I've never sat and stared at a blank page and not been able to put down a single word, so I assumed I'd never really had writer's block. But that stereotypical, angsty form of the dread disease isn't the only form it takes. There's a quieter, more insiduous form that can sap your creativity just as surely. And that one I've suffered from frequently.
Even when you know where your story is going, it's sometimes excruciatingly, teeth-pullingly hard to get there. You may find that you have no time to write. You may find that you hate the previous chapter so much you can't possibly write another word until you fix it. Or maybe you have a burning need to blog, or Facebook, or Tweet, or play that extra game of Lexulous. Maybe you need to watch that rerun of Law and Order for the 47th time. The kids need something, the dog needs to be walked, a committee needs volunteers, there's a great yoga class, or--heaven forbid--a client actually needs work done. Oh, and somewhere in there, there's a very patient husband. When you're excited about the story and the characters and plot are working well, none of that stuff gets in the way of putting down 1500 words a day. When you grind down to 100 words-per-day or spend more time talking or reading about writing than actually writing, you may have joined the great, often unwashed, ranks of writer's block suffererers.
Time for an eight-step program. But first, the diagnosis. When I sat down and thought about why I'm not writing as easily, I found it all came down to doubt. Sit down and analyze what it is that brought your writing to a crawl. Is it any of the following reasons?
- There's something in the story that isn't working right, but you don't know what it is.
- You've written yourself into a corner and need time for your brain to figure out how to get out of it.
- You're worried that the concept of the story isn't good enough.
- You're worried the voice of the story isn't right or good enough.
- You're worried that your writing overall isn't good enough.
- You're worried that no matter how much you write, how many times you edit, you will never be good enough.
- You've heard all the great stories about other people's journeys and their success makes you more convinced than ever that items 3,4,5, AND 6 above are absolutely true.
- You just read a great book, a stupendous, knock-your-breath-out-of-your-chest book, and you will never be that good in a million years.
- If something in your story doesn't work, read the manuscript over with an editorial eye and find the problem. Show it to critique partners or beta readers. Get their feedback and LISTEN to what they say.
- If you've written yourself into a corner, try different techniques for getting out of it. Run 'what if' scenarios. Throw more complications at your protagonist. Review your Goal, Motivation, Conflict (GMC). Pick up a free tool like yWriter and plug the scenes you've already written into it, describe those scenes, put in the goals and conflicts within each one, and then start shuffling and fine tuning until something creative fires inside your brain.
- Analyze the concept. Break it down to a log line or pitch paragraph and see if it sounds interesting. If it doesn't, then maybe that's the problem. Keep twisting it until it's a saleable, workable premise. And yes, that may require rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty.
- Figure out what's wrong with the voice with the help of critique partners and beta readers. Is it wrong for the main character? For the genre? Not interesting enough? Not authentic enough?
- If you're worried about your writing, you can work to improve it. Read great books in a variety of genres, experiment, and write, write, write. The more you write, the better you will get.
- You may never be good enough--that's true. But how do you measure that? Are you a failure if you don't win a Newberry? If you don't make the NY Times Bestseller list? If you don't get published? One thing's for certain, you do fail if you never try. Maybe instead of worrying about failure, it's time to redefine success.
- The writers who get the most attention are those who make it fast, or make it big. For all of them, there are a lot of others who made it by clawing their way onto the midlist by the skin of their teeth, working hard on every book, and steadily getting better at their craft. Remember them instead of the J.K. Rowlings of the world.
- You probably will never write a knock-the-breath-out-of-your-chest book. But maybe you will speak to someone, even one person, the way that book spoke to you. Maybe one sentence in one book you write will change someone for the better, or make someone happier, or make them see something in the world in a different way. It may only be a critique partner, or a trusted friend, and that's okay. It's better than okay, because it's someone who matters to you even more than a stranger would. And maybe the next book will change two people. In the meantime, you get to keep writing, and you have the excuse to keep reading a lot of great books that make you feel amazed and humbled and inspired.
And bonus? We get to meet and spend time with other writers, and many of them--more than I can count--are the most incredible people in the world. They keep imagining all these wondrous things, and they keep working toward seemingly impossible dreams. They make the journey a joy to travel.
So what about you? Do you suffer from writers block? What brings it on? And how do you get over it?