If you’ve written for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve encountered writer’s block at some point. Writer’s block might manifest as an inability to write anything at all, or an inability to write anything on a work already in progress.
I am more often afflicted with the latter, though writer’s block in any form is frustrating.
I’ll have hundreds of ideas swirling around in my head, but after a few pages or few thousand words, all those ideas disappear. I’m left with a character and story I want to bring to life so badly, but my brain can’t find the right words.
Why does this happen?
Ultimately, for me, writer’s block boils down to fear.
Fear that what I write will be terrible.
Fear that I can’t bring the story to life on paper.
Fear that no one will like what I write.
This fear strikes in the form of self-editing. While good editing is essential to crafting a superb story, editing too soon can cripple the process. Such editing takes place before a thought is fully formed. Or one or two sentences in, the whole section gets a rewrite. I’ve been there. It’s frustrating and leaves me staring at a blank screen wondering what could I possibly write that my brain will think worthy?
Awareness of this process is key to overcoming it. So here are some things I say to myself when I feel that editing bug whisper in my ear before my draft is even started.
The first draft will be awful.
So this is a bit of an exaggeration. There will be wonderful parts in the first draft, but there will also be really awful sections. And you know what? That’s ok! Those parts can be taken out later and no one will ever see them. NO ONE. Isn’t that great?
It’s OK if the first draft is awful.
This might sound like #1 but recognizing something and then accepting it is a two part process. Even though I know the first draft will
likelydefinitely be awful, I have to remind myself that it’s OK. “Remember,” I say to myself, “NO ONE WILL SEE IT.”
Do not read what has been written.
I’m guilty of breaking this rule quite a bit. I’ll get a page or two written and then, feeling accomplished and with no hint of writer’s block, I’ll read what I’ve written. Guess what happens next? I start editing. “Oh hi there writer’s block, nice to have you back!” It might be impossible to write an entire draft, especially a novel, without reading over it at all, but I try to not go back until I’ve written a significant percentage of the work. If it’s flash fiction, I write the whole thing in one go. Short story, maybe four or five pages before breaking from the flow. You get the idea. The key is to keep that self-editor at bay by not giving it a chance to see the work until you are in the homestretch.
No one tells the story like you.
Sometimes that bug in my ear says, “This story has already been written.” This might be true, but look at how many stories have been retold a hundred times and each retelling brings a new revelation, a new perspective on an old theme. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and the list goes on…and on and on! No one will tell a story exactly like you would. There is a rhythm to every writer’s work and each sentence, each chapter, is put together in such a way that can’t be repeated by anyone. So when you feel that fear creep in that you’re telling a story everyone already knows, remind yourself that they’ve never heard it from you!
It doesn’t have to be a bestseller.
So this is a bit over the top haha 😉 but the point is that I need to remind myself that I’m writing because I enjoy it. I’m writing because I have a story in my head that I would want to read. Sure, it would be great if other people want to read it too, but such worries put a lot of pressure on the writing and the writer. Instead of worrying about where your story will fit on the shelves or who will find it interesting, just write the story in your heart.
I hope my personal pep talk gives you a bit of encouragement and helps fight off the writer’s block bug. 🙂
Part two will be up tomorrow with an exercise I’ve found to help that first draft take shape when writer’s block is knocking at the door.
How do you overcome writer’s block? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!