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Writing Woes

This email comes from an anonymous blog reader, and I think we can all relate to this concern:

Lately, I have been having trouble finding inspiration and the drive to actually write something. Instead of writing when I sit down with my computer, I end up checking my email, surfing the Web, and discovering other ways to waste precious writing time. In addition to being a bad procrastinator, I also have trouble finding good ideas for novels that sound interesting and appealing to my target audience. I feel like writing is constantly an uphill battle for me. How can you tell if you’re just not meant to be a writer?

Well, there are no guarantees in life, of course. You can never be 100% sure of anything, including whether or not you’re meant to be a writer. Or, I should say, you can be completely sure of it in your head but reality may not always match that conviction. There are several answers to this question, and I will strive to be as comprehensive as possible.

First, why do writers sometimes waste a lot of time and procrastinate when they know they should be writing? The good news is, all of the professional writers I know, many of them bestsellers with lots of books on the shelves, do this. They have good days and bad days, they celebrate and complain, they ride the highs and lows of creativity, just like the rest of us. But writing is their job, they’re getting paid, they have deadlines, so the most successful of them keep showing up to the page to write, even if they don’t feel like it. Because they are writers. So one piece of advice I can give you right off the bat is to keep writing and keep up your habit. If you find yourself avoiding a part in your novel that’s challenging or doesn’t feel right for some reason, skip that part and write around it. The temptation to avoid writing something and stay blocked is always there, but the trick is to keep writing past it, around it, underneath it, and the block will loosen up eventually.

The other part of the equation, of course, is the idea and the project. Sometimes, the writing urge may be there but writers get derailed by an idea that just won’t come together. So they stop writing, but the writing isn’t actually the problem. Writing a novel is a long process full of frustration and crisis (for the writer and the character, ideally). If you are losing excitement for your idea, you are going to be your own worst cheerleader. I say it’s perfectly fine to put a novel idea aside if it isn’t working or if inspiration has struck elsewhere. You can always open the file back up and start typing at another time. But if you have ideas you’re not excited about, how do you expect readers to get psyched?

So there are three issues at play: the writing, the point in the story that may be causing you to avoid it, the story idea itself. Diagnose which is making you stuck. Most likely, it is story-related. Jazz up your story or start another one. If it really is the writing, maybe take a break. If you miss it and want to come back, that will reinvigorate you.

One way writers tend to get frustrated, also, is by setting too-high goals for themselves right at the beginning. When I started writing, as a teen, I told myself that I would be completely unacceptable as a human being unless I published a novel by age sixteen. Did that happen? No. Did that put a lot of pressure on my writing at the time and take the fun out of it? Absolutely.

The fact is, not everyone who strikes out to publish a novel will end up reaching that goal. But there are many more writers out there than authors who have books on the shelves. If writing is something you are called to do for life, it you can’t think of doing anything else, then take the heat off yourself in terms of seeking publication. Take a little bit of time off. Get back into why you love writing in the first place. No matter what anybody says, publishing will still be there when you want to take another run at a book contract or an agent.

But if you find yourself churning out joyless, passionless stories or writing, day after day (and not just a brief block or period of depression), something is wrong, and you should fix it before you slog through to the query and then submission. If you’re not excited, it’ll be hard for us to get excited, too.

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