On Writing And The Fear of Being Judged (‘Writer’s Block’)

Writer's Block. Bestsellerlabs.com Picture this awful moment…

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and you’re sitting at your computer, the unfinished draft of your book lighting up your tired face. Empty coffee mugs are scattered around the room.

It’s been more than four hours now, and you haven’t been able to write a single decent sentence yet, let alone a chapter. The flashing cursor sits there on the screen, mocking you as you desperately try to come up with the right ideas. With the right words. With anything at all.

You’re deeply frustrated, even fearful. Why?

You are afraid of being judged.

You try writing a couple of sentences, and then immediately delete them.

They’re terrible. No-one would want to read that. Why are you even writing this in the first place? Maybe you aren’t supposed to be an author after all?

Ernest HemingwayIf this all sounds familiar, be reassured - you’re not alone. Every author on the planet has suffered from writer’s block at some stage or other.  Even Hemingway used to complain that he suffered from it on a daily basis because of the huge reader expectations weighing him down.

But endless instances of writer’s block like Hemingway’s could have been avoided if the writers had known why it happens.

The Biggest Cause Of Writer’s Block Is Fear That Your Work Will Be Judged Negatively

You may not realize it, but writer’s block usually has nothing to do with a lack of creativity, or a lack of writing ability.  We get blocked up because we’re worried that our writing won’t be good enough.

What on earth will people think?

The good news is that this terror is completely unfounded in most cases.  To quote Mark Twain. “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

His work was expected to be ‘impressive’, with the public breathlessly waiting for his next ‘masterpiece’. This generated fear and self-doubt, and caused his creative faculties to shut down. And exactly the same goes for you. The weight of expectation you’ve piled upon yourself ends up crushing your imagination.

You feel that you’re going to fail. It’s ironic, but the more you need your writing to be amazing, the less amazing it will be. The emotional defence shutters go up, and the mind moves into an intellectual, reasoning mode.

This is perfect if you’re an accountant, but the worst possible state for a writer. The solution is to deliberately remove all expectations.  Cease planning to ever publish, and let your imagination run free to produce whatever it likes – even if it’s not very good.  Who cares?  You’re writing just for yourself.  No-one will ever see.

This is amazingly freeing.  But, you must write, and keep writing, not meditate or “take time out”.

Bestselling author Colleen Hoover touched on this very issue in an interview with Russell Blake earlier this year, where she discussed how her early success created an expectation that made it difficult to write her third book, Hopeless:

Colleen Hoover“I was very nervous about it. When I wrote my first two books, I didn’t think anyone would read them, so I didn’t feel the pressure I felt writing ‘Hopeless’. I eventually just had to tell myself that I didn’t have to publish this one if I didn’t like it, so it became fun to write.” Colleen Hoover, Bestselling Author

By taking the pressure off yourself, and ceasing to care whether it’s any good or or not, writing becomes fun again. Your creativity starts to flow, and you can move forward.

Author Maeve Binchy assured writers that the ‘secret’ of writing is to “Sit and write.” In similar vein Mary Heaton Vorse advised ‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”  True enough, but the fact remains that you must first cease worrying about what readers will think.

Go To Your Secret ‘Never Never Land’ To Write

A great way to do this is to picture your mental writing space as a secret ‘Never Never Land’ that only you can visit. Mentally step into a secret world that no-one else knows about.  Lock the imaginary door behind you, so that your muse knows it’s safe to return.

In this place, there are no critics to judge what you create, no readers, no public. It’s just you, your imagination, your stories and your characters. Once you’re there, remember what it is that brings you joy.  Go there and play with your stories with abandon.  Let your imagination run riot.   Cavort and float amongst the clouds, build castles in the air.

Become the person you really are.  No-one will criticize what you do or what you create, because no-one will know. Imagine only what YOU might see happening in your stories, not what you think readers might want to read.  As Ray Bradbury said:

Ray Bradbury“I realized that after 10 years of writing, I’d finally written something beautiful. I turned a corner into my interior self. I wasn’t writing exterior stuff. I wasn’t writing for the right or the left or the in between. I was writing for me.” Ray Bradbury

Ideas that bloom in this uninhibited creative realm are usually our greatest work. When we allow ourselves to let go, and even to ‘goof off’, we reach the zone of true creativity.

ginsbergTo gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard. Renounce that and you get your own voice automatically. Try to become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness, and you won’t worry about being heard in The New York Times.” Allen Ginsberg

Those fortunate enough to come across these words by Bradbury or Ginsberg learn the truth.  But I also hear a lot of ill-informed nonsense about writer’s block.  So I decided to reveal my own experience and what I learned from it, in case anyone else is going though the same ghastly experience I did.

Yes, it happened to me too. The Boy From AndromedaWhile I was writing the storyline for my television series ‘The Boy From Andromeda’, the producers became so confident it would be a hit, they decided to enter the series in the ‘Cairo Children’s Television Festival Award’, before the filming had even begun! I froze.  My imagination completely evaporated.  What if the world thought my TV series was complete garbage?

My way out was to tell them I couldn’t write and needed several months away from work.  The producers made their disappointment extremely plain, but reluctantly agreed.

What I didn’t tell them was that I planned to keep writing. With the vast millstone of expectations lifted from my neck, the muse instantly returned.  I completed the storyline within 10 days.  And eventually the TV series also won the Cairo award.

