What Causes Writers’ Block (And How To Treat It)?

Screenwriting psychologists who specialize in treating creative disorders unique to screenwriters have come up various theories on the causes of WBD – commonly referred to as Writers’ Block Disorder.

For afflicted screenwriters it is a debilitating condition displaying the following common symptoms: staring at a blank screen for prolonged periods of time, FTW (Failure To Write), panic and anxiety attacks, fear, mental blocks, and CCD (Continuous Coffee Drinking.) The more extreme cases of WBD are characterized by smoking and alcohol consumption which exceeds recommended amounts. On rare occasions, some screenwriters have reportedly quit their profession.

Every screenwriter has experienced WBD at some stage of their screenwriting career. It can strike at any time, without warning. It does not discriminate by gender, race, location or years of writing experience. It can affect all of us and our families.

There is no known vaccine, insurance  or precautions. However, WBD can be effectively managed by examining the common root causes of writers’ block. Extensive scientific research indicates that all forms of blockage stem from writing before you have figured out the key elements of the story. So plan ahead.

Gideonsway screenwriting tips: Screenwriter, film, TVwriting

1) Not Knowing Your Story

89% of researchers believe that this non specific form of WBD occurs when there hasn’t been enough story outlining done by the screenwriter. It’s like starting to drive your car before you know where you’re going. Apart from WBD, not knowing your story well enough results in many unnecessary rewrites.

SUGGESTED CURE: Decide on your screenplay super structure: beginning, middle and end. Plan the key turning points, including the mid-point. Write in manageable chunks toward the next plot point, rather than toward the end.

2) Not Knowing Your Genre

85% of clinical researchers believe that this factor is a subgroup of not knowing your story well enough. The rest believe it’s a factor in its own right.

Common symptoms of this disorder include an undefinable genre unrelated to the standard drama, comedy, action, thriller, sci-fi and horror. Other symptoms include an unexplained, or jarring, genre change during the film script, or an aggregate of three or more genres.

SUGGESTED CURE: Decide on the predominant genre. There can only be one. Film purists believe all genres can be reduced to comedy, action and drama.

It’s okay to have a hybrid genre such as comedy-horror or action-comedy. These hybrids are basically a descriptive variant of the main genre. i.e a horror with comedic elements or a comedy with action elements, respectively. You cannot have any more genres in your movie script without creating a screenwriting mess.

3) Not Knowing Your Characters

77% of writing psychologists agree that this is the most frequent trigger of WBD. Not understanding their dramatic function, their goals and motivations can lead screenwriters down the perilous path of unscheduled, forced writing breaks. If you really know what makes your characters tick, you can always proceed with writing your story. You know what decisions characters are likely to make in your screenplay.

SUGGESTED CURE: Go to original character breakdown and cut and paste it into a new document. Write down their desires, goals and their needs. Explore their interactions with other characters, the theme and how the plot will take them to the story conclusion.

4) Not Knowing Your Theme

This factor has been a subject of intense controversy among the Screenwriters Psychological Society (SPS.). Some experts claim that is an entirely fictitious disorder created by procrastinating screenwriters to justify their lack of  writing progress. 52% of screenwriting disorder experts believe that it is really a thing and is compounded by not fully knowing your story before you start to write.

SUGGESTED CURE: Spend a good amount of time defining your theme. Almost as much as writing your logline.  A theme must be fully fleshed out. Something like love will always find a way is too broad. Make it more specific such as a deserving heart will always find its soulmate no matter what obstacles are placed before it.

5) Not Knowing Your Plot

This ranks last on the list. An unimpressive 47% of researchers determined that a well-formed plot (a series of actions or events) is inherent in a solid story. There is some debate about the relative weighting of main plot and subplot, but most screenwriters should be fine with a 2:1 ratio. Some screenwriters have been known to lose the plot altogether. If this happens to you, seek professional help immediately.

SUGGESTED CURE: Plot wrinkles are normally solved during rewrites. These include logic, feasibility and timeline issues. Oftentimes, plots are rewritten to be more visual and entertaining.


Meditation, distracting tasks, background music, exercise, change of environment.

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STORYBOARD SCREENPLAY DEVELOPMENT GROUP – If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we meet at Fox Studios on the second Monday of each month to comprehensively discuss scripts of soon to be released films. Join us.






One Comment Add yours

  1. Thank you for this Mr Gideon. Your posts are a constant source of inspiration to me.

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