All kinds of things can get in the way when you’re trying to write, and I’m going to mention a few. The biggest obstacle for most of us though is writer’s block. It doesn’t seem to matter how many of the other issues we resolve, writer’s block always seems to be lurking around the corner, ready to pounce, right as our fingers are hovering over the keyboard, or our pen is about to touch the page.
The first one I’m going to tackle is self-doubt. It’s doozy, and one that often disguises itself as various excuses. After you push through “I don’t have the time”, “I have to be available for my kids (or some other person-in-need)”, or “I’m always so tired after work” (all of which I will also talk about) you usually find yourself saying “no-one will want to hear my story” or “I don’t have anything to say”.
That’s twaddle, and it doesn’t even matter. Self-esteem isn’t necessary for writing. In fact, self-doubt is an almost universally understood state of being. Even if all you have to say is “I have no idea what to write about, but this guy AntonyM guy tells me I should try this, so here goes…” just start writing and see where it leads you. What you’ll find as you continue writing (“there’s no way this is going to work! It’s a complete waste of time…”) that the words start flowing a little easier, a little faster, and before you know it, you’re writing! You can do it, and it feels good!
It may take a few tries at this exercise to get the words really flowing, but you may even find yourself writing a story. Something you didn’t even know you had in you. I can almost guarantee you that it won’t be the story you imagined you’d write. The greatest gift my ex-wife ever gave me was teaching me this technique. I believe she learned it as she studied to be an English Teacher. It’s called ‘freewriting’, and it’s as easy as putting pen to paper, and seeing where it takes you.
This is when you might face another possible hurdle. Even if you weren’t freewriting. You might be deep in the middle of writing then, for whatever reason, you look at what you’ve just written and said to yourself, “This is crap! A 10-year old could do better!” Don’t throw it out. It’s supposed to be crap. It’s a rough draft. Get your ideas out on the page first, then fix it later. Let yourself think like a 10-year old. Just tell the story. Don’t worry about how well it’s written yet.
Keep writing until you feel like you’ve hit a wall. Is it time to sleep? Then sleep. Is there something else needs doing today? Do the thing. The obstacle to avoid here is procrastination. Once more it can hide in excuses that you can reasonably consider true. You got distracted. You had to stay longer than you planned. Things just kept coming up. You might even tell yourself it’s writer’s block. Personally, I love procrastinating and “I’m too tired” is my typical excuse.
I’m getting better at making writing my priority though. It can be tough though to say “writing comes first” and mean it. There’s always some loved one that you don’t want to hurt, a prior commitment, or even a job that you’ve learned to put first. I have to remind myself that when I put the needs first I never had the time to write. I truly mean to be a successful writer, and that means I need to make it a priority. If you want to see your book being read by someone way cooler than you think you are, make writing a priority.
So here you are, ready to pick up where you left off. You pull up the notes you were working on from your last freewriting session, story, or dream-born idea and….nothing. Writer’s block. Now you could just start freewriting again (“wtf? Seriously? Now? I finally got the best story idea ever, and now it’s just gone? Poof!? It’s just not fair!…”) about having writers block, or you could do one of my favourite things in the world to do lately, and that’s talking to you guys.
Beware using Facebook as a distracting excuse to procrastinate though. I do it myself. You can talk to other writers about your story, explaining the basic premise so far and the part that you’re stuck on. You can also do this with a real live human being if you happen to have one nearby willing to listen.
I usually find myself figuring out exactly what happens next in the story as I’m trying to summarise the plot. If you haven’t come unstuck as you’re formulating the question you want to post, go ahead and post it. While you’re at it, tag me, and if I’m in that writer’s group I shall do my best to help you myself!
Here comes another hurdle. One that you’ll come across again if you ask for help with editing or proofreading later on. When receiving feedback, remember that it is only a suggestion. Take all of it with a pinch of salt. It’s your story, not theirs, and only you get to decide how you tell it. Having said that, listen to what people have to say. Their suggestion may not fit your story exactly, but if you poke at it a bit and adjust it for context, it may give you some perspective that you were lacking, and lead you out of your writer’s block.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you overcame your self-doubt, found the time to write between your kids, spouse, job and chores, managed to keep yourself on-task during that time, taken feedback like a champ and completed your first rough and terrible draft of your story. Now comes the horrid part. At least for me. This is my least favourite part of the process. You have to read through what you’ve written and fix all the mistakes.
The dreaded re-write. Filled with all the same pit-traps and shiny distractions that you got the first time around. As you find more and more horrible mistakes, you start to doubt yourself all over again (“I write like a monkey stole my brain!”) and come up with excuses not to do it. If you power through it though, getting help when you need it, the story that comes out will be much easier for other people to read!
Writing is a craft, it takes time, patience, and many subtle stages before the final piece is revealed. The more time and attention you can give to it, the better the finished story will be. Which leads me to the final hurdle (that I can currently think of). Knowing when it’s done. I still have a tendency to think a story is done way too early. It may be related to my distaste for re-writing, but I’m making myself re-write Hermes925 before I publish it.
Honestly, I have yet to master the art of knowing when it is done. I haven’t even come up with an idea besides “keep rewriting until it’s done”, which leads to repeating the question “But how do I know when it’s done?” Perhaps you have a suggestion?
I’d also love to hear your suggestions for the other obstacles you’ve come up against. Let me know if I can help you.
Happy writing! 😀