Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of the dreaded writer’s block is brought to you by Nicky Wells.
Talk yourself out of writer’s block!
Writer’s block, yeah, I get it. I know that weird, disassociated feeling when you stare at the screen and your mind seems to go into neutral, and no constructive thought comes forth. Nada. Not a sausage. Zilch. I usually bite my nails furiously (a bad habit that I am trying really hard to shed without much success) and eventually go off to make a cup of tea, with lots of sugar, please.
I can see how someone could get themselves completely stuck, fall down that deep black hole and struggle to pull themselves out again. Yet that has never happened to me so far. I usually manage to kick-start my writing again, if not that same hour, or even that same day, then usually the following day. Therefore, when I read a fellow writer’s plea for advice on overcoming writer’s block, I came up with a few ideas, and I was actually quite surprised at how strongly I felt about them. So I thought I’d put on my sharing hat and… share.
My ideas largely result from a six-year immersion in a professional work environment where I had to ‘produce’, day after day, hour after hour, whether I felt like it or not. It was non-fiction writing; sometimes, it would be a client letter, but most times, it would be research briefs or books of some description. All in all, it was a creative process harnessed and managed to within an inch of its life. It taught me that it is possible to be creative, to write, on tap, on demand, when you need to. So without further ado, I give you: Nicky’s tips and tricks for talking yourself out of writer’s block. I am not an expert, nor a psychologist. By I am a pragmatist, and this is what you’re getting from me: pragmatic, down-to-earth suggestions, a kind of tough-love school of thought.
Diagnose the cause—I reckon writers get blocked for a variety of reasons, occurring singly or in combination. Insecurity (my work’s no good anymore); perfectionism (got to get it right first time); pressure (got to get the manuscript to my agent/publisher by this or that date); tiredness (just can’t seem to get any ideas); distraction (too much else going on in your life). Figuring out why you’re ‘blocked’ might well yield the answer in and as of itself. But if not, read on.
Defeating insecurity—This is a tricky one, but you simply have to believe in yourself. Why else are you writing? So when the doubts niggle at you, remind yourself of your achievements. If you’ve written one good book, chances are you’ll write another. Consider your work-in-progress to-date. Does it make you laugh? Bingo. Does it make you cry? Well, fantastic. There you go: you’ve got the makings of a great book.
In my opinion, the best strategy for overcoming insecurity is to read your book with a fresh perspective. Load it up on your e-reader, or print it out in a large font in landscaped orientation; anything to remove you from the familiar layout that you’ve been staring at for hours. Read it out aloud. Read it to someone else. Or record yourself and play it back. Take yourself out of your writer’s box and into the reader’s seat. And when you are in that zone, allow yourself to enjoy your book as a reader. Don’t overanalyse, don’t look for problems. Just read! While you do that, have a pad handy to jot down notes regarding anything you really like, or anything that grates or doesn’t sound right. There, you’re taking constructive action. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Just keep reading, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and note down ONLY the really good things, and the things that really annoy you. Then, when you’re done, go back and take stock. Address one issue at a time. Don’t panic! Even the biggest rewrite isn’t as big as it looks when you apply method and structure. One change at a time.
Abandoning perfectionism—Well, what can I say? Let it go. You don’t need to be perfect. In fact, your work won’t ever be perfect. It’s impossible. So bury that unattainable goal and just go with the flow. Who cares if there’s a dud sentence or two? Who cares if that scene could have been written differently? Think of your all-time favourite book. I bet there’s something in there that could be better. I can see you thinking… oh… hang on, yes, there it is. See, told you! Imperfections merely accentuate the beauty of your writing, so quit worrying and get over your quest for the perfectly turned phrase. Just do it, as they say. Just write. Tell yourself, “nobody’s perfect.”
Alleviating pressure—That’s a big factor! Granted, sometimes deadlines focus the mind and pressure can get the old adrenaline going. But most of the time, pressure freezes you up. And most of the time, pressure combines with self-doubt and / or perfectionism and plunges you into a really deep freeze. Take the pressure off. Got a deadline? Rethink it. Tell your agent or publisher now, well in advance, that you might need a little longer. At the very least, talk with them about it, even if you don’t move the deadline. At the end of the day, you’ve only got two options. You can meet the deadline and send the agent or publisher the manuscript then, as it is, however bad you feel about it. They might like it, or they might not. If they don’t like it, they might make suggestions, or they might turn you down. It’s a gamble, either way. Or you can try to renegotiate the deadline. They might accept your request, or they might not. If they don’t, you can still revert to the previous strategy (send what you have). If they do, you’ve taken the pressure off. Congratulations. Now breathe, and relax.
