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Writer’s Block? Maybe You’re Not Stuck at All

Karen Barth not stuck
Karen Barth wasn’t stuck at all!

“I was really stuck last week, but now I’m not as much.”

I probed Strategic Planning Consultant Karen Barth a bit about the word “stuck” because I had a hunch she’d find herself in a similar state again, and maybe it wasn’t exactly stuck but in need of something.

As Karen put it, “If I don’t know what I’m writing. I can’t write it.”

Karen needed to do some research, get clear on the points she wanted to make and add more stories. Then she could develop a detailed outline. And, then, she could write the next chapter in her book.

Without those elements, of course she couldn’t write her chapter!

As Karen put it, “It’s like cooking a meal. I have to have all the ingredients on the counter before I start measuring and mixing.”

We decided to call this phase, “Gathering Phase” so that when it came up the next time and the next, she’d know not to label it as “stuck” but realize this perhaps uncomfortable phase of “not knowing” was just part of the process.

Are you judging some aspect of your writing process? Diagnosing it as writer’s block? Might you change your perspective and give it a new label, one that honors where you are in the process?

Feel free to share your re-frame as a comment below.

Looking for more to read? How about 7 Writing Productivity Tips or Curing Writer’s Block?

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Judy Tsafrir MD says

    Lisa is the master of the helpful re-frame. I really like that gathering designation. Also at times I can imagine that a person is not really stuck, but rather they are incubating.

  2. Marie says

    Yeah, this idea also doesn’t carry the frustration or stigma of block. One of my favorite ways to ‘reframe’ a place that I’m stuck is to switch to a different story. (I usually have 2-4 stories in various stages) The real logjam comes when I’m stuck in multiple stories at the same time and I refuse to start a fifth.

    It’s not that my muse is mute: I’m still doing commentary, reviews, and saving new ideas for later. A new story breaks the logjam, and usually, the problem areas come easily. Logjam breakups mean I have too many unfinished stories out there orphaned…

  3. Michelle Braun says

    As I write my book, I find myself in the “Gathering Phase” a lot (especially because it includes a review of new research and lots of interviews). Thank you for naming this phase, and highlighting its vital role!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Michelle, It’s great to hear from you. Yes, it’s certainly a vital phase. Yet, don’t let it keep you from writing. One strategy is to pick separate times for writing and for research. While writing, if you find yourself needing to do research, leave a placeholder and plan to address the research during your scheduled writing time. That way, you’ll still make consistent progress on the writing. Obviously, when the research just cannot wait, do it; this strategy should help you keep the writing practice on track.

  4. Liz says

    This is my first book. I’m writing a memoir and I’m in this Gathering unknown phase. As I keep healing myself my idea of my book and focus keeps changing .I think I’ve got the main themes and focus of my book and then I have another internal healing. So at the moment I’m in the Gathering phase of myself and not sure of the books direction. But then i need to remember as i kerp writing the book’ will appear. Thank you

  5. John E. Wilson says

    As a writer what I do is Promise to give myself time to worry at the end of my writing day. When it’s time, list everything you can think of that is worrying you. Often when we name our fears, it helps to overcome them.

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