How Not To Allow A Blank Screen To Defeat You When The Words Go Missing

Written by Hugh W. Roberts

My name is Hugh. I live in the city of Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom. My blog covers a wide range of subjects, the most popular of which are my blogging tips posts. If you have any questions about blogging or anything else, please contact me by clicking on the 'Contact Hugh' button on the menu bar. Click on the 'Meet Hugh' button on the menu bar of my blog to learn more about me and my blog.

November 16, 2022

Some believe writer’s block is a myth, while others claim it has ruined their writing career. It can last a few days or many years. How do you deal with writer’s block?

Fortunately, I discovered writing challenges early in my blogging journey. I found them beneficial when staring at a blank screen and words failing to travel from my brain to my fingertips.

But there have been times when I have faced writer’s block when taking up a writing challenge. For whatever reason, the prompt does not motivate me to write. My creative cogs refused to budge, and even walking away from the screen and going on a walk failed to get them turning.

Has this ever happened to you?

Last week, I had one of those blank-screen moments while trying to write something for the weekly 99-word flash fiction challenge here at the Carrot Ranch.

After coming back from a long walk, I thought I’d be able to knock down the writer’s block wall, but it would not budge.

As the blank screen became a nightmare, I started panicking and thinking I would fail. Then I had one of those bright spark moments when I thought, write anything.

As the words began their journey to the screen, a story in my head began to form. I saw a woman sitting in a comfy chair, staring at her husband, who she thought was ignoring her again.

Why was he ignoring her? I asked myself. The words began to flow.

Then another question popped into my mind. ‘Why did the wife think her husband was ignoring her?

It wasn’t long before I had a story from two perspectives.

After writing both stories, I set them aside for 24 hours and allowed them to rest. The next day, I read both stories and began editing them.

I don’t know about you, but I never publish the first draft of anything or write and publish something on the same day. Didn’t I read somewhere from a well-known author that the first draft is always, umm, shall we say, something that attracts flies?

But although writer’s block seemed defeated, I now had another dilemma. Which of the two stories was I going to cut down to 99 words and publish?

I could have asked for feedback on which one, but I had a gut feeling about one of the stories and went with it.

Do you always go with your gut feeling when making a decision?

Given all the many pieces of flash fiction I’d written for the 99-word flash fiction challenge, I knew which of the two stories my readers would like the most. Another gut-feeling? Yes, but I saw a dark edge to one of the stories, something I always hope readers will pick up.

I cut the story to 99 words and weaved in the dark edge, trying to make it slightly more obvious.

You can read my piece of flash fiction, The Squeaky Husband, here.

A couple of days after staring at a blank screen with failure sitting at my side, I was having fun rewriting and editing a story born from writing a Christmas wish list.

Yes, that piece of flash came from writing my Christmas wish list. Any words help. It doesn’t matter what they are.

Writer’s block? What is writer’s block? Did it exist on that day, or was it something I’d made up because other writers believed in it?

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you conquer it?

Copyright © 2022 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

About the Author

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues, including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping, and walking his dogs. Although he was born in Wales, he has lived in various parts of the United Kingdom, including London, where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is, “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

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24 Comments

  1. denmaniacs4

    Hugh, a delightful 99-word tale. I will be going to great lengths not to squeak around the house from now on.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed my squeaky piece of flash. I’d recommend carrying a can of WD40 around with you. It always gets rid of any squeaks.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Blocks happen. I’ve taken many “writing breaks” this year and have often worried my mojo is broken. Stories don’t appear and write themselves as easily as they once did. And that starts a vicious cycle. Like wondering what the point is anyway. Criticizing the quality of what I do write. Yet, I hang onto the quill. Try to meet at least one challenge a week. Some weeks are better than others. When the cycle starts or the block is there, I just have to relax into it, ride it out. I at least have written enough previously that I have some confidence and faith that blocks do pass. This week I have more ideas than time! The biggest job is to keep the faith in the ideas, work them out.
    Thanks for the post, Hugh! You look real good up on the Saloon stage.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      Writing blocks do pass, but it’s a shame that they sometimes arrive in large groups, as ideas do. Fortunately, ideas seem to come more frequently than writer’s block does. It’s funny, though, how some writers don’t use words to get over writer’s block. It seems obvious now I’ve written about it, especially given that I am struggling with this week’s 99-word flash. But I took my advice, and now I wonder what was blocking the story that I got.

      Thanks, D; being on stage can be like a rabbit in the headlight, but it’s worth it when I know what I’m saying is helping.

