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Tag: Writer’s Block

Business 101 for Writers: A Note About Writer’s Block

So far in this series, you have been introduced to the principles behind writing as a business and we have talked a bit about the first part of the production process: writing some words and how to write more. What about those times when the creativity just doesn’t flow?

If you have heard me talk about writing at all, you have heard me say these words that seem to infuriate nearly every writer who hears them:

I don’t believe in writer’s block.

I’ll keep this post in the series short for two reasons. First, all of the other ones are long. Second, it’s really a simple principle I have shared dozens if not hundreds of times. The simple fact is this: by starting this series and reading along, you have at least entertained the idea of writing for a living.

You don’t get to be blocked in the thing you do for a living. A waiter does not get to have waiter’s block, nor does a teacher get to have teacher’s block. No one would go to a doctor who had doctor’s block.

In any other profession, if you are not able to work that day, you go home sick, your boss finds someone else who can do your job for you, or all of your work is waiting for you when you get back to the office, and you have to make it up.

The kicker is, you don’t get paid, or you use sick time. But as a writer, you don’t really have sick time unless you have set up a savings account just for that reason (which you should, but that comes later in the series on the business end of things). If you don’t work you don’t get paid.

No fairy comes behind you and does your work for you. It really is that simple. Does that mean there are not days when things are harder than others? Nope. Just like other jobs, some days you feel it more than others, and some days are more productive.

You can never have an extended bout of writer’s block, though. Any more than a couple of days, and you are really putting yourself in a poor position. So what do you do when you are just not feeling it? You either fight to get the feeling back, or you work anyway.

Trick Your Brain

You need to write every day. We covered that already, but what you are writing might vary. You may be writing a blog post, a technical article, or the next great American novel. You might even be editing your latest piece, or working with an editor on a project.

So trick your brain so it is ready for the work you are doing that day. Here is how it works for me:

  • I use Scrivener for creative writing, short stories, novellas, and novels.
  • I use Google docs for blog posts and some articles, depending on who I am writing them for.
  • I edit using Microsoft Word and do some technical writing in it.

I never use Scrivener for technical writing, and never use Word for the initial creation of a creative work, only for rewrites and editing. Why?

When I open up each interface, my brain knows what kind of writing we are going to do. I don’t have to stare at the blank page for long before my brain automatically goes into the proper writing mode.

You don’t have to use these programs the same way I do, or even the same programs, although I will make a big case for you using Scrivener for fiction writing (that will come later under what software you really need).

However, you can trick your brain by using certain software, writing in a certain location, or even using a different keyboard, location, or account login on your computer to write. For instance, I could have a Troy Lambert login and a Troy Lambert Author login with different backgrounds, programs, and that even limits access to the internet if that is a problem for you.

Whatever your method, your mind can be your greatest asset.

Write Something Else

I have also written dozens of times and on several writer sites about the need for more than one stream of income. So since you have already listened to that, and you are writing several things, you do have other projects you are working on, right?

So if you are stuck on one project, switch and write something else. Can’t get into the groove for the next scene in your novel? Write a blog post, article, or another short story. The point is when your butt is in the chair, and it is your scheduled time to write, write.

Writing does not include emails, Tweets, Facebook posts, or a letter to your long lost brother. It does include journals, plays, movie scripts, stories, articles, technical papers, ad copy, and dozens of other things, all of which can make you money.

Nearly every kind of writing you do is creating a story of one kind or another, from a blog post about digestive health to a brochure about your local furniture store. You just have to look harder to find the story arc (more on that in another post as well).

Writing one story usually sparks you to write another. And another. And another. One type of writing will give your brain time to process where you are stuck, and usually, when you go back there, things are flowing again.

Write Anyway

So you are stalled, and you only have one project at the moment, or one goal: to get this damn book/novel/story finished. Your brain will not let you get past this particular plot point.

Start writing anyway. Write gibberish at first if you have to. Your brain will kick in. Write another story about that character and how they got to this point in the story. The point is to write something anyway.

Remember, if your butt is in the chair and you are scheduled to be writing, write. No matter what, write. Even if it all has to be thrown away later. There are no wasted words except for those that remain unwritten. You cannot edit an empty page or the thoughts that are still in your head.

You may have heard that to become a proficient writer, you must put in 10,000 hours writing, or roughly one million words. Use your writing time to get some of the shitty words out to make room for better ones. Do not ever, under any circumstances, waste your writing time.

If you have to, start typing the phrase “I will always write during my writing time” and keep typing it until other words come. They will. But you must write to activate the writer inside you.

