Bertrand Russell’s Guaranteed Cure for Writer’s Block

If you’ve ever been stuck with writer’s block, read on.


I don’t know about you but when I started writing as a teenager, I often found I could get so far, often twenty or thirty pages into my novels, but then I’d lose direction, flap about, lose momentum, and finally stop.

The annoying part was that sometimes I could pick up the thread again, other times it never happened. Saying it was annoying doesn’t begin to describe the frustration.

Anyway, twenty years later I found myself skimming through a book by Bertrand Russell. I’d read some of his other philosophy book and stumbled across this.

Bertrand Russell’s Permanent Cure for Writer’s Block

In his book, How I write, he explains his initial difficulty with writing, but more importantly, how he found a way to resolve this.

It works like this:

  • You study the subject matter in depth. Read and learn as much as you can.
  • Then think about it. Really think. Think hard.
  • Let is digest in the background for a while
  • Start to write

You’ve probably seen this yourself.

In his own words:

“Very gradually I have discovered ways of writing with a minimum of worry and anxiety.

It appeared that after first contemplating a book on some subject, and after giving serious preliminary attention to it, I needed a period of sub-conscious incubation which could not be hurried and was if anything impeded by deliberate thinking.

Sometimes I would find, after a time, that I had made a mistake, and that I could not write the book I had had in mind.

Having, by a time of very intense concentration, planted the problem in my sub-consciousness, it would germinate underground until, suddenly, the solution emerged with blinding clarity, so that it only remained to write down what had appeared as if in a revelation.

The most curious example of this process, and the one which led me subsequently to rely upon it, occurred at the beginning of 1914.

I had undertaken to give the Lowell Lectures at Boston, and had chosen as my subject “Our Knowledge of the External World”.

Throughout 1913 I thought about this topic.

In term time in my rooms at Cambridge, in vacations in a quiet inn on the upper reaches of the Thames, I concentrated with such intensity that I sometimes forgot to breath and emerged panting as from a trance. But all to no avail.

To every theory that I could think of I could perceive fatal objections.

At last, in despair, I went off to Rome for Christmas, hoping that a holiday would revive my flagging energy.

I got back to ‘Cambridge on the last day of 1913, and although my difficulties were still completely unresolved I arranged, because the remaining time was short, to dictate as best as I could to a stenographer.

Next morning, as she came in at the door, I suddenly saw exactly what I had to say, and proceeded to dictate the whole book without a moment’s hesitation.”

That’s it.

I wanted to share this as it cracked the nut that had pestered me for many years. The wonderful thing is that you can apply it to any type of writing.

This echoes the saying ‘writing is thinking put down on paper.’

This formula – study, digest, write – ensures I can always find a way to get started, even on the most difficult or thorny subject. Maybe there’s something in it you can use too.

PS: Send a friend this book as a gift: The Bertrand Russell Collection: 8 Classic Works