The Five Complexes of Writer’s Block

One of the challenges that writers may encounter is Writer’s Block, or the big bad WB as I called it in an earlier blog, to which I’m no exception. 

I’ve compiled a short list of 5 different psychological blockades that impede writing, bear in mind that these are from my own observations and experiences, and since a problem usually requires a solution, I’ve proposed those as well.

1.     The Sisyphus Complex

Sisyphus by Franz von Stuck, 1920.
Creative Commons

No matter how many times you re-write your story, it always needs another rewrite – it will continue to have faults and it will continue to need fine-tuning. So just like Sisyphus, you are condemned to role a boulder up the hill and reach the top only to have it fall back down again, over and over and over.

You’re a writer not a computer and beauty lies in imperfection. If you wanted to be precise you would’ve become a scientist (and even they have their share of imprecision and imperfection). As Dr. Phil says, “Get real!” Get over it, it’s never going to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be.

2.     The I’m not Ready Yet Complex

Not ready yet

This is my own pet WB complex. Also known as the scaredy-cat syndrome. This complex is the one where you don’t submit ‘cuz u think you ain’t no good, and maybe one day when you’re all grown up, you’ll be a real writer. In a mild case of this complex you simply might not submit anything you write because you think you’re just not ready. In a more extreme case you might spend days, months or years unable to face a blank page because you feel you’re not ready yet.

For the first type, just get on with it, you’ve already waited this long. For the second, if you can write a shopping list while thinking about the things you might need and are capable of jotting these down, then you can also write creatively. Give yourself a pat on the back the next time you go grocery shopping, you’ve done it, the grocery-shopping-list muse is always there to the rescue. Now, get your ass behind a computer (or a blank page, or PDA, or the same shopping list paper) and write. You can do it; you just proved it.

3.     The Idle Complex

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Her Eyes are with Her Thoughts, 1897
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Life sometimes gets in the way of writing, it might be that at the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is sit down and write about your character’s life. The mere act of having to write one sentence seems like the biggest task in the world, so instead you sit down and surf the net/ watch TV/ or take a bubble bath. The next day you realize you’re an idiot because instead of writing, you spent your time being idle.

Life happens and time’s short but if J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter in 10 minute breaks and Stephen King wrote his first novels while working two jobs and Stephanie Meyer wrote her book in between her hectic life, and… well, you get the picture.

Have you ever considered that it might not be that you don’t have enough time, but that you might have too much time?

4.     The Poor Me Complex

Pietro Perugino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hl. Sebastian
Pietro Perugino c.1500

Also known as the “I’m-all-alone in this world complex”. This one is a tough one, because you probably haven’t written anything since someone critiqued your writing and you took it personally, maybe it was intentional (shame on him/her) but most likely it was unintentional. You can’t write and thus pine away in silence. There’s a saying in Spanish that fits’ this complex: “you are not a gold coin to be liked by everyone”, well neither is your writing.

A different side of this complex is not external but internal. It might be that it’s just yourself who thinks you suck as a writer. Perhaps you want to be the next Shakespeare but all you write is urban fantasy, and you hate urban fantasy, and snub every second of it.

Maybe you need a change of perspective: know thy audience and thy self, don’t discard popular writing – consider that both Shakespeare and Charles Dickens were popular writers in their time and became literary canons because they were popular. Your urban fantasy/ mystery / detective or whatever genre it is, your story might just become famous one day. If, on the other hand, you think you write too narrowly, only for a certain niche and you want to be popular, then think of William Blake (though he became famous posthumously). You can’t really get more ‘niche writing’ than that as he self published about 20 copies of his books. But he is now regarded as one of the best poets.
Don’t indulge in self-pity, leave that to your characters, narrative voice and whatever else you create.

5.     The Grass-is-Greener-on-the-Other-Side-Complex

Stuart Wilding [<a href="">CC-BY-SA-2.0</a>], <a href="">via Wikimedia Commons</a>
Stuart Wilding
Loch Midhinis

Someone else has already written what you wanted to say and it’s so much better than what you could’ve ever come up with. Why don’t you just give up? You’ll never be able to compete. And so you won’t, especially with that attitude.

