Yesterday, I wrote about five issues that believe to be the worst part of writing. And this week, I’m going to expand on each of those parts, in the hopes that people will realize that there really are no bad parts. Each step in the writing process is work but also fun and worth it.
I’m going to begin the week by discussing writer’s block because it is the easiest issue to discuss and deal with.
This happens when we sit down to write and all of a sudden, we are staring at a blank page or screen and we have no idea what to say. Worse, we tell ourselves that we have nothing to say, our story is dumb, why did we ever think we could be a writer? No one is interested in what we have to say. We beat ourselves up.
Reasons for Writer’s Block
This of course, serves only to make writing a zillion times worse. Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic stated that we tend to diagnose ourselves with writer’s block as if it were a disease. She states that it really could be a number of other underlying problems, “Anxiety, self-doubt, self-hatred, extreme competitiveness, alcoholism, depression, perfectionism, existential despair, etc.”, and she’s correct. I would add fear to that list. What she means is that writer’s block comes from something else, and if we ask ourselves what the real problem is, we can get rid of the “block” that is keeping us from writing. It’s just like having a headache and then realizing that you haven’t had any water the entire day and the dehydration is causing the headache. What is causing the block.
Don’t Be Afraid
The reason I add fear to the list is because it really all boils down to fear. When we fear we are going to do something wrong, we tend to not want to do it, to not even try.
This is true for everything, we just don’t call it a block, we call it procrastination. When I ask my husband to fix something that he doesn’t know how to fix, he will delay because he is afraid of doing it wrong. Three weeks later, after I’ve bugged him enough, he will finally admit he doesn’t feel confident and will look up the videos on YouTube. Once he realizes he can do it, he will tackle the job. Was he “blocked”? Sure, he had fix-the-washing-machine block. The block was caused by fear.
This is what happens to us as writers when we reach a point in the novel when we don’t know what will happen next or we’re lacking information to continue with our writing.
Steven King elegantly writes that writer’s block, “is the result of a bad idea or at least an idea that the writer couldn’t give a damn about.”
But he also adds that writing is driven by fear. “Fear demands me to be more precise and befittingly provocative. Fear questions the core of my assumptions and ideas. Fear compels me to make sure I am getting it right and my reader leaves with that “Aha!” moment. Fear is everything, but for fear to work as an ally, you must have the willingness to move forward.”
And since King understands fear much better than most of us, and has made millions scaring his readers, I listen to him. He knows what he’s talking about. He also makes a great point that we put so much pressure on ourselves and our performance as writers that we end up scaring ourselves away from writing anything.
The solution is to put that fear way, ignore it, and push forward. Who cares if we write something terrible? Who cares if it’s not brilliant? In fact, we should just accept that it will not be the best thing ever written and move on.
So, when we feel blocked, we should:
1. Figure out what else is bothering us as Gilbert states. Are you really blocked or are you anxious about seeing your relatives for the holidays? Are you being overly competitive and attempting to out-write someone else? What is the real problem? Figure that out and deal with that issue first.
2. Deal with the fear of writing and give yourself the freedom to move forward and write poorly.
3. Go back to your book and make sure you understand the character, the plot or the topic you are writing about. You might need to do more research or more pre-writing.
4. Lastly, give yourself a little distance. Go for a walk, do something else. Make dinner. Wash dishes. Take a shower (this always seems to spark inspiration).
When The Muse Is Gone
Something else that Elizabeth Gilbert states that I believe is true is that sometimes inspiration leaves us. We might get excited about a story when we begin to write it. But if we don’t pay attention to the story, if we don’t write it when the passion is hot, the muse might leave us, and we might truly need to move on and try something different. If that happens, it doesn’t mean that you are a bad writer, it just means that you need to write something else. Who knows, you might come back to that story one day, but until then, don’t beat yourself up, just move on.