Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues:

  1. Not knowing what you want to write; i.e., you don’t have an idea (“idea block”)
  2. Knowing what you want to write but being unable to (an actual “writing block”)

Writer’s block and idea block have different solutions and causes.

Idea Block

Sometimes “writer’s block” is really an issue of having nothing to say, not that you can’t find the words to say it.  What appears to be a writing issue is an idea one.  If you don’t have an idea, you have nothing to articulate, which is why you may find words hard to come by.

If you don’t have an idea, I recommend not sitting down in front of a blank screen, which many find intimidating.  It’s arguably better to brainstorm and let your mind wander, and if the blank screen inhibits that, walk away.  If you’re okay with the blank screen, then having a file of story ideas or notes – as opposed to the momentous manuscript file – takes the pressure off and lets you write stuff that doesn’t have to work, or where the actual writing is irrelevant because it won’t appear in the story.

Other times, we have some ideas but just not enough of them, or they aren’t thought out enough and we don’t realize it until trying to articulate them.  Again what appears to be a problem with words is really an idea issue.

Sometimes we’re indecisive about what should happen in the story, from whether to include or mention something like back story, or whether a character will/would do something or not.  Other times, we have several ideas for what should happen and can’t decide which one to pursue.  These are characterization, story structure, or plotting issues.  If you can’t decide, you can’t write it.  Recognize that these are the real issues and make a decision about what should happen and why.

Art of World Building Banner


Writing Block

To me, real writer’s block is when you know what you want to say but are struggling with the actual words to do it. No matter how you try, phrases don’t seem to work together, everything is awkward, or the lines you write just don’t inspire you.

Not being in the mood can cause it, as can fussing over wording too much and wanting to get it perfect the first time.  Common wisdom suggests just blurting it out and getting it “on paper”, then improving the writing later.

Grammar can actually be a cause, too, if your sentences are not really fitting together or you are using misplaced modifiers, for example.  It pays to be a student of English and have this aspect of writing firmly under control so you can focus on what your words convey.

If you know how something (a person, or room) in your story looks but can’t decide how to write it, or even if you should include it now, that’s also writer’s block.  One solution is experience, whether gained via writing or learning more about the craft of storytelling.  For example, most consider it a mistake to start your story with description.  If you understand why and why not, you can make faster decisions and not get stuck, or “blocked” by indecision.

Sometimes you really just don’t “have it” and need to come back later.  For this, I sometimes practice writing opening sentences to stories or scenes in my head, where they are easily discarded.


Understanding the difference between idea block and writer’s block can help you overcome whichever one is causing your lack of progress. Sometimes people beat themselves up over writer’s block, telling themselves they aren’t a good writer, when that isn’t even the issue, so be nice to yourself and just figure out what the problem really is, then solve it.

Happy writing!

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad Read More …

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve Read More …

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their Read More …

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book Read More …

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease Read More …

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters Read More …

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over Read More …

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of Read More …

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Read More …

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode Read More …

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to Read More …

2 thoughts on “Writers Block vs. Idea Block”

  1. Excellent blog. I agree with your premise entirely. I find whenever I think I have writers block I actually encounter information (idea) block. I’m wanting to write about something I know nothing about and apparently don’t seem to have enough good sense to recognize right away that I (duh) don’t know what I’m talking about (oh, so hard to admit). I run an online writing school and would love to include snippets of your blog in one my my newsletters or even as a reference in my classes.I would, of course, include your link. If you want to know more about my school the url is http://bookcampfornovelists.com

    1. Hi Connie. Thanks for the comment. Sure, you can use it for your newsletter. Thanks for the shout out! Rand

Comments are closed.