As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a new writer. I have been writing since I could hold a crayon and have loved every moment of it. I like writing reports for school, blog posts, journal entries, grocery lists, short fiction, long fiction, D&D campaigns, songs…(though I kinda suck at the last two to be honest). I am, however, new to the publishing game.
I knew going into this that I would be getting rejections. That’s all a part of this life – you literally cannot please everyone and you should never try. However, it is tiring. I know some of you are looking at the rejection counter and thinking “Three rejections has you frustrated? I got twice that last week!” But it’s that plus feeling stressed to the point of exhaustion at work, things going on in life in general, a lack of blog views and self-promotion always makes me feel a little weird about myself.
And it’s perfectly natural to be at this point right now. It can take up to a year of consistent posting before a blog gets any significant readership, I haven’t done a whole lot of promotion (mainly just throwing links up on Twitter and Instagram), and I definitely haven’t been putting in enough hours for me to start getting squirrely.
What I’m saying is I’m feeling a bit of unwarranted self-consciousness and it’s annoying.
So what am I doing about it?
I’m going to write my way out.
“Writer’s block” is caused by a number of things, mostly internal. You might have doubts about your abilities like I do now. Sometimes you feel like you “peaked” with your last story or post. Maybe it feels like nothing you write is original enough (this is also part of my problem). Other times you look at the project on the whole and immediately decide you need a nap.
To work through our writer’s block, we first need to understand what is causing it. Do some journaling about it, write about every thought that comes up every time we start to put pen to paper or finger to key. This isn’t for anyone else to read, just for us.
Let’s take a look at these different causes and how we can work around them:
1. “I suck at writing/I peaked with my last piece”
This might be the most common block out there. You sit down to write something that you know other people are going to read (or at least, you hope they do), and suddenly every word you put down is wrong. Sentences fail to flow, your writing voice sounds hoarse, you can’t seem to get to the point, and dialogue comes off like it was written by robots. Not the hilarious AI writing, either. How do you fix this? By not giving a shit anymore. Boom – next problem!
Just kidding. But also kind of not.
I have two different strategies for dealing with this, depending on how bad I feel at the time. If I am feeling more lukewarm about what I’m doing, I just write what I tell myself are journal entires. If something good comes out of it, then sure I’ll use that, but I don’t expect it at all. For example, if I want to write a blog post but feel like it’s not going to be good, I just write a journal entry about what I was wanting to write. This isn’t anything that anyone will ever see, so it allows me to let go of the perfectionism holding me back.
If I am completely down about my abilities, I like to not only write something I know will never be read, but also cheer myself up with some ridiculousness. In the example of trying to write a blog post, I sit down and pretend that this is the final draft and write something patently horrible. Break all of the rules, fill that mother up with cliches, swear to your heart’s content. Use the same word twelve sentences in a row. Make your topic terrible too: write about something completely insane, or completely inane. “An ode to my…um,” looks around, “post-it notes.”
Though not at all healthy, I am also a fan of picking up something that’s been published that is way worse than anything I write. Somebody paid for that, friend. And someone will pay for what you write as well.
2. “Nothing I write is original enough”
This is another problem I’m running into right now. I decided to start doing my “learning out loud” series which involves doing research. But then this ends up showing me just how many people write about the things I’m trying to write about. Obviously others have written about these things, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do much research on them, but my brain immediately decides to discount anything I could say.
But I’m not just writing about, say, researching. I’m writing about my view on it, what information I found and what I plan on doing with it. Eventually, after I’ve put that plan into action enough times, I’ll be writing about my own personal experience with it. Some people won’t connect with what I write, but others will only connect with it.
When it comes to writing fiction, it’s the same. We aren’t just writing a ghost story or romance novel, we’re writing about our whole experience with the subject. If we write with our own, unique, authentic voice, then we will be writing something original.
I will be writing about this topic soon, I think. It’s worth exploring even if just to ease my own mind about if I have done enough for this or not.
3. “I need a nap”
Oof. I get this feeling so hard sometimes. This usually happened to me with school projects. You know that there is a ton of stuff to research, a bunch of pages to write about something you’re not super excited about, and then you have to give it to someone who is going to judge it harshly, which can affect if you’re able to go to college or not, which in turn affects your career choices and how much money you’re going to make in the futu–
Hold up, buddy. Take a breath.
You don’t even know what your paper is about yet.
If you haven’t guessed yet, I am anxiety-prone and can be easily overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed makes me sleepy. It’s almost like my body is sizing up some kind of beast in the wild it needs to chase down, and decides it needs to gather some energy and strength first. But we aren’t hunting buffalo, we’re researching and then writing a paper. So how do I approach this?
Back in the day, I would just take that nap and then scramble on the last night, driven by adrenaline to stay up until it was done. Today, however, I have a much better way to deal: breaking it up into chunks.
First, pick a topic. Nothing matters until a topic is chosen. You can’t hand in a paper with no topic, because you can’t write a paper with no topic, so don’t bother thinking about that part yet. Same thing with a novel.
If you look at writing a novel with the “everything done at once” mode, then of course you’re going to want to take a nap. But you haven’t even thought of a plot yet! Don’t waste energy on the publicity or editing or reviews until you at the very least have a plot.
Once you get the plot, you can start to do your research and world building – one tiny detail at a time. Once you get your topic, you can start your research. Gather your source citations, figure out where your main character lives, etc. Break up whatever your project is into the smallest bites imaginable, and don’t even think about the others yet.
But what if…?
What if we do suck at writing? What if we did peak with our last piece? What if we really are writing what everyone else is writing? What if our project really is too big?
Then we need to keep writing! It might be hard, but if this were easy, literally everyone who ever said “I wanna write a book” would have done it already. Why must we keep writing? Because it’s what we want to do – and we can’t get better until we have done what we want to do over and over and over again.
So write until your hands cramp and your eyes dry out.* Write until you have no more words to write. Finish your projects as best you can, figure out what went well, what didn’t go well, and what you can do better in the future, and then do it all over again.
*Don’t push yourself too hard, for reals.
So then what do I write?
Anything! As I mentioned already, now is the time I’m going to write myself out of this slump, but what does this mean? Broadly speaking, it really does mean write more and with sheer abandon. For me, however, this means that I am going to give the “personal essay” thing a shot.
In between researching for blog posts and my novel, I am going to write a boatload of essays. And they are going to be terrible. It’s something I haven’t actually done since I attempted college, and I’d like to publish some on Medium eventually. Those will be what I turn to when I get stuck again while writing posts. Something new, something without a deadline, something I understand I will be terrible at to begin with. Anything to get words flowing again.
What do you think you might turn to when you get stuck? Which one of these blocks is more common for you – or is there another I didn’t mention here you have trouble with? Let’s talk about it in the comments!