Writer’s block: why now? 10 reasons

Cat sits on a pile of 30-odd books by Rachel McAlpine

Ursula the cat shows scant regard for my literary oeuvre. Fair enough.

Wow. I’m just getting over a 3-year writer’s block and think I understand why it happened. People tend to think of writer’s block as having a single cause, and maybe so did I, once. However, to quote a gloriously all-encompassing word from my doctor, the cause is multi-factorial. I think I’ll write about each factor separately in future Thursday blog posts, because they’re all real, and maybe you—a sometimes frustrated writer—will recognise some of them. And I won’t write much because the book comes first.

I’ve analysed the problem to death, because as the above photo demonstrates, I’ve had no trouble writing books in the past. I’ve been published by major houses like Penguin, Random (now one), Harper Collins and Pearson Education and small houses like Ten Speed Press (extinct, sigh) and by my own self. Not to say I’m a major author or an international success, but hey, for a writer I’ve done fine.

Then I started a book with about 50 working titles—currently, Live Long And Like It: A boot camp for the bonus years. Yep, about my one-year self-imposed solitary life audit and revamp to get myself in shape for those extra years at the end of life, the years I hadn’t expected.

So why have I spent the last four years dithering over how to approach this book, even whether to write it at all? Why have I started three times and abandoned it? Now that I’m finally on a roll, I do see at least 10 factors that have been problematic.

  1. Privacy. My boot camp was personal: at the time I hadn’t imagined it would be useful for others.
  2. Type of book. The book might turn into a self-help book, which holds many dangers such as being bossy and being smug.
  3. Selfishness. Self-help books are for the privileged, a self-indulgent form.
  4. Narrowness. Self-help books ignore powerful social forces that oppress the majority of people.
  5. Ignorance. I have no expertise in aging, exercise, health, happiness, meditation, housing, finance or psychology: who am I to write such a book?
  6. Redundancy. The world has too many books about positive ageing, successful ageing etc.
  7. Technology crisis. Old hardware, new technology, incompatibility, where to turn?
  8. Bloody Word. Ominous jumps in Styles, just when I had it licked.
  9. Old age. Everything takes longer now that I am 79. Not old old, not frail old, but not young.
  10. Short term memory. Just imagine!

If you are battling Writer’s Block, OK, finally I get it. Using myself as my own lab rat (to quote Doris Carnevali there from Engaging With Aging), I’ll unpick these issues in future Thursday articles.

29 thoughts on “Writer’s block: why now? 10 reasons

  1. lizmelchior says:

    I think you’ll do it Rachel and we will want to read it! Go girl!!! ♥️

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Wow thanks Liz! Now that I’ve come out with the intention your expectations (or my pride) will make me do it.

  2. Rachel, I’m in awe of your persistence over so many years. Mind-boggled, actually. You sound ready for this, your latest, and getting there is half the battle. Sometimes the timing just has to come together. I really look forward to what you’ll have to say about this time of our lives. We’re all exploring that, muddling and conjecturing and seeking and coming to forks in the road. I have no doubt this will be a blockbuster! We need your voice!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Martha, your comments humble me and spur me on in equal measure. You’re right about the timing and you seem to understand the process that must be followed. Thank you!

  3. Dan Antion says:

    I think I would enjoy reading about that.

    I am intrigued by the notion: “Narrowness. Self-help books ignore powerful social forces that oppress the majority of people”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      More later… thanks Dan.

  4. Numbers 1-5 had me stymied… until they didn’t. Now I am facing them all over again.
    Please write your book, I’d love to read it, and knowing you’re “doing so” is inspiring to me.
    Thank you!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I see, you’ve been there and back again. So glad the proposed book interests you.

  5. Katrina says:

    Like you, I am loathe to write about ‘successful aging’. I get that that’s what we actually want to do, but in the (slightly altered) words of David Bowie “Aging is an extraordinary process where you become free to be the person you always should have been”. I don’t seem to be able to find enough books, especially about women, who have kicked over the traces and done that. I’m sure there are many who have, so if you know of any grunty books along those lines let me know. I want some bad role models – lol!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Hm, maybe that’s your role…

      1. Anonymous says:

        There’s a thought ……

  6. alison41 says:

    Thanks for sharing your ten block roadblocks – good to know we are not alone in our writerly woes. Maybe your 4 year hiatus was a much needed rest? I am also a great believer in allowing ourselves to have fallow periods in our creative and personal lives. Noting farming practice that leaves fields fallow to recover, before sowing new seed.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That makes a lot of sense, Alison.

  7. Don’t leave it another 4 years, please. Some of us may not be around to see the results! Only half joking……..!!!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I feel that urgency too. Hurry up Rachel, you’re 79!

  8. Margaret says:

    Exciting times Rachel, look forward now to Thursday’s. Thank you . 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Only 10 barriers to overcome 🙂

      1. Margaret says:

        Hope to work through them with you 🙂

  9. It could be fatigue. Moreover, we live in a stressful environment. I read posts suggesting ways of coping with this and that. Some of the this and that, we could throw away. To what extent must we “cope?”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Fatigue increases with age also, true. Paradoxically, writing a book usually increases my joy, not my stress. Then I am not just coping but thriving.

  10. chattykerry says:

    It helps all us frustrated writers that someone as successful as you are can still have writer’s block. I don’t think I could analyse the reasons for my block/lack of interest as succinctly as you. Even as a blogger, I get so fed up with all the ‘Positive Thinking’ articles. They make me want to use bad words about where they can put their unwanted millennial advice. On a funny note, I just read a hilariously bad science fiction Kindle book on a transatlantic flight (no one would have published it). The premise was so interesting… Other humanoids from some distant galaxy were no longer fertile and needed to interbreed with us pathetic humans. It could have been so good but it ended up as 50 shades of alien sex with giant purple penises. Despite LMAO, I read it to the climactic end. It inspired me to write another fairy story about the Tumbleweed fairies of Amarillo. Maybe reading awful books is the answer??

    1. chattykerry says:

      Please delete my comment, Rachel. It sounded funny in my head but now it seems crass. I need an editor…

      1. Rachel McAlpine says:

        It was funny, I promise you! Nevertheless I have obeyed you of course and deleted it.

      2. chattykerry says:

        Thank you – I usually keep my bad writing within the confines of my own blog…😄

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I figure that if you can write so well about writer’s block it is a sure sign that it has passed.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:


    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I meant touchee but had to rush on stage for a walk through.

  12. Trish says:

    Hi Rachel
    There is a need for your new project. You are a role model for me- and your writing will help me, and I’m sure others, to pick a pathway toward realising our collective potential. Ka mau te wehi!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Oh Trish. Instead of answering you, I wrote another chapter. Thank you for the incentive.

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