How To Overcome Writer’s Block: Three Tips

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
Want to know how to overcome writer’s block? Stop doing what you think you should. The sad sweat of your efforts will be obvious in your writing.

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.

Creating a Daily Writing Practice

One of my wonderful, intelligent blog readers wrote in with the following excellent question about creating a daily writing practice. I’m not trying to butter her up, I really think it’s a good question and it’s worded very well, with a nice citation and everything. Here we go:

For the past several months I’ve been revising a manuscript and querying agents. But while I’ve been doing this, I haven’t been writing. As you suggest, I put my manuscript in a drawer for several months and started working on a new manuscript. Now the new manuscript (which isn’t finished) is in the drawer. I also have another idea twirling around in my head. How do I balance my writing life? Kate DiCamillo says she writes two pages every day. But how does she do that when she’s in the throes of completing a project?

balancing your writing life, making time for writing, commiting to writing, daily writing practice, writing practice
To find balance in your writing life, just make like this rock..and roll. What a terrible joke. I’m so sorry…

Finding Your Commitment to a Daily Writing Practice

Most of us don’t walk around complaining about how much free time we have. Life is a busy thing. So how do you do everything you have to do, keep the bills paid, and still find time to write? I don’t have a definitive answer. I do have some thoughts, though. And I think you’re on to something in your very own answer, and with Kate DiCamillo’s advice.

There’s this old adage, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Writing isn’t going to fall into your lap, you have to go after it. And once you get into a daily writing practice, it’s much easier to maintain it and keep writing. So whether that’s two pages a day, or ten, or fifty (ha!), the number is irrelevant. The key piece of info is: “a day.” That means every day. When you’re sick, when you’re stressed, when the baby is cranky, you still do your daily writing.

If you need to wake up 30 minutes early? Or cut out those fifteen minutes that you spend absently browsing Facebook at night and replace it with writing time? Then that’s what you need to do. The key is, do it every day. Two pages a day sounds so insignificant that it’s not even worth it. But developing a daily writing practice? That’s really the secret (more on finding time to write).

Rotate Between Writing Projects to Maintain Momentum

The other advice is to rotate between projects, as you’re already realizing. There’s only so much you can do when you’re querying. You send out all those emails and then…you wait. That’s just part of the writing life. So instead of letting that waiting drive you crazy, put it away and work on something else for your creative writing practice.

And if you hit a wall with Project 2? Don’t let that writer’s block stop your daily writing practice. (Looking for some writing inspiration?) Put the new project away and start working on an outline for Project 3. Then Project 2 might call to you. Or you might receive feedback from an agent on Project 1.

By that point, you’ll have enough momentum to be more flexible about what actually happens during your daily writing practice. Should you write new pages? Revise pages that have been sitting in a drawer? (Check out important revision techniques here.) Sketch out some broad ideas for something that’s on the back burner? Your muscle memory, once a good daily writing practice is established, is going to get your butt into that chair. From there, you can let your creativity guide you to whatever needs to be done.

Make Your Life a Writing Life

The hard part really isn’t the writing, it’s making that space in your life that says, “Writing is necessary today.” Besides, you’d be amazed that two pages a day can turn into 700 pages in a year. That’s two novels! When I’m editing, I can provide notes on about 20 pages an hour. In two weeks, even if I work one hour a day, I’ll have that whole novel edited. Or if I can only work 15 minutes (or 5 pages) a day on revising something, it’ll take me two months, but that novel will be done. That’s all that matters. Every day, you’re making progress.

The wheels of publishing turn very slowly. Six months to write a novel, in the grand scheme of things, is NOTHING. Two months to revise a novel, in the grand scheme of things, is NOTHING. They say, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today.” You could commit to 15 minutes/two pages/whatever a day, and in six months, you’ll be a hell of a lot farther than you are today.

Or you could agonize about how you never have time to do anything and two pages doesn’t really seem like a lot and you’ve got analysis paralysis, etc. etc. etc.

So don’t worry about what the balance part will consist of once you’re actually working. Where you want to put your energy is making that work mandatory, and getting to the working place every day.

