By Cassy van Eeden

“It has been said that writers have tidier houses than other people,” explains author, Rahla Xenopoulos. “When I start colour co-ordinating my underwear and sitting on Facebook, I know the god of literature is sending [me] signs.”

Writer’s block has many names and forms and each writer experiences it differently. But one thing is for sure, whether you’re a poet, novelist, copywriter or journalist, you will – at some point – come up against it.


But what is writer’s block? And how does it start in the first place? Many writers agree it comes down to fear.

Award-winning journalist and lecturer, Gillian Rennie, explains: “Writer’s block is industry terminology for a very real condition that can afflict all sorts of people, not only writers,” she says. “The condition is called ‘Fear’.”

“While writing my first book, I dealt with a lot of feelings of self-doubt,” explains Jana van der Merwe, senior journalist at YOU/Huisgenoot and a published author. “If one learns to deal with self-doubt and not let it consume or break you, it should only be temporary.”

Opinions don’t matter

As writers, perhaps what we fear the most is other people’s judgement of our work.

“I kind of imagine writer’s block as a person, this ogre we feed that thrives on insecurity,” Xenopoulos says. “So if you keep saying to yourself: ‘I’m not good enough, I’ll never get through this’, then the ogre will just get fatter and stronger. But if you keep writing and not caring about anyone, least of all your own opinion, you’re more likely to write through it.”

It’s all in your head

Unless you’re writing whilst simultaneously completing a rugged obstacle course, writer’s block is figurative, rather than a physical block. In other words, it’s something you create in your mind.

Step one is not thinking about it. “Thinking about writer’s block makes writers block,” explains Rennie.

Ruby Fourie, copywriter at 1886, agrees, “Writer’s block is all in your head. It’s good to get out of it sometimes and do something out of your comfort zone.”

Overcoming the ‘block’

This doesn’t mean that it’s imaginary, though. However, each writer experiences ‘blocks’ in different ways. They also cope with it differently.

Rest well, write well

“For me, [writer’s block] occurs when I’m very tired and mentally I just ‘can’t even’ anymore,” says Jenna Smith, copywriter at King James. “But, luckily, when I find myself at the point where I can’t seem to write anything useful, a good laugh, some fresh air and some caffeine always seems to help.”

“You need a lot of energy to stay with it,” agrees Irna van Zyl, a novelist and former executive director of New Media Publishing. “I believe that one must try to avoid to write if you are tired.”

For Julie Etheridge, specialist writer at Atmosphere Communications, there are only two remedies: stepping away and trying again and deadlines. “A looming deadline works every time,” she says.

Just write!

Above all, the most important thing to do is to keep writing.

“I need to sit it out and keep my pen going, because that’s the only way, really, to get through it,” explains Xenopoulos.

David Schild, copywriter at FCB Joburg, says, “Avoid the temptation to get away with mediocre output. Push through the block. Sometimes that’s where the best ideas come from.”

Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you cope with it? Let us know in the comments below.