Writer’s Block: There’s a Pill for That

Author Robert Anthony Siegel set out to resolve his writer’s block by taking a pill, a fast-acting solution to a serious problem.

In this case, though, the pill he wanted was a placebo on its face.

A placebo is a sham, but as Siegel mentions in Why I Take Fake Pills, research suggests that placebos seem to mitigate our ailments even when we know the cure isn’t “real.” These results remind me of my favorite line from Peppa Pig (please indulge me): “It’s better than real; it’s pretend!” It’s lovely to imagine an effective treatment that doesn’t have side effects and on which you can’t overdose.

Hoping to harness the real power of pretend pills, Siegel explained his problems to John Kelley, the deputy director of Harvard’s Program in Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter, who said:

‘I think we can design a pill for that… We’ll fine-tune your writing pill for maximum effectiveness, color, shape, size, dosage, time before writing. What color do you associate with writing well?’

For Siegel, that color was “gold,” which translates to yellow in the pharmaceutical world.

Siegel’s magic pills worked once he’d reached a “therapeutic dose.” The sentences he produced were “awkward and slow,” at least in his opinion, but certainly better than nothing.

His experience has made me think about the methods I’ve used to overcome writer’s block, a challenge I face in multiple parts of my life. As A. M. Blair, I write middle grade and contemporary fiction, and under a similar (but different) name, I practice law, a job that requires me to pound out memos, briefs, and other written documents that don’t always flow easily from my anxiety-ridden brain.

Lately, I’ve been taking specific measures to address writer’s block: I take a walk, brew myself a cup of tea, close the door, and set a timer for 25 minutes. If I can get through those 25 minutes, then I’ll have something on the page. That’s a start, something to build on for as many 25 minute-increments as it takes to finish the project.

Maybe I’ll add a placebo pill to my ritual. Couldn’t hurt, right? My capsules would be purple.*


*However, I’m not willing to pay what Siegel paid for his! Check out his article, Why I Take Fake Pills (linked above), to find out how much he paid and why.

**Definition of “Placebo” is from Merriam-Webster.


  1. I suppose whatever works and it’s better than alcohol or narcotics, but wow, that’s a hefty price tag! And what happens when the “pills” run out? will he be cured or will he have to buy more?

    1. The price tag is ridiculous! Maybe it should be covered by insurance. It’s certainly no worse and probably much better than many of the pills currently covered. It’s sad we are such a pill-reliant culture, though.

  2. Wonderful strategies for outsmarting your writer’s block! If I’m stuck on a blog post (a very low-stakes piece of writing, I know) I will get up and move around, maybe do some jumping jacks, and also listening to jazz on Pandora seems to help me as well.

    1. That’s a good question! I wouldn’t be surprised if LM Montgomery influenced my color preferences (I’ve always remembered agreeing with Anne of Green Gables that diamonds were disappointing in comparison to amethyst). Honestly, though, I’m not sure why I like it. It’s my mother’s favorite color, and that’s a big influence too.

      Now you’ve inspired me to re-read The Blue Castle. It’s been a long time.

  3. We’re such a pill-driven world that we’ve associated “pill” with “good.” Rage Against the Machine, back in the 90’s, told us all “There is no other pill to take / So swallow the one / That makes you ill.”

    1. Indeed. We are obsessed with pills, as though they are magic pellets. They take our aches and pains away at the cost of addiction and side-effects. I’m not averse to medicine, but I don’t trust the pharmaceutical industry (and right now, with HR 985, Rep. Goodlatte is trying to make sure we can’t sue Big Pharma when they harm us by changing the rules for multidistrict litigation).

  4. A purple pill sounds good. I don’t suffer from writer’s block–not yet, at least. There are times when I simply don’t want to write, so I don’t. My life doesn’t depend on it, so I can indulge myself.

    I wish there was a pill to make me feel better about what’s happening in this country right now.
    😦 It’s really depressing and often terrifying.

    1. “I wish there was a pill to make me feel better about what’s happening in this country right now.” I know what you mean. If there were a pill, though, I’d worry people would become apathetic to Trumpism, which will probably happen anyway.

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