The following is a chapter from Business for Breakfast, Volume 1: The Beginning Professional Writer.
However, if you’re like most writers (broke!) I will also be posting a chapter a week, so you’ll merely have to have patience to read all twelve chapters.
What’s Stopping You From Writing?
I love to write. I love making stuff up, from world to characters to crises. There’s no better feeling in the world than finishing that car chase or long arc. I feel like I need a cigarette sometimes.
And yet, like most writers, I sometimes have problems getting myself to the chair. It’s all in my head, and sometimes, that isn’t the most pleasant place to be.
This chapter deals with some of the things that may be stopping you from writing.
There are times when I’m cruising along, happy to be writing, and the words suddenly just grind down. Every sentence becomes excruciatingly difficult to write.
But I like this story! I like these characters! What’s wrong?
I’ve learned that when the flow disappears, it’s often because I’ve made a wrong turn somewhere upstream.
For example, a character goes into a room and ignores the door leading out, but instead, exits the same way she came in. About two pages later, I’ll realize that the character needed to go through that other door instead.
I’ll throw away everything from the point of the wrong turn and take the right turn instead.
Most recently, I realized I needed another scene with my main character earlier in the novel. The scene I was currently trying to write was actually that earlier scene.
My subconscious knows how to tell stories. If I’m stopping mid–scene and unable to write, it’s because there’s generally something wrong at the story level.
Despite being a Towering Mountain™ of self–confidence, there are times when I’m writing a novel when I start to doubt myself. When I wonder if the story I’m telling is interesting to anyone who isn’t me. When I worry that I’ve gone too weird, or too normal, or too…you get the idea.
If I can lift my head from the page and look at where I’m at, I’ll eventually realize that I’m in what I call the “messy middle.”
For some writers this happens in the first third of the novel, these huge moments of doubt.
For me, it’s about halfway through.
I’ve written enough novels at this point to be able to identify that this is just a normal part of my process. I just have to push through the messy middle. The downhill slide to the end is just ahead, and it will be a race to the finish.
I don’t tend to get project block—that is, stopped in the middle of a project—for very long. If I’ve stopped, it’s because of one of the two things above.
There are other writers I know who do get project block—they stop in the middle of a project and can’t finish.
It may just be that they aren’t ready to write that project yet.
For me, project block happens before I even start. I can try to build enthusiasm for a project, try to tell my inner writer how much fun this new thing will be.
She ignores me and goes off to do whatever she has planned.
There are projects that I can’t write yet. I’m not ready, or the story isn’t ready in my head.
So I switch to a different project.
Project selection is key for me. If I don’t choose the right project, I can’t write.
Choose the right project. Choose the one with the strongest “Oh!” factor, the one you think is coolest, the one that makes you giggle more.
There are times when you won’t write. Every writer goes through these periods. Again, writing is all in our heads, and sometimes our heads just aren’t right.
For example, I stopped writing for a couple of years after my mother died. I went through a tremendous number of changes at the time—lost my cat, my job, my house, got a divorce, moved, and lost my mom.
I was far too messed up emotionally to write.
I didn’t have writer’s block, however. I define writer’s block as that time when you have words piling up and you want to write, but you’re not able to. The words just won’t come.
For me, at that time, there were no words.
I trusted that the words would come back. And they did. I did “prime the pump,” as it were, with a bunch of writing exercises (Judy Reeves, A Writer’s Book Of Days).
But sometimes life happens. You don’t write. And that’s okay. You will later.
The second most important thing I’ve learned about writing full time is that I must be giggling while I’m writing fiction.
That doesn’t mean that the plot is lighthearted or silly. It can be a very serious story with a high body count.
However, there must be something about the book that makes me giggle. Some aspect that just makes me laugh manically. This is what will draw me to the chair even beyond my set writing schedule. These are the things that make me joyfully return to the chair.
I firmly believe that giggling is part of my writing process. It isn’t part of everyone’s—for others, I know it’s a deep sense of satisfaction at a job well done, particularly for difficult topics.
You need to find what drives you, then make sure that every project has ample opportunities to use that.
I am a fairly fearless person. However, even I’ve found that there are times when fear has stopped me from writing.
Generally I’ll be typing away, and suddenly I find that I’m no longer in my office. I’ve wandered into the kitchen, maybe I’m standing in front of the refrigerator (the most dangerous appliance for anyone who works at home full time).
What I’ve learned to do is to check in with myself. Why did I stop writing? Why am I here? Did I really need a break? Am I honestly hungry? Or is something else going on?
Fears are endless. You think you’ve conquered one, and maybe you have, but then it sneaks in a backdoor wearing sunglasses and a fake tan.
You need to deal with your fears. Or else you’ll find yourself stopping again and again.
There are times when I have to shut the door to my office, physically cutting myself off from the outside world and all those external voices, in order to keep writing, to keep creating, to not compromise my vision because someone, somewhere, at one point, told me I was too weird.
If you have a lot of problems with fears, if you can’t clear out the mess in your head, you might want to go get professional help. That will also mess you up for a while, but sometimes these things are too big to work through on your own.
Use your fears if you can. Write about what scares you. Exorcise those demons.
Don’t let them stop you.
Here are the three things you need to look at when you stop writing:
- Do you have project block? Have you made a wrong turn? Are you in the messy middle? Figuring out why you’re stopping is key.
- Sometimes life happens. You’ll get back to the writing when you can.
- Deal with your fears. Being able to write is worth it.