And what if you miss the deadline? What if your WIP still isn’t up to the standard you like? Well, does it matter? I mean, really, in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? I know it matters to you, and I am being a complete heretic here in many ways. But: does it matter to the universe? Life goes on, the world will keep turning, and opportunities will present themselves, whether you’ve met your deadline or not, whether you’ve reached your self-imposed standards or not. It’s all in the mind. Nobody’s died. Get a grip, as my heroine likes to admonish herself.
Respecting tiredness—If you’re tired and have run out of inspiration, let the writing go. Listen to your mind and your body! Give yourself a break. But don’t give up! There’s a difference between walking away from your desk frustrated and disheartened, or shutting down the computer purposefully, squaring your shoulders, lifting your chin and saying (out loud): “I am tired. I am now going to have a break. And when I am rested, I will come back and write some more.”
When you do have a break, allow yourself to have a break. Too often, we walk away from our work on a ‘break’ but keep fretting about it. Don’t! Don’t keep thinking about the fact that you ought to be writing, and don’t dwell on the fact that you seem to have run out of ideas. That way of thinking causes a traffic jam in the little synapses in your brain, and you will literally be blocked. But if you force yourself to do something else, disallow any thoughts of writing, the synapses will open. Clean the house. Do a jigsaw. Help the kids with their A-level maths homework. Do anything that challenges your brain and / or your hands but that isn’t writing-related. Sometimes, ten minutes will do and suddenly ideas will zap across the canopy of your mind. Sometimes, it might take a day, or even week. Fine. So be it. Just know that ideas will come!
And that’s it. When you’re faced with that awful sensation of writer’s block, try to figure out what’s blocking you and then do something constructive about that. Talk to someone, talk to yourself. Don’t spend hours staring at the screen or the printout. Take some different action, whether it’s a break, or a chat with your agent, or a long reading-out-loud session. Take it one step at a time, not a whole manuscript at a time. Don’t be afraid to make those changes, and don’t panic. Believe in yourself and your instinct. Most of all, remember that you’re writing because you love it! And now you’re welcome to tell me off for lecturing you on something so fundamental in such a happy-go-lucky, easy-as-pie, really annoying kind of way. Good! Because that means you’ve started writing again….
I loved that, thank you, Nicky! Although I rarely suffer from a block, the recording and playing back sounds a brilliant idea. I record a fortnightly podcast (one of which is this post!) so it makes perfect sense!
About Nicky Wells: Romance that Rocks Your World!
Nicky Wells writes fun and glamorous contemporary romance featuring a rock star and the girl next door. She recently signed her debut novel, Sophie’s Turn, with U.S. publisher, Sapphire Star Publishing, and the book is due for release on 6 September 2012. Nicky loves rock music, dancing, and eating lobsters. When she’s not writing, Nicky is a wife, mother, and teaching assistant. Nicky is also a featured author on the innovative reader / author project, loveahappyending.com.
Originally born in Germany, Nicky moved to the United Kingdom in 1993, and currently lives in Bristol with her husband and two boys. In a previous professional life, Nicky worked as a researcher and project manager for an international Human Resources research firm based in London and Washington, D.C.
Visit Nicky on her blog where you can find articles, interviews, radio interviews and, of course, an ongoing update on her work in progress, the second and third parts of the Rock Star Romance Trilogy. You can also follow Nicky on Twitter and find her on Facebook.
About Sophie’s Turn—Coming from Sapphire Star Publishing on 6 September 2012!
One fine day in Paris, Sophie Penhalligan suddenly finds herself engaged to her teenage crush and love-of-her-life-from-a-distance, rock singer and star extraordinaire Dan Hunter. But there is the small matter of her very recent, but very prior, engagement to Tim. Reliable, honest, trusting Tim, her boyfriend of two years stashed away safely in his mews house in South Kensington while Sophie is drinking rather too much champagne with Dan in Paris. This contemporary romantic fairy tale describes how Sophie gets into her impossible situation and how she turns it around.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with multi-genre author Kelly Abell – the four hundred and thirteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.