But why compete anyway? Have you ever heard of genre? You can have several books on the same topic, theme, plot, characters, etc. Yours will be unique, because (drum-roll here): It is yours. Tada!  It’ll never be the same as anyone else’s (well, only if you plagiarize, and that’s not writing that’s copy-pasting). Consider the theory of there being only 4 basic plots (or 7 or 9 or however many they have managed to classify, it’s still a small number). Everything is like everything else. That’s the beauty; it’s similar, but not the same. Go ahead and look at your neighbor and instead of saying that theirs is better, say: Hey! That’s like mine, let’s be friends.


P.D. My thanks to Suddenly Jamie’s blog posts on the WB on nhwn that got me thinking about writer’s block and the complexes thereof.

17 thoughts on “The Five Complexes of Writer’s Block

  1. Sofia, thanks for these tips! Even during a creative spurt, some of these can apply — especially the Sisyphus “re-write” syndrome. Duly noted!

    I loved the illustration by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema — “Her eyes are with her thoughts.” Very intriguing.

  2. I think I am suffering from the Idle complex and can find a zillion reasons not to sit down and do what I need to do. Maybe this is just what I need to quit procrastinating. Thanks, Sofia. 🙂

  3. Great post! I think it’s important to recognize why a person is not writing and find a solution. That way the person can make writing the norm and not writing the outlier in their life.

    I’ve heard so many people say if only I had time or if only I had a quiet place to write, but they never get around to writing. It’s a choice. To allocate the time, to create the space. To sit at the desk and do the work. It is not easy. And it’s messy and painful at times, but you have to keep at it. If you want to be a writer you must write through and around the rest of the stuff in your life.

    1. It sure is not easy, that’s why sometimes writing is like being caught up in a whirlwind, you need an impulse to drive you, because it’s so easy to give up!

  4. Good stuff. A little guilt inducing, but still good stuff. Yeah, I know I could be writing, yet perfecting my game of hearts, checking my emails, browsing websites–it’s all important, right?

    Happy pages,

    1. I hadn’t thought about the guilt part, perhaps I should include that as part of a solution, like: guilt trip your way into writing :-). I do consider reading a book as research ,and writing a blog as writing creatively, so of course checking emails and browsing websites counts!

  5. Sofia, this was quite a dynamic read. I can see myself in each one of these complexes at one time or another along my writing journey. And your advise to overcome it is spot on. Thanks so much for the great thoughts and inspiration. I believe I’m over most of these blocks…but sometimes, you know, you get a little “you’re not good enough” nudge. Great to know how to overcome that!

    1. Blocks are hard to overcome, so kudos on that! And one of the bigest insecurities the not good enough one is one of the worst, but the important thing is to keep on writing, thanks for stopping by 🙂

  6. This is so good! Really enjoyed the names given and the explanations as well. Absolutely true – the comment on having too much time at “The Idle Complex”- it made me laugh.

    It also made me think of one of my pet peeves… I’m always fascinated with people who believe that they’re only productive when they’re writing. In producing art, the processes of creativity always play a role. I believe it’s a certain mindset. You begin with the preparatory work where you focus and explore all dimensions. Then you have the incubation stage where your unconscious mind battles it out, here you have to wait whether you like it or not. Afterwards, you get your eureka moment (yeah!) and finally, you write it all down. I think that if you don’t go with the flow (but try to manipulate the outcome) then you develop these wonderful complexes 😉

    Coming back to your question at the end of your blog… I guess my complex is “I’m not ready yet” I could fill three life times just playing around at home… without a television. I think I get stuck in the first stage of creativity where I keep browsing for more and more dimensions to a project because everyone has seen what I have seen….If I just read a little bit more…. If I just visit some more museums, or watch more intellectual programs…

    1. Glad you liked it! That incubation stage idea is really true, sometimes you are not writing or being creative because you pushed yourself too hard. Perhaps there should be a Great Expectations Complex too 🙂 Thanks for your input, and leaving a comment!

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