A writer I’m mentoring asked a question the other day about how to deal with avoidance – that feeling that you just can’t seem to get down to work. The dreaded “writer’s block.”
In my career as an author, I’ve learned that the issue is not so much a blockage as a drying up. You’ve reached a dry patch. So, you need to go back to the well.
How? By going back to your research. After all, that’s where you first felt the inspiration for the project. That story that thrilled you. That interview that fascinated you. Your own research notes that first focused your ideas. Review these things, and often fresh ideas will spring forth.
My Guiding Principles
It actually goes a little deeper, this issue of avoidance. That’s why I developed a couple of guiding principles that have helped me stay the course in creating my own ten novels with worldwide sales. I hope they’ll help you too, and get you through your dry patches.
Years ago, when my writing wasn’t going well, I’d get discouraged and dread going to my desk. It was what I now call the tyranny of expectations—sitting down in front of that blank screen and feeling the awful pressure that I had to produce something good. Every morning I’d sit in the kitchen with my mug of tea and my newspaper for as long as possible, dragging it out to avoid walking down the hall to my office, because I felt I just can’t do it. I can’t go in there and write something good.
Then, one day I got so frustrated I actually said out loud, “Well, damn it, I’ll go in and write something bad.”
It was instant liberation! The pressure evaporated. Because I knew I could write something bad. So, I went to my office and sat down. . . and I did write something bad. Hallelujah!
That’s Guiding Principle #1: Give yourself permission to write something bad.
Because here’s Guiding Principle #2: Everything can be fixed.
It’s true. You can rewrite and fix something that’s bad, but you cannot fix something that doesn’t exist. All my novels all started out as unfocused, sprawling outlines. But I fixed them. They turned out to be very good books.
So, there it is: give yourself permission to write something bad, secure in the knowledge that everything can be fixed. Embrace the work.
Remember— it’s a process!