  3. JT Twissel

    Sounds like you’re a visual learner and are inspired by the people around you. I love long walks in the forest but I must say – sitting in a coffee shop people watching inspires me more.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      Oh, yes, people-watching helps me, too, although I do have to be careful when ear-twitching in on their conversations. However, the results have been good.

  4. Sadje

    I’m guilty of publishing my first drafts!

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      I used to do it, but then I got told that the challenge was open for a whole week, so there was no need to rush, write and publish something all on the first day. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Take your time with it. As a result, my writing has improved immensely (or so I’m told).

      Some bloggers publish entries to writing challenges within minutes of the challenge being announced. When reading them, I can often see how much better it would have been if they had left that first draft for 24 hours and returned to it. First drafts can constantly be improved.

      • Sadje

        I just did that ????

  5. Cheyenne

    I am just clawing my way out of a 6-year-long spell of writer’s block. I can’t say at the moment that I’ve actually conquered it but I can’t say beyond a shadow of a doubt that getting out of a series of abusive relationships brought me to a much better headspace!
    Thanks for sharing your post!

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      You’re welcome. And I’m sorry to hear about the abusive relationships.
      I hope 2023 smashes the writer’s block wall for you. If you don’t already do so, try the weekly 99-word flash fiction challenge I mentioned in this post. You don’t need to participate every week, but it may help with getting over that writer’s block wall.

  6. Penny Wilson Writes

    I like this, Hugh, thank you. And I love “The Squeaky Husband”! 🙂

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      Thank you, Penny. I’m glad you liked ‘The Squeaky Husband’. He helped me out of writer’s block at the time. I have him to thank.

  7. Brenda

    An interesting question. I’ve not been writing as long as you, so maybe it’s just not struck yet but I do find staring at the screen uninspiring. If I find it’s not working I just shut down whatever screen it is and turn to pen and paper. I find it allows my mind to run more freely.
    I do think we find inspiration in all sorts of places and sometimes we try too hard to force our brains to work for us when perhaps they need space to meander through everything

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      That’s good to hear that pen and paper help you, Brenda. My writing is terrible, so I’m not sure it would help me, especially because I can often not read my own writing.

      But closing everything down and walking away often helps me, especially when I take the opportunity to go out for a walk. Fresh air helps to clear my brain fog.

      • Brenda

        I find taking a shower creates ureka moments for me.

        I can see how not being able to read your handwriting might be an issue

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        Yes, my handwriting has gotten me into lots of trouble in the past. But those are other stories for other days.

  8. Lesley

    I did a creative writing course a few years ago and we learned about doing ‘morning pages’ which is simply writing about anything that comes to mind for a set time. Just recently, I looked back over them and was delighted at the possibilities they offered which I hadn’t noticed at the time of writing.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      “Morning pages’ sounds like a great idea, Lesley. But do they have to be written in the morning? Mornings are my best creative time, but I know some writers who differ. I’m not a nighttime writer. Once the clock strikes 5 pm, that’s it for me. My creativity seems to drain away very quickly.

      • Lesley

        Hi Hugh, I think ‘morning pages’ was just the title the course writers gave to that particular exercise to encourage writers to write when they were minds are fresh. They could be written at any time. It’s a great exercise once you get into the swing of it, just to let instantaneous thoughts pour on to the paper/screen.

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        I agree with you’ Lesley. Thinking back, I’ve done this a lot with a blank screen in front of me. It can also be fun to do.

      • Lesley

        Yes, it sounds exactly what you were talking about in your post. 🙂

  9. Paul Ariss

    It’s odd to think of you having writers block, as I often wonder as I see another Flash Fiction Friday post from you how you keep coming up with the ideas every week.

    When thinking up script ideas I now have a habit two or three times a week when I give myself 15 minutes – which I time on my phone – of just writing whatever comes into my head and don’t write too much, just relax and get it down. Even if that only spawns one decent idea a week then that’s fine. I find this technique is far less pressurised and more enjoyable.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      Sometimes, a prompt has me stumped, Paul. This week’s prompt (which is ‘sabbatical’ a story instantly came to me, but some prompts don’t produce any ideas at all. One of those prompts was ‘squeaky’, the flash fiction I linked to in this post.

      Generally, I don’t struggle with writer’s block, and it only occurs when there is a deadline to meet.

      I like your method when thinking up ideas for scrips. You’re right about doing something that does not cause you any pressure. I find going for a walk often helps take any pressure away. I have learned that ideas can often be found outside, not just while sitting in front of a screen.

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