Writing Struggles

Hi :slightly_smiling_face:

I posted briefly about this in a General discussion thread, but I struggle to write. And it’s frustrating, because I can’t really pinpoint why. I’m interested in writing, and I want to write, but when I sit down and try to do it, I can’t — it becomes really hard and painful to. I have things I want to convey but I can’t do it, apparently not properly, not with words. This has been going on since I was young, so I can’t wave it away as just being “writer’s block”. I’ve looked it up on Quora, and I’m definitely not the only one with such a problem, but a lot of comments on there are really inconclusive about the solution.

I’m not sure if there’s anyone out there with advice for this kind of situation. Even sharing any similar experiences you might’ve had might help.

Thank you!


Have you tried participatory writing? One person starts a story, writes a couple paragraphs, then someone else picks up from there and takes them for a bit, then someone else, then maybe the first person for a bit, and so on and so forth?

You don’t know what the next person will write, so you find yourself reacting to and building upon the events of the previous section. Obviously, you can’t use it for everything, but it helps prevent a grinding halt.

I’m picking something unusual because I’m assuming you’ve already been through the standard advice.


Thank you for your idea! I have actually tried this, but only with people who weren’t writers / particularly interested in writing (and, once, a 8-year-old, er), so I suppose it doesn’t count. It’s a bit like roleplay? :sweat_smile: It’s just that it’s a bit hard to find people who are interested enough to do it seriously with you, in real life, and a bit hard to find people with close enough of a bond to make it work on the Internet. But it’s a good idea, nonetheless, and I’ll keep it in mind and try it out when I get the chance.


So, this isn’t a joke or a gotcha or anything, but this thread is writing. You had a concern, described it in words, and asked for help. You probably do a lot more writing than you give yourself credit for.

So far as your current situation goes, where are you getting held up? Do you have a subject you’d like to write about? Is it developed enough that you could make a list of things to say about it, or else make an outline? Are you having trouble converting that idea into a fuller text?

Are you trying to write a game narrative, or something else?


When I’ve examined my identity as an artist closely I’ve found that I don’t really “want” to be a writer or write in a general sense, there are just certain things I become passionate about writing. and then when I write those things, I become a writer. idk it sounds semantic but it helps me to think about things this way; I haven’t experienced writer’s block since reframing my goals as short-term project-related things rather than the maybe more grandiose plans I had when I was younger to be A Writer.

As far as just sitting down and getting stuff on the page, my best technique right now is to go to the library and sit near all the other people being studious. The atmosphere is perfect for working through whatever ideas I have bouncing around in my head (or notes app).


I think this is why I’ve found that my writing improved significantly after I started participating in longform TTRPG campaigns. I’ve never actually really sat down at a table where you speak out loud and act as your characters, all of them have been through text, mostly because of issues with time zones, assorted disabilities, and general accessibility. The consistent practice helps, I imagine, but the exciting part of anticipating and adapting to what the other people contribute, is also just really fun.

The Goncharov Girlies have tossed around the idea of making an IF adaptation of some sort of our Goncharov Campaign, (which feels more feasible due to its more on the railroads, limited scope for the run,) but I do think it would be interesting to try to adapt some of the shenanigans and characters like my rendition of Andrey in our Butterfly Court campaign into IF pieces: (I’ve been contemplating writing about him for an upcoming gamejam centered around trans meowmeows.)

My diary keeping habit serves a similar purpose.

And anyway, no writing is wasted writing- practicing putting things down to paper always helps. Some of my prettiest poem lines have been adapted from writing silly stuff with my friends.


Running off the same assumption that Pinkz made earlier up in the thread, that you’ve run the usual gamut, I’ll share something that I found was the pain point with struggling to write: when are you writing? In what state are you doing so? Outside of the usual habit formation tips about consistency or enacting silly little writerly rituals: is your health doing okay?

Keeping a diary made me pay closer attention to the timing of my life: when I was particularly stressed out, I tended to write prolifically in the middle of the day in it, or in sporadic bursts. On really bad weeks, I write only in it in the very latest hours of the night, because I was neglecting something that I’ve since learned is a really good indicator species, as it were: if I’m not able to make the time for journalling, once a day, preferably during a relaxed lunch or refreshed after a shower in the evening, I am very likely struggling badly with my health, whether it’s mental or physical.

The actual act of journalling takes, on average for me, no more than five to twenty minutes. When it seems insurmountable, or I feel all panicked and flailing around trying to do it: it’s a good reminder to myself to take a step back and assess how I’m doing, not just what I feel like ‘I should be doing/have the capacity to do.’

