Dear fellow writers and friends
I have a conundrum. A crippling problem that seems impossible to overcome, try as I might, these last months.
It appears I’m suffering a huge dose of writers block. No, not just some temporary glitch in creativity. It’s a ruddy great chasm that’s growing bigger every time I look.
Other than the occasional blog or two, the most writing I’ve done lately is to complete the application to send to Jan Jones for the RNA Summer Party! Yes, this is serious and that’s why I’m here, appealing – no, pleading – for help and advice.
It seems these days I’m more barren than rain in winter or a tree in February, yet despite my over-analysing tendencies, the reason isn’t clear. You’d think I should be flying through the re-write of my WIP, knowing an agent (Jane Judd) is waiting to see my full MS following last year’s Festival of Romance New Talent Awards. Maybe that’s the trouble. Maybe I’ve become so intimidated by the thought that an agent of this calibre might want to see my novel, it’s putting me under pressure to create some sort of giant masterpiece and has interrupted my flow of creative juices.
Perhaps it’s the other stuff that’s going on in my life at the moment that have contributed to my lack of self-belief or confidence. With divorce imminent and on-going health problems, it’s hardly surprising my pen doesn’t flow freely. My writer friends humour me, telling me writing will be my salvation and a distraction. I might even find it cathartic, but bottom line is; it’s not happening, it hasn’t been for months and if anything, it’s getting worse.
You may think these are excuses for the weak, un-disciplined and un-motivated but I promise you, I used to be the most motivated, disciplined person ever. So where has it gone?
This is my third full re-write of this WIP and I won’t give up but I don’t have chance to let it rest in a drawer for a few weeks. I can’t give up, knowing I have an agent who wants to read the finished MS. Every day I switch on the laptop, re-read the latest section I was working on and tweak and twiddle. Then I twiddle and tweak a bit more… then delete. Somehow I’ve developed this huge monster who has crippled my fluidity and no matter how many times I try to give myself a good talking to and get a grip, nothing works. In fact in six months, I’m still on chapter three of the re-write and can often spend a whole day on a particular sentence or paragraph, or research, trying to get it right.
I know it’s pathetic, especially considering there are still another thirty chapters to go. Writing is as much about the mind as it is the pen. But how do I conquer whatever’s causing the drought in my writing, and splatter the crows that sit on my shoulders some days, pecking away at my confidence and self-belief, and get it back on track.
Do you have any answers? If you’ve been here, did you feel the same; as if you had forgotten everything you’d learnt about the craft of writing?
A lot about WIP’s is self-belief and I can see my story in the ideal shape and form in my minds eye yet I can’t get it down on the screen or onto paper.
I know what they mean now about a ‘labour of love.’ Should I continue labouring, keep up this persistent modifying in the hope that I’ll seize the very sentence or scene that will inspire me and drag me by the eyeballs to speed across the page, furiously typing away, and progress to the next chapters and beyond. Or should I stop taking myself so seriously, forget about judgements, lighten up, write drivel if necessary, which can then be honed and fine tuned at a later stage. Well, ‘Writer’s Write.’ If only it were that simple.
Come on fellow writers, RNA members, aspiring authors or anyone interested in the creative word. Can you give any advice/snippets to help answer this rookie writer with the question ; is there such a thing as ‘writer’s block?’ And does anyone have any pearls of wisdom on how to push through the pain of re-writes on a WIP?
Yours in hope
25 thoughts on “Dear Writers. Can you help?”
I can imagine that the reason your writing isn’t flowing on to the laptop is probably a mixture of all the above. My lightbulb moment came when I read, I believe on Julie Cohen’s blog, that you should allow yourself to write crap. I wrote ‘Write Crap’ onto a post-it and stuck it on the shed wall. I think if you allow yourself to do that you’ll probably find that the good stuff follows behind (ahem, I’m still waiting…) and then you can go back and change/delete the less spectacular bits at the beginning.
