Superhero Block (And Writer's Block Too)

One time, I had superhero block.

It was after the Deep Freeze section of my life.  Fury had me on assignment with Hawkeye, tracking down a couple of mercenaries who ran out on the job.  We rounded them up in a smelly old warehouse, but when we stormed the place, it turned out the mercs were Hydra, and had backup.  That seems to happen a lot these days.  Needless to say, Hawkeye and I weren't quite enough to handle forty of them at once.

We managed to escape, but it took time and one of Hawkeye's special vaporizer arrows.  (Did you know he has those?  Turns nearby water to steam in seconds-- deHydration is a powerful weapon.  Pity about the coffee shop around the corner, though.)  After that, I couldn't get myself back into the game.  Even when Hawkeye rounded them up perfectly, I couldn't bring myself to do my part.  Everything I had done so far seemed useless, especially if our enemies had unlimited backup and all we had were cooler outfits.

Another time, I was fighting hand-to-hand with a banker (long story-- he was Hydra too).  I won, but he got in a few good hits, including a pretty nasty wound with a stapler.  For weeks after that, I couldn't run, couldn't fight, couldn't work.  I wasn't sick, and the wound healed easily, but everything seemed slower and less powerful.  That led to the same feelings: why was I doing this if I wasn't even good at it?

I'm sure you've heard of this, if not felt it.  It has many names, from superhero block to depression.  You probably know it as writer's block.  People get superhero block and writer's block almost exactly the same way, in fact-- and the same cures work for each.

Problem #1: Failure-induced block.

Look at my first example of superhero block.  What happened when we stormed that warehouse?  We made mistakes and had to run for it.  Instead of the easy pickings we expected, we failed to deliver the two mercenaries to SHIELD.  For me, that hit hard.  Instead of seeing it as a mistake anyone could have made, I started seeing it as something unique that only I could have done.  I also started blaming myself for it all, when it was nothing but a combination of mistakes by both Hawkeye and I.  All this led into a downward spiral where I started thinking, "I led the operation, I cost Hawkeye one of his most interesting arrows, and I destroyed our chances.  I'm useless."

The same thing can happen with writing.  You outline a scene, or even a novel, with high hopes for it.  It's the best idea you've ever had, your alpha readers are going to laugh their giant purple pants off, and it's the first thing you've written with, you know, a theme.  But for all this, when you start writing, you can't get started.  All your enthusiasm is still there, lurking, but it isn't helping your fingers fly.  Every time you start, you have to stop again.

It's the same as a failure, that difficulty.  You want it to be perfect, but every time you try, you write something that isn't perfect.  No first draft can be flawless, and you know that-- but it still hurts that your vision can't be reality quickly enough.

Solution #1: Push through.

That's right.  Even though it won't be perfect, you have to accept that and move on.  Especially when what you want isn't matching what you're writing, you have to grit your teeth and write.  You have to realize that you aren't being blocked by something else-- you're blocking yourself.  The only way to get over yourself is to stop worrying about it all.

It's going to feel terrible for the first few hundred words, but after about a thousand, you'll be in the swing of things.  You'll start writing things that you like, things that are fun, things that match your idea.  When that happens, you can always go back and change the beginning.  But to begin, you have to get yourself rolling.

Problem #2: Difficulty-induced block.

In my second superhero block example, I was feeling the same way, but it wasn't prompted by a failure.  Here's what we figured out after a routine checkup a month after the fight: the stapler the banker had gotten me with had planted some sort of device in me.  It injected a chemical that, essentially, canceled out the SSS (super-soldier serum).  It sapped my strength, made me think more slowly, and generally made me mini Steve Rogers again, except taller.

The same can happen to you as a writer, except without the banker.  You might write yourself into a corner, or find your characters contradicting themselves.  Something you said was impossible in chapter one might have just happened in chapter ten, helping the main character out of a jam.  You're contradicting yourself, and your instincts are rebelling against it.  That's what makes you think you're not good enough to write this.

Solution #2: Fix it.

Find the problem and fix it.  That's what problems are for, after all.  Your instincts can tell you how to pinpoint the problem, and you can take steps to fix it.  But that's the only way to fix the problem-- to push through here would just dig you deeper into your hole.

For me, I went to the doctor about a month after the fight.  They removed the little device and I was back to my normal self the next day.  It wasn't a problem with me and feeling sorry for myself-- it was something external blocking me.

These are your two most likely causes of superhero or writer's block.  All you have to do is find the problems and fix them, whether it's motivation failure because you've failed, or distaste with the story because you're in a slow-motion car crash.  Whichever one it is, you can overcome it.  What you can't do is sit and feel sorry for yourself.  There are always more words to write.

Be awesome this month.  It's the perfect month for it.



  1. Great tips! I find myself in writer's block way too much, especially these days...

    PS DeHydration. Good One :)

  2. Needed this advice right now. I just hit my own case of writer's block. A mix of one and two. But now I feel better about getting around it.

  3. The advice is simple—and that's all it needs to be. I think, as a superhero (I wish) and a writer, it's really easy to blame our problems on other things, and to assume we need to do something big and complicated to fix our problems. But, in reality, we just need to hunker down and push on through and fix it. :) And, as the curator of my whiny WIP... I know that about sums it up.