So how are you? I’ve often found that in addressing deficits in my health, (whether that was increasing the amount of sleep or hydration, Vitamin D supplementation, scheduling an additional hour of therapy, making sure I was eating at consistent times and in sufficient portions and nutrition), it became a lot easier to engage with my art. Emotional health matters here, as well- I often use my art as a means to vent, but sometimes that bandwidth is so destroyed I need to work on getting to an OK place before I can even contemplate making stuff.

Maybe touching base with yourself and your health (emotional, mental, physical) would help. It has for me in the past when I’ve struggled for (seemingly) ‘no reason at all’ with writing or drawing.


I’ve noticed a couple of common factors that crop up when I find myself staring at a blinking cursor:

  1. I’m burning too much time trying to come up with the exact right phrasing
  2. I’m preoccupied with thoughts like “I need to finish this today/this week/etc.”

Being something of a perfectionist, it can be hard to make myself do this, but the solution—or, at least, a solution—has been to just get the gist of it onto the page (screen? file?) and know that I can come back to it later. I then end up finishing the session thinking “ugh, that was terrible/unclear/inelegant writing,” but the most important thing is that writing got done. Then, the next time I sit down to write, I re-read what I did before and edit the hell out of it until I’m happy with it—which, as it turns out, is a lot easier than writing it perfectly in the first place.

I’ll often end up doing several such editing passes a few days apart, which often means pushing my self-imposed deadlines. I try to remind myself what my goal really is: do I want to get this out quickly (in which case, some concessions must be made), or do I want to enjoy the process and produce something I’m proud of (in which case, I can and should take as much time as I need).


I found writing miserable for a long time, which was in large part due to my ADHD—it often felt like I needed to do anything else, the moment I started trying to write. For years, the only thing that would supercede this impulse would be a looming competition deadline, which is why a majority of my games were made in a state of rushed crisis that then had no time to be completed properly, much less tested.

The thing that gave it away was the fact that I could write just fine if I was doing it to escape another obligation. Sure enough, I find writing a lot easier on medication.


Thank you! And yeah, I’m aware. I can “write” in the vein of talking to myself or others. The “to others” part was actually a bit harder, in the past, and it would take me so long to write even just a single paragraph, because I would methodically obsess over the details of every sentence and check things over and over again to try to ensure my meaning got across. It’s gotten easier, a lot easier with practice (such as writing in Discord groups or in this forum, or even writing IF reviews).

The problem I have is with fiction writing. I stare at a page and nothing comes out, even if there were things in my mind I had wanted to write about beforehand — it just feels like there are pieces floating in a blank space, and now I don’t even know what the pieces are, even if they were there two seconds ago, much less how to put them together. If something does end up on the paper, the kind of obsession not unlike what was descibed above takes hold and I get increasingly more paralyzed as more things fill up the page and then, eventually, I run out of my energy to write, which was already severely limited in the first place. Sometimes I get down one sentence and I can’t continue on any further. Out of fear, shame, perfectionistic tendencies, etc. or maybe something else — I don’t know. This does actually extend to other creative endeavors as well, at least the many of the ones I’ve tried — but it’s writing I’ve been focused on for most of my life, so it seems the most prominent with writing. I know there’s something very wrong here, but I don’t know how to get past it.

Essays and nonfiction are easier, but still somewhere between the talking-to-self or others and fiction writing levels. I still get that pinch of anxiety when I have to write in those genres, but at least I know how to start and how to (attempt to) end.

Also, thank you to everyone’s given their input on this thread so far! You’ve all been super helpful. Pretty much every one so far has connected with me, and I’ll take your considerations and advice into thought.


Years ago I had a spate of writer’s block and my wife casually asked what I was trying to write about. I explained the concept, she asked a bunch of clarifying questions including stuff I hadn’t actually figured out yet, forcing me to work my way through it so I could explain it correctly.

The following day she told me to check my email. There was a full transcript of the previous night’s conversation. She had recorded the entire conversation on her phone and then sent it through a machine transcription. She then went over it and fixed the various errors from memory.
I was able to take that and massage it into what I needed.

So, have you tried transcription?


Oh, and as an aside, if you find yourself with a spare 46 minutes and 26 seconds, you might want to listen to this:

It sincerely spoke to me and helped me grok something in myself I hadn’t understood before. It also helped my writing in a way.

The whole thing is a narrative, so it sucks you in and entertains as well.


OK, I understand. As a basic suggestion, I’d try writing down ideas when you have them. I forget things all the time; everybody does. Do a voice recording or take a note on your phone when the idea hits.

It sounds like you are getting anxious about the way your writing will be received, which is a really common thing. You know, as an MFA student I taught introduction to creative writing. I had students from rural Arkansas. Some of those students–young men, generally–found the idea of writing poetry mortifying (they were there because they had heard the class was an easy A). And showing it to someone? Forget it.

