Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Overcoming Writer's Block

Writer's block is most often internal resistance based on fear which drives writers to self-sabotage and procrastinate. If you expose the source, you can battle it.

1. Your writing isn't good enough.

The good news is a writer doesn't have to be perfect. It isn't neurosurgery.  A reader won't die if you make a grammatical error.  You should have a basic grasp of language. If your last encounter with grammar was high school, you could probably use a refresher course. Some writers know how to compose language like a musician creates scores. If you are a true word nerd, you will enjoy learning how to craft masterful sentences and paragraphs. You should also have a basic grasp of story structure and genre expectations, but you don't need a degree to gain them.

You can improve your craft in three ways:

A. Read and analyze the best. 

Read them with an analytical eye. Take notes. What did they do well? What did you dislike? Describe the point of each chapter in a few sentences and view them at the end. How did the story flow? What information was relayed when? Take note of how the characters were crafted. Mark descriptions of people and places that brought the story to life. Note when you were moved, frightened, or tense. By analyzing other writers, you can borrow methods to improve your own work.

Learn by Analysis

B. Take courses.

There are plenty of options to learn about writing that do not require a Masters of Fine Arts degree.  Whether you prefer lectures or the written word, there is something for everyone. Many of the classes are free or low cost.

Online Courses

Great Courses

Master Classes

C. Practice.

Everyone's first draft sucks. I'd go so far as to say everyone's first book sucks. Even Jane Austen revised. If it is at all possible, join or create a critique group.  A nurturing critique group, and by that I don't mean a rah-rah session where everyone gushes praise, helps identify your weaknesses. You will learn from reading other writers' work and identifying their strengths and weaknesses.

You can't fix something you haven't created. I recommend a bare bones draft rather than wasting time finessing words you will later cut. If you prefer to trim later, then it helps to break revision into steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the task.

2019 Conferences

Building a Critique Group

Finding a Critique Group

2. No one will read it.

Your best chance of being read hinges on two aspects: target audience and demand. While Mystery and Romance are the top sellers over time, there is plenty of room for a good Gothic, Horror, Thriller, Historical, Literary Drama, etc. If you have an original twist on a genre, go for it. Understanding who you are writing for before you start makes the next essential step easier.

People have to know you've written a book which leads to panic-inducing task of marketing. The majority of writers have deep internal resistance to putting themselves out there virtually or in person. But you have to do it. There is no way to wriggle out of it. You may find you enjoy hanging out with other writers who love your genre at conferences and book events. You may never go to a book signing and that's okay. Many people successfully navigate social media and other online tools to gain readership without ever leaving their house.

Self-promotion and marketing are specific skill sets. It doesn't matter if you are traditionally published or self-published. You have to get readers to look at your premise and like your description. Pitches and cover design are also special skill sets.  You either have to develop them or pay for others who have them if you self-publish.

Marketing Questionaire

Marketing and Publicity

Unique Marketing Opportunities

3. People won't like it.

You can't please everyone and shouldn't try. Even J. K. Rowing and Stephen King have haters. Don't worry about people who aren't into your work. The internet is a magnet for hateful trolls who have nothing better to do than tear other people down. Block them if you can. Ignore them if you can't. Whatever you do, don't feed them.

While your book is full of your blood, sweat, and tears, to the greater world it is a product. And what a product! You strung thousands of words together to create people, places, and events. You created a verbal movie all on your own. You were writer, producer, director, set builder, costume designer, cast, and crew. That is an amazing achievement requiring discipline, intelligence, imagination, and daring.

The hardest part of being an artist is separating your ego from your product, which leads to the greatest fear of all:

4. People won't like me.

We all have doubts and insecurities. No one is immune. But my bet is anyone who liked the result of your labors will also like the creator. You don't need Photoshop filters or Twitter feeds full of sparkling wit. Just be yourself. You are enough.

That said, social media gives audiences greater access to the artist. It is best to keep a professional distance. Put your best foot forward like you would for any job and leave your personal life at home, or on an alternate protected online profile.


Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

7 comments :

  1. You nailed it, Diana. All the pieces are here: information, encouragement, what to do, why to do it, how to do it, why not to expect to please everyone, and the best explanation of writer's block I've ever read, as well as how to overcome it. This post is a keeper. :-)

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  2. I second Linda's endorsement, Diana. I was going to say this is the best post I've read in a long time on busting through writer's block, but Linda beat me to it. LOL

    And I really liked this "The hardest part of being an artist is separating your ego from your product," When I was finally able to make that separation, I was able to accept editorial help with my work. I tell clients all the time that being able to put ego aside is the best thing they can do.

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  3. It is treating it as any other job. Is hour boss or coworkers going to love everything you do? Of course not. Does that mean you aren't good at your job? Of course not. :)

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  4. I sure do suffer from serious bouts of procrastination, but never thought it might be the result of the insecurities listed here. Maybe my bad habits need further examination.

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  5. I loved this post, Diana. Procrastination is a problem for me. I've come to the conclusion that I'll never be good enough to please me, but that's what keeps me striving to be better.

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  6. Great column, Diana. I especially like the advice about reading and analyzing strong writing.

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