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TACKLING WRITER'S BLOCK: INTRO, AMBITION, AND GROWTH

Tackling Writer's Block Part 1: Intro, Ambition, and Growth

By Amelia Cusanno


The Origin Story

Ah yes, the age-old question of “How does one overcome writer’s block?”

Once, I had the privilege to meet with an author who churned out 1-2 books per month, and upon asking how they dealt with writer’s block, they responded, “Well, if you’re dealing with writer’s block, your skills aren’t developed enough.”

Having spent years honing my own skills, and helping others develop theirs, the concern about writer’s block pops up constantly. I love hearing other thoughts and ideas— I want to learn how other people manage. And this author I spoke to wasn’t entirely wrong. Skill, experience, and exposure does play a major role in our ability to quickly conjure up the right words, decide on important plot points, etc. Our ability to write is always evolving. It is never a linear process with a big neon sign at the end of the road announcing, “CONGRATS! YOU’RE A PRO WRITER!” But to reduce every potential hurdle along that road with “You’re just not good enough yet” isn’t particularly helpful in my opinion, so after mulling over the topic, I developed a breakdown of the most common writer’s block hurdles I have dealt with myself, and have witnessed others suffer through. 

To save your sanity, I have separated this breakdown into 3 parts (starting with this one). Parts 2 (Inspiration) and Part 3 (Burnout) will be posted to the Made in Millersville Journal blog as well so you can easily find and reference each as needed.

A major thing I want you to do while reading this series is reflect. Consider your past and present projects, along with your writing experiences and tactics. Reflecting on who you were versus who you are now as a writer, along with specific things you’re worried about in your writing, will help narrow down what specifically is preventing you from finishing a draft. While most of my examples, prompts, questions, etc. will be centered around poetry and fiction, you can apply some of the tips to research papers and nonfiction essays or prose as well.

This is purely based on my experiences and the experiences of others I know personally, so I encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below. 


The Curse of Ambition 

Writers are forever dealing with that nasty voice in the back of our heads telling us we are garbage at what we do. If you, dear reader, have somehow not confronted the woes of Imposter Syndrome/being your own worst critic, then I am honestly shocked. Alas, it is often true that we tend to take on projects beyond our strengths, and we need to do a bit more growing before our abilities match the criteria of the project in any meaningful way. 


First, consider what you’re working on now:

  • What exactly are you writing? What genres/styles/mediums do you want to work with, and are they totally new to you?

  • Have you ever written something like this before, and if so, how was the experience? Tedious? Boring? Exciting? Cathartic? All of the above?

  • What parts have you struggled with most in the past, and what are you struggling with now? 

  • Example: I incorporate a lot of imagery into my writing, heavily relying on sensory details and physical descriptions. Realistic and engaging dialogue, on the other hand, is a demon I am constantly battling.. 

  • Big Question: Is it too ambitious at this time? 

  • You have to challenge yourself eventually to improve, but if you typically write essays or poems, then you’ll likely need to work your way up before you can complete a full-length novel.


When I was in high school, I was excessively ambitious with my writing goals. For example, I came up with a YA fantasy series, only to find myself unable to move past the first couple chapters. I had too many ideas on how the story could progress, but no way to arrange those ideas. I kept adding more and more characters, each duller than the last. I was overwhelmed by worldbuilding, so locations turned vague and stereotypical. I had never written something so massive before, and as much as I loved fantasy, I wasn’t familiar enough with the genre at the time. The story was simply too complex, so it was abandoned. 

While I’m unsure if I’ll ever complete that series, I still write little bits and pieces for it once in a while. I keep all of my old notes about the magic system. I’ve moved onto other novels that I’m, so far, having much more success with. So if you find yourself stumped and overwhelmed, here are some ways to move forward:


“Get Good.”

First and foremost, seek out fellow writers. Build a community of cheerleaders and (constructive) critics that will provide outside perspectives and expose you to a wider range of concepts and techniques. There are countless groups online and in-person that are dedicated to writing development, so choose one that is most accessible and comfortable to you. Writing intensive camps, classes, guilds, workshops, and clubs will all connect you to other storytellers. Many colleges and universities also have writing/tutoring centers to provide additional support, especially for more analytical or research based projects.

When I was in high school, I signed up for creative writing electives, a writing intensive summer camp, and joined online communities. Later in college, I took countless writing/literature classes, attended virtual writing workshops hosted by published authors, and joined my campus’ Creative Writer’s Guild. With Guild, I showed up weekly, experimented with new styles and genres based on the weekly prompts we were provided, shared even when I hated what I wrote, and encouraged other members to be as thorough as they could when critiquing. I thrive on knowing what did or didn’t work. Not everyone is comfortable with this, and that’s totally normal. Letting your beta-readers and peer reviewers know what kind of feedback you respond best to is incredibly useful. Understand that sharing your work is an inevitable step in developing as a writer. 

On that note, take feedback. Seriously. Listen to what others say, recognize it isn’t a personal attack (well, most of the time), and try applying it to your work. Sometimes, people’s constructive criticism simply doesn’t work for you and that’s okay too! Maybe it doesn’t fit the general vibe or style you’re going for, maybe it’s out of character, maybe it simply does not sound like you. Pick apart what elements of someone’s feedback did or did not feel useful for what you’re trying to achieve. If someone is being rude, vague, or generally tearing you down in a nonconstructive manner, then it’s probably a good move to ignore it. Not that it can’t be insightful, but if you’re a newer writer, then it’s going to take some time to distinguish the helpful from the just plain mean. 

Experimentation and challenging yourself is a surefire way to grow and find new niches that you never considered before. If you find yourself in a similar situation to younger-me when I was trying to write an entire fantasy series, then do what I did and put that project on the backburner. Start small.


  • Give yourself a lower stakes, smaller prompt related to what you want to do in order to practice. Is it bad? Good. You’re still practicing. 

  • Want to write a poem for the first time but don’t know where to start? Look up structure guides for villanelles, pantomes, sestinas, and other poetry styles, pick a random topic (i.e. beetles, water bottles, libraries, Romeo and Juliet, whatever), and try it out. 

  • Once you’ve completed one poem based on your chosen theme, take that theme and reapply it to a different poetic structure. Choose a new rhyme scheme, new rhythm, and have fun with it.

  • People will warn you against overusing thesauruses and dictionaries (never sacrifice authenticity for the sake of sounding intelligent or profound), but they’re still good tools for when you’re struggling to find just the right word or phrase. You’re building an artistic arsenal, after all.

  • For when you’re blanking on what word you want to use: https://onelook.com/thesaurus/ 

  • For when you’re struggling to describe different emotions: https://descriptionary.wordpress.com/ 

  • For when you need something to rhyme: https://www.rhymezone.com/ 


My final piece of advice for writing development is immersion. I’ll explain more in the next section, but joining writing communities and exploring more works similar to what you’re trying to emulate (along with works that are wildly different from what you typically prefer), will expose you to so many perspectives, ideas, concepts, plots, characters, and styles that you won’t find if you stay in a bubble. 

As I said before, becoming a skilled writer is an unending process. I don’t intend to scare you off with that sentiment, but it is the truth, and one of the many beauties of writing. So go easy on yourself. Find fellow writers, get your work out into the world, listen to constructive criticism, experiment, challenge yourself, and seek resources to help you better understand the language, tropes, cliches, and archetypes at play in your writing. Your brain is essentially building new highways for problem-solving methods to travel down. Giving yourself time, space, and patience to build these highways will make it noticeably easier to pinpoint what you’re struggling with in the future and how to fix it.


Now onto Part 2: Lack of Inspiration!





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