This post about how to overcome writer’s block is very different from one of my favorite “advice” posts about writing bravely. There, I talk about pushing yourself (in a good way) to write what you don’t want to (in a good way) because that’s a strong signal that a breakthrough is coming (in a good way).
This post is not that post. This post is for those writer problems where you’re trying very hard to write what you think you have to, but deep down, you really don’t wanna.
How To Overcome Writer’s Block: Three Tips
1. Let That Knee-Jerk Reaction Be Your Guide
Over the weekend, I had a lovely client phone call with a person who was identifying audience for an idea. Is the idea a chapter book? A picture book? An article? Someone had told this client that it would make a great novel, but the problem was…she just didn’t wanna write a novel. Her manuscript is too short to be a novel and she didn’t want to flesh it out. Full stop. That’s it and that’s all.
Could it have worked as a novel? Sure. I thought so. Other people thought so. It could’ve been a strong contender for a novel.
But there was a problem.
The writer didn’t wanna!
And sometimes that is the best reason not to write something the way you’re being told to write something (unless, of course, you are a contracted writer employed by someone to write something a certain way, then you should probably avoid “freestyling”). Why?
It’s Easy To Tell When The Passion Isn’t There
If you are just writing YA because you think that’s where the market is and you’re writing a kissing scene because you have to (even though it makes you cringe) and you are putting swear words in because that’s what all the kids want these days, etc. etc. etc. Are you being true to you?
Another phone call last week. A woman had been told by several people (not in the industry, so with questionable experience, see below) to abandon her ambitious multiple-POV narrative and make the story more streamlined. That’s sometimes good advice–people can get in over their heads when they experiment with advanced narrative point of view.
But the multiple-POV idea had been with her since the very beginning, since the first dream she had for her novel. Could she get rid of it? Sure. Would she still have the prospect of a novel without it? Yes.
(say it with me here)
she didn’t wanna!
And sometimes, that “don’t wanna” instinct is a good guide. (Sometimes it’s not. Like, I don’t really wanna pay my mortgage every month, but I probably should…)
2. Be Selective About The Feedback You Follow
The issue with writing feedback is that, sometimes, it can be wrong. Sometimes the problem is that the advice-giver doesn’t know what they’re talking about. (I often see this problem with people who have asked family members or children for feedback.) Sometimes the issue is that the advice they’re giving is the wrong advice for you and your project.
I often encounter writer problems where the issue is conflicting feedback. They are stuck. They don’t know how to overcome writer’s block when there’s not a clear path to follow.
The more feedback you receive, the more different people you work with, the more you will develop your own compass. This will help you parse through feedback and know whether or not to act. Does this feedback feel right? Does it make sense? Does it stir up your inner “don’t wanna”?
Not All Feedback Is Created Equal, And Not All Feedback Is Going To Be Useful
I just responded to an email from another client. This client had some rebuttals to my notes, and we probably have some disagreements about the project. My advice to him? “Take the wisdom and leave the rest.” I stand by my feedback, even though I understand his points. But if my advice isn’t working for him on certain things, then he can move forward, having at least considered it. I count that as a win, because the advice–even if he didn’t end up taking it–helped this client make more conscious choices about his story.
Sometimes realizing you don’t wanna do something is a great way to resolve your questions about how to overcome writer’s block.
So following unqualified feedback can be dangerous, because, simply put, people love to give uninformed opinions. But even more seriously, following your own advice can sometimes be even more dangerous. Because, as humans, we are prone to having a very skewed sense of what “should” be. A lot of human misery sprouts from these ideas we get about what everyone else thinks we should or shouldn’t be doing.
Examine your motives. Are you only writing something a certain way because you think you “should”? Are you acting on advice you received but didn’t like? (Advice here for dealing with negative feedback.)
3. Find Your Passion Again
The real issue is that writing that comes from a “should” place is not likely to sell. I talk about this in my post about children’s book writing trends. Because if you’re not having fun, and if you don’t have the passion for the project, that will eventually show on the page, no matter how good you are.
If you’re slogging through it, imagine how un-fun it’ll be to read. (This, by the way, is the issue with most synopses. It falls under the category of classic writer problems, because writers hate writing them–and it shows. Check out this article: how to write a novel synopsis.)
Sure. There are some projects that are just a bad idea, no matter how much energy and love you pour into them. My favorite example is the 200-page picture book. It’s most likely never gonna happen. So if your heart’s desire is a 200-page picture book, then, yes, you may want to take some advice about basic feasibility. But if your project is do-able, market-wise, but you just don’t wanna do it, listen up.
Step Away From The Word Processor
Do some freewriting or daydreaming. Try to reconnect with what inspired you about the story in the first place. Did you start with an idea and then lose it during the writing process? Were you forced to make cuts or changes that you didn’t agree with, deep down, in order to please someone else?
This rut often happens when we get away from our vision and away from ourselves. The lesson? Just because you feel like you should be good at something or you want to be good at something, try to develop your authentic writer self. What do they want to do? What excites them? Start–or very likely, get back to–there.
Wondering how to overcome writer’s block? Get some feedback you can trust. I even help writers synthesize conflicting critiques they’ve already gotten. I am also great at giving you permission to try the thing you deep-down-want-to-try, if that’s what’s been holding you back. Hire me as your book editor today.
7 Replies to “How To Overcome Writer’s Block: Three Tips”
You describe the feeling most writers get when first looking at revision requests… Aside from the few “Ah-ha!” ones that resonate immediately, (how I love working with someone who gives those— you know they get your story) many suggestions fall into the “whaaaat? I don’t think so.”
And then I usually do them, because after letting it settle– I feel it’s good to try.
But you are spot-on that the efforted changes usually don’t feel organic or convincing.
In this business it’s easy to forget we’re the captains of our boats.
“We are the captain of our boats.” Love this and am going to quote you going forward, Mirka.
I’ve read in several places that readers giving critiques are often right about what’s wrong but wrong about how to fix it. So I ask myself, “Is this wrong?” (and you know in your gut when it is.) If so, what would it be like to use the suggested change? And what would it be like to use something different? My choice is usually the winner because I know my story better than anybody else.
I will usually try a suggestion and then step back and read the MS aloud. I can always go back to how it was. Nothing in a story or poem is irreversible.
Thanks for the post.
I have learned this the hard way. I didn’t trust myself so I went with what the editor said but it wound up being crap. I hired a second editor and received some very insightful suggestions. But, I didn’t listen to myself and un-do what the first editor had done. The book isn’t bad, it’s just not good. I am going to do a re-write. I had forgotten that I do know the story best and that I should trust myself. Thank you for this post. Hopefully, it will help some other authors not go through what I went through.