Aww, thanks Debs. And the one thing I might be able to manage at the moment is to ‘write crap!’ Am going to go write a post-it note to myself now… 😀
I’m with that idea. Try writing something else, something totally random and daft (I indulge in fanfic or flashfic if stuck – it seems to flush out the blockage). Or take the bits you’re stuck on and entirely rework them (in a new doc!) as something really silly, like putting in vampires, or with a plot line that diverges from where you want to go. That’ll teach your story who’s in charge and you might be able to go back to the proper version with renewed vigour. (Or a nude vicar. Either works.)
Roddy Doyle said ‘Regard each page as a small triumph’ and ‘Feel anxious, it’s part of the job’. You are not alone. What you are feeling is normal for a writer. What you are living through in your personal life is, unfortunately, also normal for some of us. But, if you are a writer, you’ll need to keep on writing through hell and high water, just like eg. a doctor would carry on doctoring, or an airline pilot would carry on flying, cathartic or not. In it’s most blatant form, stripped of all the creativity, romance, inspiration, fulfillment and blah-di-blah, writing is a job that needs doing. So, that unhelpful info aside, why don’t you get some help? Donald Maass’s book is my favorite oft-reached-for lifeline for this kind of situation. Try applying his ‘Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook’ (NB. the WORKBOOK), to your WIP. As you work through your WIP with this book at your side, you will have the opportunity to look at it from a fresh angle and most likely find the inputs you so desperately seek! You don’t have to do everything he suggests, remember it’s your story, but he will inspire ideas to get you kick-started again.
Good luck, Debbie *hugs*
Do you know Gina, that’s really good practical advice and I really appreciate it. You’re right I hadn’t thought about it as a ‘proper’ job in that context, alongside doctors etc. (probably because I’m unpublished and don’t get paid) but that’s spot on. And I’m definitely going to get Donald Maass’s workbook. I hadn’t heard of it and will try anything, especially with your recommendation.
Thank you for your advice and encouragement!
Hi Debbie. I’m a rookie too and it happened to me when I was under pressure with a deadline. Then two excellent ideas were given to me from writer friends. Firstly, be clear on the novel’s premise – in one sentence. Secondly, and the key to getting me writing again, was to write out a backstory for one of the characters (not the main POV), but someone who can observe what is happening, or not happening, in the story. It isn’t going into the novel, but it worked got me going again and, who knows, she may even warrant a novel of her own.
Actually you’ve struck a chord there straight away in your first point about being clear on the novel’s premise! That could be the key to half my trouble as when Jane Judd read my opening chapter and gave me feedback from the other judges on how I should proceed with the novel, the one thing they all highlighted was that the premise of the novel and the genre seemed a little unclear.
You’ve made me think now. Thank you for your valuable input.
Big hug, Debbie! And deep breath. First of all, take away the pressure because it freezes you up. I think all of us writerly beings get so consumed in the perceived importance of our work that it’s easy to lose perspective. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? You miss a deadline. You frustrate an agent. Hey ho, life goes on, nobody’s died. There are ALWAYS more opportunities. Always. So: tell your agent what’s going on. End of pressure.
That was Step One. Step two ideally is to give yourself a break. I know you said you didn’t have the time, but once the pressure is off, you might find a week will really help. If you do do that, do NOT think about your MS at all. No, you’re not allowed. Nada. Ignore. Resist. Then move on to Step Three. If you can’t do Step Two, move on to step three regardless.
Step three, then. Right, here’s the trick. Ignore the laptop, and the printouts. Have you got a Kindle? Move your MS onto a Kindle and read it back to yourself, preferably out loud. I PROMISE you you’ll get a completely different perspective on it. Haven’t got a Kindle? Print your MS on A5 format, double spaced, like a paperback. It’s a lot of paper, but just shifting those lines round will free up new insights. But while you do all of that, don’t forget the most crucial piece of advice. Here goes.
CRUCIAL PIECE OF ADVICE. Believe in yourself. Stop overanalysing. Listen to your story. Like, really listen, like a reader, not an author. Allow yourself to enjoy your work. Does it make you laugh? Bingo. Does it make you cry? Fantastic. Do you share the characters’ feelings? Well done. So, read, but don’t overanalyse. Go with it. And anything that does stick out as weird, anything that doesn’t flow, anything that ‘grates’ somehow: write it down on a pad. Just note the scene or the chapter and say what the matter is but don’t worry about any solutions yet. Think of it as marking someone else’s essay: you wouldn’t rewrite it for them there and then, would you?
