Writer’s Block: A Psychiatrist Suggests That It’s Either Fear of Success or Fear of Failure

By Jack Limpert

I’ve worked with lots of writers and the worst case of writer’s block involved one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. When we hired him at The Washingtonian, he had come from the museum world. He had a great education and interesting mind and he got off to a promising start. After about a year he began to freeze up and miss deadlines. We both knew it couldn’t go on very long.

Then one afternoon he came in, looking happy, and said, “Jack, we’ve figured it out. I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist. He says it’s either fear of success or fear of failure.”

That diagnosis didn’t help and he soon left the magazine, moving to New York City. He got a job writing for radio, then went to a popular weekly magazine, where he became a star.

The cure seemed to be getting away from a monthly magazine where the long deadlines can lead to too much thinking and brooding.

After I dropped out of law school in 1960, I landed a job in the Minneapolis bureau of UPI. My first job was to file the radio-television wire to Minnesota and the Dakotas–that meant writing 20 minutes of regional news every hour. To come up with that 20 minutes of broadcast news, I rewrote newspaper stories for radio and TV. Short words, simple language, make it easy to say out loud.

I’ve always thought the early UPI experience minimized my writer’s block—when you went to work in a wire service bureau you were ready to move lots of copy. Later, when I did have trouble getting started on a story, my approach was to keep my fingers moving on the keyboard even if I knew what I was writing wasn’t going anywhere.

For old wire service writers needing some inspiration, I sometimes wondered if it would help if we had a tape we could play of teletype machines making lots of noise with an occasional five bells in the background.

Have a good writer’s block story? Send it along to jacklimpert@gmail.com and I’ll post it.


  1. Very true. Each medium presents a different challenge! That would be a great exercise, one that I think students would benefit from because then they have a better understanding of what each medium/format demands.

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