If you are going to write for a living, you are not allowed to have writer’s block. You need to work through it somehow. There are no sick days, and no one will come in the middle of the night and do your writing for you.

However you trick your brain, whether you write something else or just write anyway, you need to work when you are scheduled to work, and for those of us who are writers that means writing. Writer’s block is a sick day, and you can only take so many of those before you go broke.

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Writing from the Heart

I often get a chance to talk to other authors, those just starting out or getting back in the saddle like I am now. I also get a chance to talk to those who write all the time, and one thing is true of nearly all of them: they write from the heart.

It doesn’t matter your genre, or how much or how little you write. From memoirs to nearly any other story, writers write from their heart. Most of us simply cannot help us. A little bit of who we are becomes a part of every story we put words too, whether it is in our journal and never sees the light of day or it becomes a bestseller everyone is reading on Amazon.

It’s pretty scary to put your heart out there. That is the reason almost every negative review affects an author so deeply—so deeply as a matter of fact that many of my author friends never read reviews of their own work. Sure it is courteous to thank every reviewer good or bad for at least taking the time to read your work, but sometimes the negative ones can send you into a tailspin it’s harder to pull out of than the flat spin Goose and Maverick were stuck in.

True it might be healthier to face those fears and overcome what other people might think of your work, and realize it isn’t personal and your type of writing may not be for everyone. Those words are easier to write than to live by, and although I say them I have a harder time swallowing them when the one-star review is next to one of my own titles.

However the fact that writing from the heart is so essential for writing to be genuine and reach others where they live, there are a few things I have said before, but that hold true for every work of fiction.

First drafts should be written quickly.

A first draft of a novel should be written within six to nine months maximum. Why? Think of who you were just a year ago, now two years. If you are a healthy person, you are growing and maturing, and as you do your heart changes.

If it takes you too long to write a draft, your heart changes in the middle, and when you go back to read and edit it, you will see that change. So will your reader if you do not fix things in the revision process, which leads to my second point.

Edits and Revisions should be completed quickly.

Three passes with an editor and one with a proofreader will catch most of the errors in your books. In some cases, mistakes will slip through, and although it is ideal to have an error free manuscript, doing so is almost impossible. Even the best authors and editors working as a team let errors get past them.

A perfect book is probably a dead book. If the grammar, spelling, and every other aspect is perfect, your author voice has probably been silenced and the story is likely pretty dull. People read your work to hear your voice, to get a new perspective on life in general. An over edited book probably lacks the very things readers are looking for.

This is not to say that you should not hire a professional editor and have your work proofread thoroughly. It just means than if there are a few mistakes, but the story is still excellent, readers will be more forgiving.

Let your book go after a reasonable effort. No book is ever done, it is just released into the world. If you hold it too long, your heart will change, and you will revise your work to reflect that change. Then realistically the editing process must be started over again.

Writer’s block is a heart problem.

writers-block

I often get booed when I am around writers and tell them I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you write for a living, that is like a waiter having waiter’s block. If a waiter cannot wait tables that day, they go home and do not get paid. Pretty quickly they have to get over that issue and do their job.

You are a writer. Putting words together is your job. You can choose to work on other projects, do another type of writing, but you are not allowed to stop. If you are experiencing writer’s block, or what you think is writer’s block, check your heart. What is keeping your mind from communicating well with your heart? What is between them?

As a writer, you must work to remove these things. There are a few things that work for me, and might for you as well:

  • Exercise: Get out and run, ride your bike, hike, or lift weights. Let your mind focus on your body and what it needs to do for a while. It may just help reset your muse.
  • Meditation: Meditation is much like exercise. You cannot do it well unless you practice. So practice. Whether you use guided meditation or are advanced enough you can reach an empty minded state on your own, work at setting the conscious things weighing your mind down to the side. Concentrate on now rather than the past or future, This will help your heart reset so you can write effectively again.
  • Talk to Someone: Every writer goes through more productive and less productive periods, and each has their own form of motivation and resetting their heart. Ask someone more experienced than you what they do, and try different things.
  • Keep writing: By moving to a different project or journaling, you allow your muse to tap into and empty your heart, making room for it to be filled again. Journaling can be especially helpful in this case.

Writer’s block is only a problem if you let it be one, and is really a heart problem, so when you try to combat it, check your heart first.

No matter what you write and when you write it, you write from the heart. Before your heart changes, get that draft down on paper. Get the words out. And before you heart changes again, get your work revised and share it. Don’t use writer’s block as an excuse: fix your heart and move on.

Your readers will thank you. So will all of those who have to deal with you every day.

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