And at the end of all that, go back to your notes and tackle them, systematically, one by one. See if there are any trends or themes that will affect the whole book. Yes–well good, get to it. No–even better, you can just adjust scene by scene.
Apologies for this mammoth essay but I really, really believe that eliminating the pressure and then putting some sort of ‘process’ into place, a framework, a Zimmerframe for the mind if you will, will get you through this.
Don’t give up. Your work is fabulous, and a dud sentence here or there or even a crappy scene won’t make or break your agent’s or your reader’s opinion of you. On the contrary!
Good luck, honey! xxx
Oh God, I just left this really long, bossy comment and now I feel awful, like a real know-it-all. I’m not, really! These are just my thoughts and I might well be wrong. Just some ideas for you really, but you’ve got to pick whatever works for you. XX Hope that’s ok….
Oh Nicky, you daftie! Having just read your comment I’m actually thinking, WOW!
I didn’t post this blog for tea and sympathy – I need advice, proper, practical advice and you have shared some hugely valuable pieces here. I promise to re-read, digest and use every bit. Thank you for spurring me on and for taking the time to give such detailed suggestions. I think you’re a star!
PS – + look forward to meeting you in person at the RNA Summer Party or Penrith Conference
Thanks! Just got worried that I might have gone for overkill. XX Best of luck, and shout if you need anything more!
Nicky, not bossy at all. You make excellent points – gold dust! Uploading to Kindle is something I have just started doing. Oh wow, talk about seeing your work through different eyes. I will be at RNA Summer Party – hope to meet some of you there? My first RNA event, so I’ll be the one hiding in the corner.
I wrote this long comment and WP ate it. Basically suggested writing any old tat – fanfic, flashfic, limericks – just to unblock the blockage. Or take a bit of your mss that’s giving you jip and copy it into a new doc then just pastiche it. Add vampires, change the storyline, much it about and show it who’s boss so when you go back to the real thing it’s no longer frightening.
I agree, Gina. I just said to Lucie, I feel quite inspired now – I just need some time (busy day today.) However, I’m hoping to go to in-laws caravan tomorrow for a couple of days so this could be just the kick-start I need. Thank you ALL.
And yes, Gina – most of us Romaniacs are going to the Summer Party. You’ll hear us before you see us! Look forward to seeing a few of you there.
1) It’s really hard to be creative when there’s other stuff happening in your life so don’t be too hard on yourself. We’re writers, not machines.
2) Are you sure you’ve really understood what you’re trying to do? It’s a 3rd re-write at the request of an agent, so perhaps you don’t feel the changes you’re making are ‘yours’. If you don’t make them ‘yours’ – or do something else that is ‘you’ – then the words won’t come. We can only write what we believe in, from the heart, not the brain.
3) Assuming you’re happy with the overall changes you’re making, try working in a non-linear way. Dump the ms on the page and randomly pick out a coupld of pages to work on at a time. It can be quite fun jumping around – and anything that makes the process fun is worth while.
4) You say you’re writing, but then delete. Stop doing the second step until the next day when you’ve got a bit more distance from it.
5) Relax. It’s only a novel. No one’s life depends on it. Maybe this is part of your process. Be kind to yourself…
Ooh, your sage words are very calming. And it’s true what you say. I write best when I write from the heart, when I’m true to myself and it’s unhindered and meddle free (other than my own perfectionist tendencies!)
You’ve given me some great advice here. I particularly like the prospect of
working through the re-write in a non-linear way. Dipping in to pages and chapters ad hoc does sound fun. It’s worth a try anyway, and surely preferable to my current practise of wading daily through thick sludge and making no progress! I also intend reviewing how I work and will definitely give myself some time between writing before I allow my finger to hover over the delete button.
I do appreciate you taking the time to give your advice, and for your kind comments.
Sorry you’re going through such a tough time. It sounds like you are being really hard on yourself, firstly take the pressure off yourself. That won’t be helping. I personally find, it really helps to do something completely different. Something non-writing related. Tell yourself you are going to have a day or two or three where you are not going to dwell on your novel. I mean it. Grant yourself permission. Then see what happens. Do something you’ve never done before, that flexes your brain in a new way. Life is all about balance.
