If you’ve made a few starts on your book, or chatted about an idea, got all excited, spent a couple of weekends pouring words down on the page…. and then somehow got ‘stuck’, you might think you have writer’s block. Perhaps you find new projects all the time and get distracted by ‘shiny object syndrome’ -ie. starting something new rather than finishing what you’ve already begun.
Writer’s block is such a funny term – it should really just be called overthinking. It’s also caused by fear, and the only way to conquer fear is by taking action.
I find that when I stop doing something, I start doubting. If you distract yourself from a large project like writing a book, by going down unnecessary research tangents, you end up making yourself so overwhelmed trying to figure out the A-Z of how to get a book published, that it all seems too complex and you just want to give up.
Before you’ve even started!
A day becomes a week becomes a month becomes a year, and before you know it, you’ve lost momentum. It’s a lot harder to get back into writing a story (particularly a book-length story) when you’ve had a long break.
So you put it all away into the drawer, only to pull it out again, same time, next year, and the whole thing starts over again!
If any of the following thoughts take over whenever you sit down to write, you need to know how to conquer writer’s block (and stop overthinking the process!):
- Will you ever find a publisher?
- What if it’s published, but the editor misses some errors?
- What if you get sued?
- What if someone in your family reads it and hates it?
- What if your ex-boyfriends reads it and hates it?
- Will people even still be buying books by the time you’ve finished writing it?!
- What if it’s a terrible idea and never even gets published? Worse, what if it’s a terrible idea and gets published?
- [Insert future-prediction / worry of your choice, here….]
Thinking too far ahead has thwarted many a would-be author, and it’s a real problem for critical-thinking humans. But here’s how you can deal with it, conquer writer’s block, and write your book.
The truth is, over-thinking is a version of procrastination disguised as intelligence.
Why overthinking stops you from writing a book:
If you look at the results of over-thinking and procrastination, they end with the same thing: nothing gets completed. This is because (rather than just writing the thing, and yes making some mistakes along the way), you’re spending all your energy wrestling with every fear or possibility. And after going around in these anxious circles, you come to the conclusion that your work won’t be worth the trouble. So you never even give yourself the chance to make a committed start on what could be the most beautiful project you can imagine.
Creativity means embracing imperfection:
My two published books were hard, yes. And imperfect, too. Nothing will ever be perfect. Nothing you write will ever be completely finished! But you have to make the decision that you will do your best to make them good, and that ‘done’ is always better than ‘perfect’. Perfect just doesn’t exist!
If you’re struggling with writer’s block and wondering how to assuage your internal fears and worries, read on for how to bust through fear and over-thinking to get your dream of a published book moving forward:
1: Start small
Just as you’d start with a few small jogs before you build up to running a marathon, don’t sit down to specifically write a book.
Write in a journal, first. See if you like it. Write regularly. Write often. Then, play out a few ideas into some scenes and longer pieces.
Overcoming ‘writer’s block’ just comes from doing it regularly enough that it doesn’t scare us anymore. Don’t show anyone your journals. Write daily for at least a month for yourself, before you even think about a larger piece, like an essay or a memoir. Need help with this step? More here.
Then, once you’ve found a theme or a topic you really want to turn into a memoir, clarify your focus sentence.
2: Make yourself a mantra
If every time you sit down to write, fear and resistance shows up for you, you’re going to need to develop a mantra to shout it down. Whether it’s the fear that your writing won’t be good enough or that you don’t have it in you to write two pages every day (or that no-one will ever want to read your work – or worse, they will!) sometimes just realizing that every writer struggles with this, but shouts it down by constant and repetitive action can help.
Develop a mantra unique to your ‘fear’ story and shout it down. Pin it above your desk. Keep it in your wallet. Pin it to the front of your notebook. When I was working on A Letter From Paris and couldn’t see the end of the first draft, my mantra was “just keep swimming”. I knew that if I just hit my word count every day, I would make it to the end of the first draft. I didn’t have to have all the answers, every day. I didn’t even need to understand the complete story, to work on it every day. I just needed to keep swimming, working every day. My job was to show up. Thanks, Dory!
3: Keep it to yourself
Thwarted, over-thinking writers focus on the outside world too early in their memoir.
Remember this truth: the first rule of magic is self-containment
Writing a memoir is a very personal, magical project. When you’re just nutting out the idea via your journals and playing around with the story, coming up with the plot or synopsis or theme or what you actually want to write about, don’t talk about it with other people. Let it marinate in the magic that is your imagination, until its ready to be defined. You’ve got to start trusting your own creative instincts to feel your way into the story that you want to write.
Don’t think about publishers, or platforms, or agents, or book sales, either. Any time those ‘real world’ concerns interfere with the actual magic of scratching out a creative story from silence and invisibility, shut them down with your mantra.
In the early stages, you need to put all your energy into simply showing up at the page every day and getting this thing out of your head and onto the page. When you know you love to write, and a story is pulling you out of bed every morning, begging to be made into a tangible form on the page, you know you’re onto something. The rest can come later. You’ll actually have something to show and edit and craft and change! But for now, just pour it down.
You won’t know what you want to write, and you won’t be sensitive enough to feel your way to the topic that sits just right with you, if you’re talking about it too much in the beginning stages.
Start with a daily journal. Move to a large essay that might be published, then draft a synopsis.
Now, you’re ready to start your memoir. Break down everything into bite-sized pieces, take action, and stop overthinking. We learn by doing – there is no other way!
Did this help you? What are some of your favourite ways to conquer writer’s block? Me? I love a nice cup of coffee. Just the ritual of making it in silence is enough to pull me into the zone…then I light a candle… and sometimes I don’t even drink the coffee! What do you do? Start to notice when you are writing, and the process is flowing. What took you there?