might show up as rendering you completely unable to write a single word, or just feeling like you don’t know where to start, or even that what you have written is bad and the good writing is somehow blocked up! 

Writer’s have long discussed suffering from the condition. Epic poets in the ancient world used to call on the Goddess muses to fill them full with inspiration! Imagine begging a God to unblock you. Let’s make that a last resort. 

Writer’s block is now a well discussed area in the field of psychiatry, and some forms of writer’s block can even be explained by changes in the brain, which are recognised medical conditions. 

What we’re talking about here though is sitting down at the desk (or standing at your fancy standing desk) and not being able to produce work as quickly, or as well, as you would like or normally do! Check out some techniques below to help unblock you.  

Here’s the answer. Not being able to write doesn’t make you a bad writer. There are some simple solves to the question ‘Why can’t I write?’ You should try using technique, abandon perfectionism, take a break, refill your tank, reduce distractions, use images, change your audience, and let your subconscious do some work!

Curing Writer’s Block with Technique

Rather than calling on the divine muse for inspiration, or trusting in your own mysterious creative ability, it might be worth developing a creative technique that you can reliable fall back on when inspiration dries up. 

Have you considered reading about the fact many people consider there are underlying plots structures to many of the great works of literature. Check out The Hero’s Journey, and the works of Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler. 

There are unlimited books out there that will offer techniques to fall back on for plotting, characterisation, setting and many other areas. In fact, check out the rest of this website for many helpful tips and tricks to consider when inspiration is playing catch me if you can. 

Perfectionism Can Cause Writer’s Block

We all want to write as well as possible 24/7. Isn’t the ultimate dream to be able to sit down and write something, and then to read it back and really like your own writing? Imagine.

Hemingway famously said that the first draft of anything is terrible. And Tim Winton has referred to his first drafts as ‘bilge’ drafts i.e. rubbish. 

If you are hovering over your keyboard and agonising over each word, remember that rewriting is easier than writing, and that most writing is rewriting. Just bang out that first terrible draft, and then get to work prettying it up. 

Defeat Writer’s Block by Taking a Break

How hard have you been working? Biologically we’re probably not meant to do the same thing over and over again endlessly, especially when it’s not actually bringing in any resources, or even making us happy!

Take a well earned break for goodness sake. Whether it’s five mins, or a couple of months, you shouldn’t let writing cause you too much pain. Arguably, nothing is worth sacrificing your well-being for! 

Agatha Christie used to write 2000 words before work every morning apparently – so it’s worth considering writing in short regular bursts like this. And lots of writers discuss having about two hours of ‘juice’ in them per day. Many will write first thing in the morning, and then take the rest of the day off!  

Tim Winton has discussed never forcing a story at all by having multiple tales on the go at once (at different computers). If the flow dries up in one story he’ll just shuffle down the desk to a different computer and give that one a go!

Refill the Tank

Ever feel like you’ve used up all your creative juice? Try figuring out what restores that juice.

For me it’s the natural world. A walk by the sea or through some wilderness makes me feel energised, inspired and ready to write again! What does this for you? 

Reduce Distractions

Many authors speak of ‘writing flow’. This occurs when your sense of time passing diminishes, and you just write uninterruptedly. While this state can’t easily be achieved, you can do some things to make it more likely, such as reducing distractions.

Turn off your phone (if safe to do so), close all the social media windows, and don’t look at the news. 

Time Based Writing

Sometimes setting yourself a task like ‘finish chapter 2’ or ‘finish the second stanza’ is going to create anxiety, partially because it’s impossible to anticipate how long finishing chapter might actually take. Perhaps you really need to do two more weeks of research before you will be ready to finish chapter 2.

One way to overcome this is to set time based targets. For instance, set a timer for an hour and just write for that hour. Then, if you have worked for an hour, you have achieved your goal of working for an hour regardless of what you have written.

Use Images to overcome Writer’s Block

If you are trying to describe a certain landscape, print out a picture of that landscape and stick it on the wall. 

Or if your poem is about your children, have a photo nearby! 

Change your Audience 

If you are paralysed at the keyboard, you might be terrified by the audience you are imagining. Try imagining a kind and understanding reader, who likes your work, and understands what you are trying to achieve.

If you imagine that very aggressive creative writing teacher who hates you, then you might just give up before you begin. 

Let Your Subconscious Work On It

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest our brains continue to work on problems long after we’ve stopped consciously thinking about them.

Once you’ve come to a problem – like how to finish chapter 2 – then perhaps take a break from the project for a day or two and see if you have more clarity when you return to the keyboard! 

Write an Outline of Exactly what Happens First

Writing lovely prose and working out plot at the same time is hard. Consider getting your plotting done prior to turning it all into fiction / poetry / a screenplay / your essay. 

Flesh out your Characters – find Greater Depth and Reality

If you spend time making your characters feel more alive and complex, then they can often almost tell you what happens next in the story. Character development time is almost never wasted time, because all the work will start to sneak into your writing without you having to try! 

Burn out

Obey the burnout screech.

Feeling tired? Exhausted? Overworked. Take thee a holiday. Put your well being first.

If you don’t have much money, remember that authors like Patrick White were independently wealthy and had their whole lives to work on their writing. While you have to slave away to make a living. Hardly fair is it?

Pray to the Muses

When all else fails do what writers have been doing since the dawn of literature and pray to the nine female muses to fill your with divine creative power!