And finally, get yourself this month’s Psychologies, it’s got Kristin Scott Thomas on the front, the dossier topic is all about unblocking your creativity. I can’t think of a more timely moment for this feature to occur! It’s like it was meant to be : ) Good luck. xx
Aww, you’re very kind. And I think you have something there – I am my own worst enemy and have always been hard on myself, although I think it’s also a trait of un-published writers and mothers too!
It’s funny you should say about doing something non-writing related. I’ve beat myself up for weeks that I should spend every waking moment on the novel and not progressed it. Yet in the last week or so, I’ve given in and taken to walking the puppy, reading, having lunch with a friend, and it can be no co-incidence that I’ve started feeling the twitch to write again.
Thanks also for the suggestion of the magazine. I will check that out.
Warm wishes to you and thanks again.
PS – I agree about Nicky’s comments!
p.s. Nicky Wells’s comment. I second everything she’s taken the time to write. Fantastic comment!
First of all big hugs. You are really taking a battering at the moment so I hope that you are out there in the sunshine enjoying yourself today if you live in the UK. Smile. Breath. Try to find some joy in your day.
Second. To answer your question, I don’t believe in writer’s block – but I know from first hand experience that we can all get trapped in the freeze and procrastinate mode when the fear – and that is what it is, regardless of the cause, overwhelms us. It could be fear of rejection and criticism, fear of success, fear of letting your talent down and “wasting” your time by working on the wrong thing – or any combination of those things and more. But it is okay to be scared. We only worry because we care so much about our work.
For me, the best way to break out of the freeze is to go to the story structure. I am an unreformed plotter so it works for me – it may not work for you of course. But worth looking at – because it makes you look at the character arcs and the shape of your book, so that you can divide it into sections and work on a particular section, one at a time in a sequence of scenes.
If you are revising then you already have a solid draft of your book.
Now is the time to look at the overall structure and start working inwards. The Donald Maass book recommended is great, and so are the posts Sarah Duncan has recently added on revising a book. But there are tons of references on the internet. For example – this is a great resource from a screenwriter and it explains exactly what we mean by a 3 or 4 act story structure and how you can break your work down into turning points.
There is WAY too much detail on this blog – but if you work through the 3 act process, the stepping stones in your novel will suddenly became a lot clearer.
With this method, your premise and your synopsis automatically drop out and so do the areas where you are uncertain and which need work,
But the most important thing? Reconnecting with the joy in your writing and your characters. Yes, you have to put the hours in, but hopefully it will soon be something you can look forward to, instead of dreading.
Best of luck, Nina x
I’m so touched by all these lovely constructive comments and again, you’ve given me some great nuggets of wisdom as well as some really practical points which I intend to work through.
I’ve never been frightened of hard work so I’m quite happy to put the time in and I love writing so much (I can’t, not write, pardon the double-negative) so I’ll never give in. So I’ve already ordered the Donald Maas workbook and intend to use it as a workbook and with all the other advice here, get myself back on track.
Thank you so much for your advice and encouragement. Best to you with your writing.
I’m a great believer in writing through it. Don’t look at a blank page – you can’t work with nothing. Get something down, anything, at least then you can improve it.
I know you can do it, you are one very determined lady who has great positive mental attitude.
Come on, girl – you can do it!
You’ve got some great advice from the writers above. I’m a rookie too, and there are times when I feel like I’m facing a brick wall, like the children in ‘Village of the Dammed/The Midwich Cuckoos. When I get like this I think reading someone elses work really helps. So I pick up a good novel and relax. Good luck.
Thanks so much for your comment. And it’s so funny you should say this but I’ve actually decided over the last few days to spend my later evenings reading a good novel and to try and switch off (and learn from the masters) a little more.
All the best with your writing.
(My post has disappeared! Grrr).
Thank you Sue,
I know you’re right. I CAN do it (with the help and support of my Romaniac buddies;) )
And the most important thing is to get back on track and to write. Hey, Writer’s Write.. Even it is drivel sometimesl!