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Monday, December 8, 2014

Writerly Woes: Writer's Block

This week I'm talking about writerly woes. I know some of you mentioned specific frustrations and I'll be dealing with those later in the week. Today, I'm tackling the beast. Writer's Block.

A well published author once told me there is no such thing as writer's block. You just haven't thought it through enough. I think this statement is in part true. If you're stuck in the middle of a project, you just can't seem to finish, this statement applies. Go back to the drawing board, story board, plot map, concept, whatever you use. Think it through. Think some more. Come back and write it down.
But it's only in part true, because this advice makes an assumption: you're stuck on a project or couple of a projects. What about when you just can't write? You sit down for your writing time and stare at a blank page the entire time. You have projects you could be working on. You know what should be happening. You can see it in your head. It's funny and cute and oh so sweet. But it's not coming out of your head. More planning won't help with this. You already know what's going to happen, you're just not doing the work. I get this sometimes and it's much harder to crush. I think this comes in two varieties.
1. Writer's Anxiety: It's not that I'm really blocked, or that I don't know where to take the story. It's that I'm scared. Scared it's going in the wrong direction. I'll use the wrong words. People are going to hate this. It sucks. I'm writing a book and I'll get to the end to have a whole book that sucks. My agent is going to drop me. My publisher is going to drop me. The world is going to end. My entire career--everything I've worked for four years to build--is hanging on this next sentence. That is alot of pressure on this sentence. This sentence has to be perfect. Do you get it? You just don't get it. My entire life depends on this sentence. ---Yeah, just thinking about that got me so worked up I think I need a Prozac.
Whew. So when I find myself in this place, I know what I need. Help. The kind of help that can only come from another writer. Or in completely desperate moments when I've been abandoned by the whole writing community (like 4 a.m.) it must come from within. My first steps are to text my bff, Kelly Hashway and say, "I suck." Because she will immediately say that I don't. She will remind me I've told her every book I've ever written has sucked and most of them have turned out to be interesting reads sometimes even high concept. My next step is to challenge her to a word war. If she's available we will compete. This helps me get past the anxiety and the worry about quality because my goal is only to get more words on paper than her. It's fine if they're bad. We'll fix it later. If she's not available I will go on Twitter and ask who is up for a word war. I've met new people this way and found more support. Or Kelly will say I can't war, but I challenge you to write X number of words. The thing about this once I start writing past the fear, I move in the flow. The words come and I'm on a roll again. Or I have another friend Ashley Maker who will check in with me to see what my word counts are and send me cute gifs throughout the day as I hit certain goals. We are part of an amazingly supportive community. Use it.
2. Writer's Depression: I lied. It all comes down to anxiety. That stupid fear that can control your life. This entire paragraph is a rewrite, because I was writing it the first time, I realized that when you are too disappointed with all the things that didn't happen right or haven't happened yet what you're really feeling is "I'm not getting anywhere." And what that really means is "I'm afraid I'm never going to get anywhere." As I wrote this paragraph the first time, I told you I had no idea how to get through writer's depression, but I was looking for answers because I'm stuck in it. And I didn't know how to get through it, but I knew that you could get through it, because I was stuck here in 2011 and then I came back like a champ in 2012. I wrote The Fate of A Marlowe Girl and A Missing Peace, the book that got my agent. I channeled that success through 2013 and wrote The Other Marlowe Girl and Finding Hope. I realized I was writing this the true problem. And 2015 will be a good year.

Do you know of any other forms of writer's block? Do you suffer from writer's anxiety?


Janie Junebug said...

I don't believe in writer's block. If I'm not ready to write, then I do something else and before I know it, the words are running around my brain in circles. As for anxiety, I have it all the time, about everything.


dolorah said...

I think writer's anxiety sums it up for me. I worry about everything from how I'll ever get the entire story written, to what if nobody likes it. This can block me for months at a time. Sometimes I can write short things, beginnings or middles of random new ideas, so I know its not complete blok, just anxiety about myself as an author.

Beth said...

Dolorah--I've had the anxiety this whole year. 2015 will be better. I'm kicking fear!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I'm completely neurotic, so I can relate to those feelings of anxiety. I like reading Natalie Goldberg's books on writing; one of her suggested exercises is the "I Remember" exercise, where you sit and write down random things that you remember (or you can choose a theme, like high school or food or whatever). I've tried it, and it often helps me beat writer's block because I can always remember something, even if it's not directly relevant to the story I'm working on. But just writing down a bunch of "I remember" lines helps me get back in the writer's groove.

Liz A. said...

I find that if I write anything (even what the weather outside my window is like) it helps get things flowing. The trick is to stop thinking...