The Science Behind Writer’s Block

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

By: Rajvi Khanjan Shroff



Have you ever had that moment when you’re starting to write, and suddenly the blank piece of paper in front of you looks awfully plain and overwhelming? It feels like all the words in the English language have vanished from existence, and it seems impossible to start, let alone express everything you wish to convey. In that moment, it looks as if all the expressions have all but disappeared. Not only does this feeling strike in the most inconvenient of times, there just seems to be no way around this sense of hitting your head against the wall. #frustrating #howtodeal?


Well, it’s actually a common enough phenomenon, and there’s a name for it: Writer’s Block. The dictionary defines it as, “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”

But what’s the science behind a writer’s block? And what can we do to overcome it? #trying to solve the problem.


It turns out that both neuroscience and psychology can give us an idea as to what is going on inside our heads when it feels like our creative juices are at a standstill, which in turn can help us how to get over the hurdle. #Phew!


The brain is an important starting point, because to figure out why the words aren’t able to come out of us and onto the paper, we need to know what role our brain has in writing--starting with where “language resides in the brain” can help us put a finger on how the condition works (learnatcentral.org).


The location of language function, for most people, is in the left hemisphere, on the front side of the brain, in the region known as the frontal lobe, which is associated, among other things, with language function. (this is a simplification of the reality, but this should work for our case.) Broca’s area is located here, and is responsible for putting our thoughts into words. This means that whenever we are struggling to communicate ourselves while writing, Broca’s area is most likely affected.


Now let’s use some scientific studies to help us explore this further. An example of research that helps us figure out more on this topic is this one (www.sbs.com.au) from 2005. Here, participants created a story revolving around a set of three words they were given. During specific trials, they were asked to be creative, and in others not so much. Through an fMRI scanner (this measures blood flow to different regions of the brain), they determined that there was a “a significant increase in activity in the left prefrontal cortex,” (www.sbs.com.au), the region of the brain important in making associations between unrelated concepts, something that is important for a good writer.


Another study (from 2013), which can be found here, asked participants to write a story based on a prompt of 30 words from a familiar text. The results showed significant increase in brain activity in the frontal lobe, especially the parts associated with the language areas.

If writer’s block can be interpreted as a shortage of creative juice, then it makes sense that both studies showcase that when we are being creative, our brain is working hard, which can help us write well. Thus, Writer’s Block may indeed mean a creative block while writing. As writer Maya Sapiurka described it in an article in SBS News, writer’s block is essentially an “inability to make the connections and the plans that allow creative writing to occur,” which demonstrates the crucial part creativity plays in writing. #Bepositive #Keep calm and carry on

This reveals the psychological side of writing: certain environments, your current mood, and your stress levels all add up, causing it to either make it unbearable to write, or help you breeze through.


So what does this mean for your writing? Well, turn up the music, get an inspiration while reading a book or two, or chat with a friend to get those creative juices flowing and your brain working, and you are on your way to writing a great piece!


Sources:

Freewrite Store. “6 Neuroscience Hacks to Beat Writer's Block.” Freewrite Store, 2005, getfreewrite.com/blogs/writing-success/6-neuroscience-hacks-to-beat-writers-block.

Howard-Jones, Paul A, et al. “Semantic Divergence and Creative Story Generation: an FMRI Investigation.” Brain Research. Cognitive Brain Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15993573.

Oak, Kat, and Liza Burke. “Drawing Blanks: The Science Behind Writer's Block.” Seattle Central College - Continuing Education, 17 Apr. 2019, learnatcentral.org/2017/07/05/drawing-blanks-the-science-behind-writers-block/.

Reid, Kelton ReidKelton, et al. “How to Outsmart Writer's Block with Neuroscience.” Copyblogger, 4 June 2018, www.copyblogger.com/outsmart-writers-block/.

Sapiurka, Maya. “Comment: The Science of Writer's Block.” SBS News, 22 Sept. 2019, www.sbs.com.au/news/comment-the-science-of-writer-s-block.

Shah, Carolin, et al. “Neural Correlates of Creative Writing: an FMRI Study.” Human Brain Mapping, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22162145.



Image courtesy of Flickr (license to use)

The Scientific Teen

Since June 2018

Using science writing as a medium, we aim to advance collaboration between young adults worldwide with the belief that through educating people today, we can solve worldwide problems tomorrow. By providing opportunities for youth interested in science, together we can increase the presence of scientific writing in schools, further science education, and encourage future careers in STEM.

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn Social Icon

The Scientific Teen 2020.