I told them not to worry about showing it to people. Writing always starts as a low stakes activity. Nobody looks over our shoulders while we write (well, hopefully anyway). There’s nothing but time at risk. You can delete it, you can throw it away. There is no danger in writing for yourself. Which is how everything starts. Writing is seductive in that way–it invites us as a co-conspirator, and later we wonder who else might like it.

I have an MFA in creative writing, and I’ve published a few poems. I’ve taught writing. I may not be an amazing writer, but I have written a lot of stuff over the years. Nobody has seen everything I’ve written, because I don’t want to show everything. Some of it is not good enough, or else it’s too personal. Whatever. I make that decision after the thing is written. There’s no need to worry about other people in the beginning, because showing my writing to people is a choice I make when the writing is done.

I give myself permission to write badly.

You can’t revise, polish, or improve a piece of writing until you have written something that needs revision. You don’t know that until you have something in front of you. Try not to worry about showing things to people when you don’t even know if you’ll want to revise it.

I think it is good for a writer to be obsessed. It’s motivating, and I usually enjoy writing more when I have an obsession to chase. But I can write without one. Writing is a skill. It’s not magic; inspiration doesn’t descend on wings. Practice and commitment go a long way. The more you write, the less you will fear it.

Write for yourself. If you decide to pull others in later, you can do that. But other people really don’t have a part to play at the beginning of a project. Leave them behind.


One of the things you want to avoid is sitting in front of a blank piece of paper or screen and go OKAY GO! WRITE NOW.

You will scare your Muse away faster than anything.

You want to sneak up on it. Make some notes. I find I write best at any other time when I am not supposed to be writing. Don’t sit down going I’M GOING TO WRITE MY ENTIRE GAME/NOVEL/EPIC RIGHT NOW, sit down with the intention of organizing notes and making steps toward writing.

You have to coax your Muse into helping bit by bit. Start small. Make notes, draw pictures of your characters…if you’re drawing a painful blank, that means you’re not ready to write yet. And you can make it easier by daydreaming, making notes, write something else, write nonsense sentences just to practice and prime the pump - do everything but the writing for a while and then you’ll find that it starts to flow.

Fill your head with ideas without judgement and they will burst out of a story-shaped hole in your brain at some point!


Would using a seed from someone else help? There were a lot of great seeds submitted to SeedComp, and many of them weren’t used. I don’t know if etiquette allows it, but I certainly wouldn’t mind someone using one of my seeds outside of the comp. Starting with a prompt always works for me.

Also, writing is work. We can’t just go to work and say that our minds are blank. We have to at least try, even if we don’t always perform to the best of our abilities. Get a prompt, sit down, and write something. Even if it sucks. Even if it’s awful. I tend to have the Nike philosophy here, just as I do when I don’t want to go to work. I suspect what you’re saying is not that you can’t write anything, but that you feel like you can’t write anything good, so you don’t. At least ninety percent of what I write is purely awful, but that’s OK.

**ETA: Something that has helped me is forcing myself to have a notebook in which I write longhand all my game ideas. I used to simply scribble notes on any random piece of paper, but over the past year I told myself that I could change my behavior, and I did. I find the prettiest journal and spend a little money on it (I like marbled paper covers, a silk ribbon, and a leather spine) and then I ruin it. My last one is covered with spilled drinks and the binding is cracked and it’s full of terrible ideas and horrible writing. But I did get two games that were pretty good out of it.


This might only work for parser games (or at least games that have a fair amount of non-game-text code), but what sometimes works for me is to tell myself that the text is just placeholder text that I’ll change later while I put in the rooms and objects and whatnot. If I’m lucky the placeholder text is good enough but even when it isn’t I find editing / rewriting to be easier to start than starting from a blank page.

That’s funny I do pretty much the opposite: I tried notebooks but my stupid brain is somehow almost incapable of writing in one. Now I keep a pile of scrap paper (opened envelopes, one-side junk mail, …) on my desk for scribbling and that works great for me.


I do this too! I got a clipboard to keep my scrap paper in one place, but that’s probably as fancy as it’s gonna get.

It’s really interesting to read through this thread and see the strategies everyone’s figured out. I think that’s the key to writing: learning how to work with your unique brain. Mine is rebellious by nature, so I have to use traps, distractions, and ways to make it fun. Other people need accountability or routine. I remember reading about the greats who relied on the ceremony of sitting down at the same time every morning and cranking out #### words before lunch, and discovering this did NOT work for me. Eventually I realized I write best at inconvenient/unexpected times, like on the bus or when I’m supposed to be working.

