I’ve been having a problem lately. Or, at least, I was. And I think it’s a problem that many writers experience: self-imposed writer’s block (but really, isn’t nearly every form of writer’s block self-imposed?).
It’s not the first time I’ve experienced a block, but I think I came out of this particular bout of it stronger and a little bit wiser. I’d like to share my experience with you (because writing it down is pretty much the only way I can suss out exactly what I learned). So this post is about how I psyched myself out – and how I got over it.
But first, let me ask you this, my fellow writers: do you ever feel like you just can’t get the words out? Do you ever sit in front of your computer, willing yourself to write, but find yourself stuck in the middle of your WIP, not making any progress for days on end? Do you feel, some days, that if you have to look at your current writing project that you’re going to be physically ill because ohmygod you haven’t touched it in weeks and it’s starting to grow figurative literary mold? Do you ever get into funks like that?
Of course you do – we all do. That’s writer’s block, and it’s something all writers will likely encounter at least once (if not hundreds of times) in their writing career.
But this writer’s block that I’ve been experiencing has been a very specific brand of writer’s block. It was a block with a specific piece – a series of short stories that I’d strung into a serialized story on my micro-fiction blog. I was working on turning the series into a novella, but after the third or fourth installment in the series had been posted to my blog, the words just stopped coming.
It wasn’t that I was too busy to write – I had a week where I was on vacation from work and all I did was stare at my computer helplessly for hours on end. And it wasn’t that I didn’t know what to write. I had an outline for heaven’s sake!
No, no. This was a wily kind of block. It was stubborn, affecting only the one project. And even after two weeks of my usual block-busting tactics, I was still sitting at the same exact place in my WIP. So what was causing it?
The answer came to me when I spoke to my toughest critic – my father. After I’d moaned about my current project and how I’d been able to make no progress on it, my father took one look at me and said, “You’re psyching yourself out.”
I dismissed it at first, this idea that my block was coming from somewhere so simple. That it was MY fault. I told my dad (and not all too kindly) that I was doing everything I could. I was sitting down every day to write – I was showing up and trying. But it just wasn’t working. The story had gone stale.
“No,” he said. “You’ve created something that people like, and you’re afraid you’re going to choke and that you’re not going to be able to deliver. THAT is where your block is coming from. You’re scared to mess up.”
The next day, when I sat looking at my computer and the words simply weren’t coming, I gave some thought to my father’s diagnosis. I’d put the first parts of my story out there before the rest of the story had even been fleshed out. And peopled liked it. While this is exactly what I wanted, I hadn’t anticipated the positive feedback having a negative impact on me.
My father was right – I was scared that I’d made a promise of an epic sci-fi story to my readers and wouldn’t be able to follow through. I was afraid that I would write the next part, post it, and readers who had liked the previous pieces would turn their noses up at this new installment. And every time I sat down to write, that was all I could picture: my readers hating whatever words I produced next.
I let this stew for a few days, knowing that I needed to write. To turn off my internal editor and let go. But it wasn’t that simple. Something else was holding me back. What I needed, it turned out, was to give myself permission to fail. Not just to write a crappy first draft, but also to know that if I worked as hard as I could on the series and people ended up hating it anyway, that was okay. The world wouldn’t end. I would have still written the story I wanted to write.
So I sat down and told myself to start typing. Start typing and don’t look back – or forward for that matter. Just. Write.
And really, isn’t that the cure for any form of writer’s block? Just sit down and write? Do it? But I think it’s important to realize that sometimes we put additional roadblocks in place for ourselves. I’d put a lot of pressure on myself to keep my readers happy (which is important, but if you – as the author – don’t write what you want to write and how you want to write, it will be painfully clear to your readers), forgetting the most important reason I started writing the novella in the first place: because it made me happy.
In the future, I don’t know that I’ll approach a serial this way again. I don’t think I’ll attempt to put any of my work on display before the whole story is done. Perhaps my next serial will be completed before any of it is released. But even though this block (that lasted nearly the whole month of December) was tortuous, it was a good refresher for me. To be a writer means to put on your big-girl (or big-boy) pants and write. Even when you doubt yourself and even when you hate everything you write and even when you don’t know what to say. Show up every day and do your job. Get your words down. And stop psyching yourself out.
What was your worst writer’s block? And how did you overcome it? Have you ever shared something before it was entirely completed? Let me know in the comments below!