Sorry if this has been asked before, but is writers block ever a problem for you? I have admired how prolific you are, and appreciate how you've discussed the negative aspects of writing too much. But what about when you've been staring at a blank document for what feels like years? Tell me there's a magical cure!
It is a problem for me, though I often don’t call it writer’s block (though sometimes I do, I’m fickle).
I’ve written about it in the past. This is probably the best post I’ve written about it. :D
Okay, but also yes, YES writer’s block is a problem for me. See:
- Taking two years to get started on The Ice Plague. Definitely insecurity related writer’s block.
- Taking a billion years to publish a book. See an absolute fear of failure.
- Me using the old technique of ‘I’m writing therefore you can’t see what I have writer’s block with’ (i.e. trading original works for fanfiction because it’s less pressure).
I can generally get words down. Most of the time. I’ve also had a solid writer’s block of years in the past - like literally years - where I wrote nothing. Nothing at all. But…I trained myself as a visual artist to work even when I didn’t feel like working, and as a result, I can also write when I don’t feel like writing. It’s a work ethic thing, and it means my job isn’t always fun (like all jobs), though I do think inspiration likes a willing partner, and is more likely to come if I just start and try something, than if I wait for inspiration to lead the dance.
So I’m very fortunate, because I know writers who can’t write like this. Idk why I can function this way. But then there’s things like yeah, I really did kind of spend ages hanging on The Ice Plague and staring at documents or blank pages, and feeling like…awash with terror and no movement happening.
As for how I solved that. I made myself sit down and write a line. I knew my writer’s block with The Ice Plague was - and still is - in part that I feel like no one will want to read it, and that it will be bad. I feel this in my bones. It’s a horrible feeling. I also had it with Game Theory and The Court of Five Thrones, but to a much lesser extent (god if I’d known that feeling could get worse), but it’s very bad now because I’m working with characters I don’t know anyone will ever love. Gwyn and Augus light a pretty bright torch. People might not want to look at candles after that, even if they’ll become torches later.
And so… I just… I told myself that 2017 was the year I had to start, and I needed a chapter by the end of February, and that all I had to do for the first two months was like, try writing a line. Or a paragraph. Or a snippet of dialogue.
I sort of jettisoned the idea of ‘completing a chapter’ like I normally do, and just…gently forged on. As a result, I’m five chapters in, and I’ve made the most progress I’ve made since I came up with the idea years ago.
I wish there was a magical cure! There’s not. Writer’s block is so uniquely personal to each of us, and everything from health and fatigue, to mental illness, to grave insecurities, to the story not being ‘right’ or us not being ready to write it yet, etc. can be behind it. It can be all or none of those things!
I think there are some things to remember:
- You can be nice to yourself or you can be good to yourself. Sometimes if you’re lucky, these are the same thing. But sometimes they’re not. For example:
Nice: I will treat myself to a thousand burgers (dis me)
Good: I love burgers, but I want to be good to my body to be healthy so I’m going to eat some salad and lean meat.
Nice & Good: Man I love spinach I’m so glad it’s good for me too. OR;
Nice & Good: I’m going to have a burger today, I love them so much, but I’ll keep being disciplined in the day to day re: what I eat.
In writing, it can look like this:
Nice: I’m going to be gentle to myself and not work on this project until I’m feeling it more. (this can last a lifetime!)
Good: Provided it won’t harm me in any way to do so, I’m going to cultivate some writing discipline and try writing a sentence of this thing I’m blanking on today.
Nice & Good: Because this project intimidates me, I’m not going to look at it tomorrow or the next day, but today I have to write a line. And on X day, I will write a paragraph. And then I’ll rest some more with this idea.
- You need to learn how to write in a way that works for you, and sometimes overcoming writer’s block is a matter of turfing a lot of things you’ve learned - that you need to put down words regularly (you don’t), that you need to achieve a wordcount (you don’t), that you need to never rewrite (you don’t), that you can’t edit as you go (you can), that you need to write a lot at once (you don’t), that you need to ‘finish’ something when you start it (you don’t), that it has to be perfect (it doesn’t), that you need to be nice or good (you don’t, lol) etc.
Like it was very freeing for me to be like ‘okay, even if everyone hates The Ice Plague, I need to write this for me. It ties up a lot of loose ends in the universe, and Mosk and Eran’s stories are important to me and need to be told. If I don’t tell them now, their stories won’t fade. So I’m going to tell them.’ But I also have to remind myself of this all the time, because I also want to give the people who read Fae Tales something they want to read, and I am terrified of not delivering. Emotional journeys, am I right??
But still, that moment of ‘I’m doing this because of X’ - clarifying your motivations - can help a lot. It can help you to realise or remember why you wanted to write on that blank page in the first place.
- Sometimes writer’s block just lingers. Be honest with yourself about your mental state, do you have the energy to be writing right now? Are you too mentally fatigued? Is it not the right time to be cultivating writing discipline? That kind of stuff matters a ton. I regularly blast past my own limits and then crash, and I don’t recommend that to anyone. Sometimes writer’s block protects you from yourself. And you know, that’s a thing too.