Wondering what to do with the results of your daily writing practice? Hire me as your developmental editor and I can give you actionable, motivating revision advice.

How Long Does It Take to Publish a Book? The Process Explained

How long does it take to publish a book? Ah, the eternal question. The book publishing process flummoxes even the most zen writers. (Oh, who am I kidding? It flummoxes everyone!) A few weeks ago, I got an email from Joni, an email like the kind I’ve gotten from many writers before her. It dealt with frustration and impatience in the process of getting a book published. The “all dressed up with nowhere to go” pain of just wanting to have a book out. This past weekend, while I was supposed to be away from the computer and having a life (ha!), I got a similar email from a client. Sorry, dear, but I’m going to quote it:

Okay, so I am working on my book, and I keep getting so worried that I’ve got SO FAR to go that I just close the document. I’m worried that after this round, it still has readers to go, and then another round of other readers and then I am so slow with revisions that it will be 3013 before it will be done.

how long does it take to publish a book, book publishing process
How long does it take to publish a book? The book publishing process is not for the faint of heart.

How Long Does It Take to Publish a Book? Forever, So Quit Worrying About It

My advice for Joni and for my client is: dig in, get your eyes off the calendar, and do your work. The book publishing journey isn’t a matter of course. And it’s certainly not a matter of speed. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that publishing is slow in most cases. Slow. Sloooooooooow. Slow as molasses. Slow as frozen molasses. Slow as a cube of frozen molasses frozen inside a bigger cube of even slower frozen molasses. You get my point, I think.

When publishing finally decides to move — or if it moves quickly — it’s out of a writer’s control. Which house will buy what, which editor will love what, how much they’ll invest in a project, how much marketing they’ll give it, what the sales will be like, which readers/librarians/booksellers will respond to what and how, what will win awards, what will take off up the bestseller charts and what will quietly blip off the radar screen, etc. etc. etc.

If you think you’re freaking out now about just getting your work published, imagine the full-scale neurotic meltdown that awaits you once you have royalty statements to read, bookstore events where you always feel like the nervous hostess, wondering if anyone will show up, Goodreads/blog reviews to stress over, school visits and public speaking engagements, 24/7 access to your Amazon ranking and, now, BookScan numbers for your sales, organized every which way!

The Book Publishing Process Is Largely Outside of Your Control

Conversely, learning and practicing and revising are the only things you can do to take control of the process. If you’re just honing your writing, it’s probably a good thing that you’re not out there as a full-fledged author yet. Think about not just the shiny publishing contract and the spike in Twitter followers and the glory of realizing your dream. There’s a whole career and business element, too, most of it amazing, some of it challenging and anxiety-making. It’s okay that you haven’t gotten there yet. You have to really be ready for this sort of thing, and thinking you’re reading and actually being ready are two different things.

This is as much of a pep talk for me as it is for Joni and for my client and for countless other writers out there who are feeling similar frustrations. Do you think I sit around saying, “Well, I think I’ve sold enough books. Time to pack it in and rest on my laurels.” Absolutely not. I am the most impatient person I think I’ve ever met (my mother would definitely agree with me here).

Once I get an offer, I immediately want another one. If I sign an incredible client, I go back to my slush pile the very next day and keep an eye out, because the submissions don’t stop coming. If I close an auction, well, I have a nice stiff celebratory dance-off first, of course, but then I want to jump in to the stress and exhilaration all over again a few minutes later. If an hour passes without an email from an editor, I start to wonder if there’s something wrong with my email client and then bang on my laptop to make sure it’s working properly.

Well, here is the number one piece of advice I can give about how long does it take to publish a book: be patient. It goes hand in hand with the idea of resilience and not giving up and constantly generating new ideas (all discussed in my “Dealing With Rejection” post). And as much as I talk about the publishing business/agents/queries/submissions on the blog, here’s my other advice: it really is all about the book idea to execution. In other words, the craft.

Keep reading, keep writing, don’t stop trying…but also spare yourself the paralyzing anxiety of the ticking clock.

If you want to take your destiny into your own hands while you wait, hire me as your manuscript editor and revise your way to the strongest project possible.

Copyright © Mary Kole at Kidlit.com