04 Sep How to Overcome Writer’s Block
When I wrote my first novel – in between work and children and church commitments – writing was my drug, my escape, my stress-release. I couldnt wait to write, stealing precious moments here and there to fiercely tap out a few more paragraphs and hustling my family to hurry up and go to sleep dammit! so I could write through the blissfully undisturbed night hours. If anyone asked me then about writer’s block, I would have said, ‘What the heck is that?!’
When I became a ‘full-time’ writer with a proper office and regular work hours – it changed. Subtly but oh-so surely. I had to go to writing work at 830am and knock off at 5pm. I could no longer write at midnight or even blog in the kitchen in between helping kids with homework, because I was supposed to WORK during work hours and focus on family when I left the office. I sat in my pristine office, staring at a blank computer screen, thinking, “I have to do this for EIGHT FREAKIN HOURS?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME??” Writing became work.
Suddenly, I discovered – Writer’s Block. It was awful.
The Hot Man gave me some advice. “You should do what I do when Im having a rough day at work. When I’m welding in the hot sun or excavating foundations and I’m hot and dirty and tired and I want to quit – I tell myself, If you don’t finish this work, then your children won’t eat. Your family’s survival relies on you finishing this project.” He gave me an encouraging smile. “Next time you’re in that office and you can’t think of what to write, just tell yourself, If I dont finish this book then my children won’t eat! Try it, you’ll see, it works!”
Although well-meaning, his counsel was not helpful for me at the time. (Gross understatement!)
I’ve since found some things that work for me when trying to write and FINISH a book.
1. Work on two books at a time
Allowing yourself to write two books at once means you can switch back and forth as you get bored or sick of one or the other. Or stuck. It also helps prevent you from getting obsessed n possessed by your novel. BUT dont book-hop and start 1, 2, 3, 4 different books every time one gets difficult. Writing a book is like committing to a good relationship. At first it’s new and exciting and the wonder of it all sweeps you away. Then familiarity sets in and some days are not as thrilling. At times like that it’s too tempting to dream up another BRILLIANTLY EXCITING idea for a different book and leap into the newness and wonder of that. Keep skipping like that and you’ll end up with a drawer full of incomplete adventures and unfinished epics.
2. Write Imperfectly.
Too often we want a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter – to make total sense before we write it. We want it to be perfect. In my experience, this results in not a lot of words ever making it onto paper. When we give ourselves permission to write crap then we let the words and ideas flow. Time yourself if it helps. Put a stopwatch on for ten minutes and dont stop writing until the timer goes off. Write without self-evaluation or second-guessing the rightness or poetry of each phrase. Get up and stretch for 10min then set the timer for another writing burst. At the end of your day or writing session, go back and read what you’ve written.You will end up with probably ten pages of mess and of those, only five might be fabulous. But that’s five more pages then the zero you started out with.
3. Recognize there’s no one right way to write a novel.
Some people plan out an entire series before they write their book. Others write chapter outlines before they start. Some write pieces at a time and get feedback from a beta reader as they go. Some wont let anybody read anything until it’s been published. Others dont like to plan and plot, instead they make it up as they go. I used to write haphazardly without a clear idea of where I would end up. I didn’t want to know the ending of my story because then I figured I’d be bored. That’s how I wrote the first two Telesa books. Then I experimented with planning and mapping ahead and tried that with the next two books. I just finished a novella which was totally planned out with chapter summaries before I started writing it. It was a different writing experience for me and had some definite advantages. When you are stuck on a project, try a different approach. Dont be rigid with your writing process. Be brave enough to try new strategies.
4. Read. Voraciously. Make time daily to read a wide variety of books. It’s a great way to nurture your creative self. But more importantly, it’s the best way to see what works in a story and what doesn’t. Note how writers use dialogue, how they intro their characters, how they create tension and how they use different kinds of narration. When I read a fabulous story, I can get revitalized about working on my own novel.
5. Know that writing is WORK.
It’s three years now since I got into this writer thing and seven published books later, I’ve seen the truth in the Hot Man’s long ago advice. Yes, writing is a creative act which requires a certain freedom and spontaneity. Nobody wants to think about deadlines, unpaid bills or book marketing and sales while they are dancing in flights of fancy or pouring out their tortured soul on paper. But the reality is that if you want to be an author of actual published material that real live people actually buy and then read – you need some measure of discipline. You need to accept that writing won’t be fun all the time. It won’t be happy happy happy, joy joy joy every day.
Like any other work, it’s going to suck sometimes. And other times, it’s going to have you on a writing high, when that story takes flight in your heart, mind and soul. When the words trip over themselves in a rush to be uttered. When your characters are so real, so incredibly complex, so breathtakingly flawed that they break your heart. When it seems nothing can tear you away from your story – not family, not food, not sleep. Times when you will read what you have written and it is as if you’ve never seen it before, it has never once lived in your imagination because it has a life and a magic all its own. You will read and you will say, ‘Daaaayuuum did I write that?! No way!’
Yes the highs are fabulous. But one must work steadily and work hard to reach those highs. When you remember that its not meant to be fun all the time, you will be better equipped to write through the blocks. Don’t kid yourself. Writing is hard work. Treat it as such.
6. Write with purpose.
Writing deadlines and wordcount goals for each day and each week are helpful. Set a date for when your book will be finished. Get a cover artist to design your book cover and then use it as a motivator to finish the final chapter. Have dates with beta readers lined up so that you’re accountable to others for when that first draft should be done. Give yourself rewards if necessary…get a massage, dinner out, go to a movie or whatever. For when you hit 50,000 words or when you finish a proofread. Set clearly defined goals or else you’ll end up on a writing road that meanders along endlessly and goes nowhere.
Writer’s block happens to just about everybody and not everyone has the same obstacles getting in their story’s way. But it’s not impossible to overcome. What are your tips for making writing happen?
What tips do you have for writer’s block?