But when I first started writing fiction, I found a routine that did work: be writing every day at a certain time. For me it was 10pm. Either I’d start writing at 9:55 and stop at 10:01 or I’d start at 10 and finish at 11 or whatever, but it was a habit that got me thinking about the story regularly but didn’t put any further pressure on me. And thinking is a huge part of writing!

On the perfectionism thing, I find starting from a rough outline helps—jotting down general thoughts and maybe some specific lines or moments, then putting them in order and filling in the details gradually in nonlinear fashion, so it doesn’t feel so much like Writing. You end up in the same place, but without ever having to stare at a blank page.


Interestingly enough, the thought of writing parser games scare me way less than trying to come up with a story. Not that parser games don’t have storyline, but at the very least it’s not always required, per se. And a lot of a parser game’s text is static description. I am actually relatively good at static description. In fact it’s what I find I end up doing most of the time when I’m supposed to (when I’m trying to) write characters, settings, a plot instead. A lot of the character- and worldbuilding that comes with straight fiction I seem to assume comes instantaneously or sporadically (in reality it likely doesn’t, does it?) and that’s part of the reason why it scares me so much.

In other words I don’t seem to know how to properly handle or plan for a story.

On the other hand, with parsers, it feels much more doable — the protagonist has to arrive somewhere first, right? So, safe arrival. Check. The destination? Check. The journey? I can start out with the big picture (what’s the end goal or the end destination? motivation?) and then fill in all the little nuances, details, and easter eggs over a longer period of time. So that’s a check, too. Over time as the world develops I can enlarge or introduce twists or fine-tune some other area as befitting to the main narrative. I don’t know, for some reason making parsers seem much more intuitive to me than trying to follow a story in my writing. The idea of apparently needing to have an end goal (not considering how the ways an apparent goal can be given for the player to subvert it as they see fit, at the end) in parser games seems to make it much easier for my head to wrap around / concoct a process that develops up to the “goal”, in the same while exploring setting or other facets of interest as I see fit. With mostly linear storylines I get confused. What’s my end goal? I don’t even know. Wait, am I even supposed to have an end goal? If I didn’t, would what I write even be considered as telling a story? etc. and then I get submerged in a fancy little cocktail of mini-horror scenarios and questioning.

This is coming from someone who prefers choice-based interactive fiction and doesn’t enjoy parsers much of the time. :sweat_smile: Not that I hate parsers, it’s just I haven’t quite learned how to go through them yet. For example I end up obsessively examining every single thing in the scene to see if I missed something, and as you can imagine that gets tiring pretty quickly.


Have you considered adopting plot beats?

By that, I mean adopting an existing story. Like, think about the narrative structure of a story you like. For example, if you took the plot beats of Star Wars: A New Hope, you have a fairly standard hero’s journey. There’s no reason that same plot structure couldn’t be used elsewhere.

Let me try: in an alternative history novel where the US took all of Mexico in 1848, this heavily bolstered the position of Slave-owning states and caused a negotiated reconciliation of the Civil War. This led to the US as a united entity and the institution of Slavery both surviving that period into the 1930s.

Wealthy American businessmen have largely commercialized and subdued the former Mexican territories, and have brutally crushed repressed local Mayan resistance in the Yucatan Peninsula.

In an effort to crush nationalism, the family line of the first Emperor of Mexico, now seen as a hero freeing the Mexican people from foreign rulers, has been hunted and destroyed.

A young half-Mayan boy named Jacinto is being raised in a remote and desperately poor Mayan village by his older Half-Brother (through his dead Mayan mother) and his wife. A loyal Lieutenant of the boy’s father lives a quiet and simple life watching over the safety of the boy, as he is seen as a potentially rallying point for Mexican independence. The boy does not know his parentage.

Completely different setting and themes, but you now have a rough mock-up of Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Uncle Owen and Aunt Baru. You have a stand-in for both the resistance and the Empire as well as Tattooine and Coruscant.

Develop the plot points following Star War’s plot progression and change whatever you want freely.

The point is you take the plot skeleton, hang different flesh, and adopt it however you wish. Starts you off with a roadmap that you can disregard at any point as you wish.


Everybody writes. Take me for example. Each morning I wipe my arse. I commit to paper something nobody else will ever wish to read :wink:.

I’ve always done that. So have you, and so has everyone else in this thread.

If you want to go beyond that, you have to commit to a form. You have to agree to constraints.
You have to understand the medium.

Think of the simplest product; maybe a short story for children, of only a few pages. It’s possible that the word count of some of the posts in this thread would actually exceed what’s permitted for that kind of thing.

The process of writing is essentially reductive. The editor refines every sentence. Shapes every paragraph. You have to pay attention to page breaks. Less is more.