Do you get writers’ block? Or is it really thinkers’ block?

Updated February 3rd, 2020. When you say you have writers’ block, is that really what it is? Or is it thinkers’ block?

Thinkers' block or writers' block

How do we get rid of thinker’s block when we’re writing?

Apart from a few partial exceptions (e.g. literary fiction perhaps) writing is not the be-all and end-all of the artsy-fartsy world. It is not even an art form like painting or drawing or sculpture.

Writing is a vehicle: a means of communicating your thoughts to your audience. And they need to be the right thoughts.

Purist trolls: line up here to call me a philistine cow

Whenever I say this I can hear the writing trolls’ teeth beginning to grind from 50 paces away.

But face it, kids. “If you don’t know what you think, you can’t write it down” as my friend and former colleague John Butman once wrote in a book we co-authored.

And thereby hangs a tale of a) why so many writers suffer from writers’ block and b) how they can solve the problem.

Have another look at John Butman’s words, with a little editing from moiif you don’t know what you think, trying thinking about the topic in a different way.

So many new authors / writers / bloggers just don’t get this!

Now that I’m working mainly as an author coach, I am amazed at how often wannabee authors tell me that “I want to write a book.”

A no-brainer? Uh-uh. The moment critique comes when I ask them what they want to write a book about.

“Not sure. I just want to write a book.”

Hold it right there. Writing a book is not like getting a facelift or having butt implants which will change your image and augment your sex appeal forever.

Writing for almost every purpose is about sharing your thoughts: the right ones

And here we go back to the basics of communication with a soupçon of marketing mixed in. It basically means that whatever thoughts you share in your writing, they need to offer some sort of value to your readers.

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That is true of all the following instances, plus a few:

Business books: especially when self-published without professional advice, so often are the “expensive business card” that sings the author’s praises and achievements without sharing any of that how-to-succeed juice with the reader. Such a wasted opportunity and waste of readers’ money.

Self-help books: ditto. So many so-called self help books, once again especially (but not exclusively) when self-published without professional help, tend to be all about the author and their experiences. OK, you can extract some life lessons from reading about their dramas and failures. But why can’t these books start with the life lessons readers need to learn, and just back that up with the authors’ personal experience? Wrong way around, surely.

Memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, etc: many of these make watching paint dry seem intoxicatingly exciting because they are all about what seemed of interest to the author. The author’s job here, if they want to grab and keep readers’ attention, is – where appropriate – to show the reader why the experiences described are unusual, shocking, emotional, funny or whatever, and why those experiences are worth thinking about and remembering.

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What to write to business prospects so you stay in their thoughts


Fiction: yes, that’s right, fiction. The value people get from fiction is entertainment, and any fiction you write has got to meet that criterion. That means your thoughts need to be focused on brilliant plots, believable characters, blood-curdling monsters, plausible space travel, or whatever is relevant to the genre concerned.

Blogs and articles: here we’re getting nearer to the marketing criterion of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) and you need to be thinking very hard about delivering some serious value to your readers before you even fire up your laptop.

Advertisements: these are the top of the WIIFM totem pole. People who write ads based on the concept of “buy my stuff because I pride myself on how good it is” are wasting everyone’s time. OK, that’s what you may think but communicating that thought to a potential customer isn’t going to earn you too many brownie points. It’s like a couple on a first date where one says, “you’ll want to start a relationship with me because I pride myself on what a wonderful person I am.” Talk about a turn-off.

So how do we get rid of thinker’s block when we’re writing?

Chances are, if you’re honest with yourself, you haven’t done enough thinking and what thinking you have done does not focus hard enough on WIIFM.

To raise that block you need to stop thinking subjectively about your writing task.

When you’re gazing at a blank screen or sheet of paper wondering what to write, instead try role-playing into your readers’ shoes. What can you come up with that will share something they don’t know, remind them of something they need to do, excite them with a story that will keep them turning the pages until three a.m.?

If you get your thinking running along those lines, you’ll usually find that the writing happens organically. Certainly works for me, anyway!

Do you suffer more from thinker’s block than writer’s block?

Please share your thoughts!





  1. This is a great article… you’ve certainly got me thinking 🤔