When Writers Freeze
When Writers Freeze

We all know what writer’s block is; common enough, it afflicts creatives as often as the common cold. But I’m going to talk to you today about something slightly rarer and far more frightening: writer’s freeze.

When You Can’t Think of Anything to Say

Writer’s freeze happens.

It’s different from writer’s block; with writer’s block, we have absolutely no ideas, no clue where to go next, and no hint what our story needs.

Writer’s freeze is worse: it’s when you know where you need to go, and maybe how to get there, but when you sit down to write it, your brain just stalls.

It’s baffling. Frustrating. Then, frightening; it’s like running a race, seeing the finish line (or at least the next marker), but suddenly finding your legs will no longer move.


This is writer’s freeze.

What to Do

This will be one of the least pleasant things you’ve ever had to do: write anyway.

Yes, it’s probably going to suck. You will likely have to rewrite everything you put down this time around.

You still need to write it.

“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
—Gene Fowler

Even if all you can manage is as basic as, “See Jane run. See Jane open the door and kill a vampire. See Jane close the door and call the police,” you still need to write.

I used to find it hard to start. Fear of the blank page. The first thing you write down won’t bear any relation to what’s in your head and that’s always disappointing.
—Victoria Wood

The Source

Writer’s paralysis comes from three places:

  1. Fear (of doing it wrong, of being somehow caught, of shame or failure or weakness).
  2. Weariness (stemming from an exhausting life, from loads of stress, from having nothing left in you when you finally sit down to the page).
  3. Numbness (also inertia; comes from the challenge of getting moving again after a long time not doing it).

So often is the virgin sheet of paper more real than what one has to say, and so often one regrets having marred it.
—Harold Acton

Fear leads us to believe that if we don’t try, we can’t fail. It’s insanity; if you never try, you’ve already failed, but the fear of seeing hopes and dreams fall apart because we “tried” and didn’t make it tends to overwhelm.

The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.
—Jules Renard

Weariness is work. It’s work; it’s hard work. Even when we know where we’re going in the story, sometimes, it’s hard to get going with any steam in that direction.

I won’t tell you to “just make time” for writing. I know you can’t make time. You have to take it.

It means taking it from something else. It means giving up something good in order to put time and energy into writing. It means you’re prioritizing – and to choose to prioritize writing is a difficult thing because we often feel like we’re being selfish when we do.

Let me tell you this: you are not being selfish. Taking time from other things to write is good, not bad. But it takes an awful lot to believe that.

If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages.
—William Campbell Gault

Numbness is a bizarre and frightening state to find one’s self in. The urgency is gone, except in bouts of panic in the middle of the night. When you sit down to write, you just find yourself wasting that time instead, doing just about anything other than writing.

That’s inertia. That’s the direction you were already going.

The only way to change that is to start writing.

Think of it as a train, slowly beginning to move. No matter how powerful the engine, it takes time to get a train moving – but once it gets going, nothing can stop it. Anything in its way gets mown right down.

Your writing will be the same way. You have to get it going. Once you get it going faithfully and smoothly, you’ll find the things that once pulled you away lost most of their power.

Just Start Writing

It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like writing or if you are afraid you can’t write or if you’re too tired to write. You need to start writing.

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.
—Vladimir Nabakov

If you’re willing to forgive yourself and write, the words will get better. They will.

But you have to keep going.

Don’t let writer’s freeze steal away your time.

Write. Forgive the bad stuff. Write.

Here are some more quotes to help you get your engine going:

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
—William Wordsworth

Find the key emotion; this may be all you need know to find your short story.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.
—William Makepeace Thackeray

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.
—Francis Bacon

First thought best thought.
—Allen Ginsberg

Every writer I know has trouble writing.
—Joseph Heller


A three-times bestselling author, Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and been the keynote speaker for the Write Practice Retreat. Author of two series with five books and fifty-plus short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom and used up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon in the process. When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away. P.S. Red is still her favorite color.