So please, use your ‘Never Never Land’ to get excited about your stories again because YOU love them, and don’t worry about what anyone else might think.  Above all, KEEP WRITING.

Lastly, although this may seem to be something of a cheat, it usually helps:  Ask for opinions about your work from a few uncritical friends who you know will always give a constructive and highly supportive critique.  You’ll feel greatly lifted by their good vibes.

And then, just write.

Are you afraid of being judged?  Have you ever had writer’s block?  Discovered any other ways of overcoming it?  Please do leave a comment.

Jonathan Gunson

 

Article written by Jonathan Gunson Author / CEO Bestseller Labs

 

 

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Comments

  • Ruth Sims says:
    March 14, 2013 at 7:03pm

    Hi Jonathan
    I KNOW my book ‘River Of Life’ is good. But it has been waiting for me to finish it for nearly a year. I’m off to Never Never land this evening. :) I’m motivated all over again.
    Ruthie

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 7:05pm

      Ruth. Thanks for your Twitter contact. I forgot to switch on the ‘Allow Comments’ for this post! Glad to hear you’re motivated again, and way past the issue of worrying about being ‘judged’. Great!
      ~Jonathan

  • Melinda says:
    March 14, 2013 at 7:13pm

    Hi Jonathan,
    I know for myself it’s hard to not think about publishing. We’ve all heard so many times to keep the end goal in mind. I’m going to try to not think about it and see what happens. I’ve been blocked for months, and I know you’re right. It’s fear holding me back. But I think I am the embodiment of I am my own worst critic lol.
    Thanks for pointing this out,
    Melinda

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 7:31pm

      Melinda, fear of being judged can be highly intimidating yes. You need some personal support, because it’s all psychological, and sometimes friends can help. Regarding being your own worst critic, do watch the Ray Bradbury video in this post – if you haven’t already. http://bestsellerlabs.com/how-to-sell-8-million-books/ It will help I’m sure.
      ~Jonathan

  • Johnell says:
    March 14, 2013 at 7:25pm

    This is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you!

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 18, 2013 at 10:12pm

      Good to hear. Onwards and upwards Johnell… Onwards and upwards. And remember, Your writing is 90% of marketing.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 14, 2013 at 7:25pm

    Oooh this is spot on! I sit there and think I can’t say THAT, not that way. Urghhhh this is stupid. This idea is stupid. I’m stupid….ad nauseum…. thanks for this it’s a great help!

  • March 14, 2013 at 7:27pm

    I think writer’s block is like Voodoo, it doesn’t work if you don’t believe in it.

    I also don’t believe in a muse, that’s a quaint, albeit unhelpful fantasy. My personal tip :

    I always write 500-1000 words of pure non-sense first. Once you have that done, your engines are heated up, and it’s much easier to get going with the “real” stuff.

    I learned that tip from a pick-up artist, who said you should talk your face off BEFORE approaching a hot lady, because it brings you into flow instead of starting from zero to hero.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 7:56pm

      Mars
      Good to hear you have this under control – or more likely have never had the problem. In fact you’re of the ‘sit and write’ school that both Maeve Binchy and Vorse advocate. Note: I tend to explain things using allegories. ‘Muse’ (like ‘Voodoo’ or any other word) is one of these. It’s shorthand for locating inspiration.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 14, 2013 at 7:38pm

    I think the title of this blog post is misleading. The only way to beat writer’s block “forever” is to quit writing (give up being a writer).

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 7:49pm

      Daniel.
      Yes I guess you could interpret the headline that way. Wasn’t the idea of course… forever is rather a long time. But in any case I have removed it from the headline as being too declamatory.
      ~ Jonathan

  • March 14, 2013 at 7:56pm

    It’s a curious thing, the whole business of writing. It’s an obsession, and yet, as you’ve pointed out in this article, it’s difficult to work as long as we have that big judge on our shoulders.

    What I’m struggling with right now is not so much writer’s block. Rather, it’s a lack of information. I have all these wonderful anecdotes from my mother about her life in the old country and I’m trying to cobble them together as best as I can. I’ve done copious research but there are some events, people, places that are unknown to me and no amount of research will fill in those blanks. She’s passed on, and those that remain have no interest or knowledge in the subject.

    So, as I write, I end up stopping the flow many times, as I just don’t have what I need to create what I want. I end up making stuff up. It’s okay but not ideal. I’ll keep going, but it is more of a slog than coming up with something entirely out of my imagination.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 8:03pm

      Intriguing Diana.
      Once people have gone, that vast reservoir of detail simply vanishes. One thing I’m sure about though is that your mother would have been thrilled to know of your ongoing interest in her, and your memories of her anecdotes, irrespective of the ‘gaps’.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 14, 2013 at 8:25pm

    I’m thrilled to be commenting right after Diana, who is an AMAZING writer! You will find what you need for this book to, Diana:>)

    Jonathan, I totally agree that no matter what creative act we’re involved in, it becomes less fun with pressure. Although many say they work best under pressure and deadlines (and I do too, to a degree) for some, it becomes “paralysis by analysis,” and stifles our creative juices.

    Thanks for your encouraging post!

  • Jonathan Gunson says:
    March 14, 2013 at 8:42pm

    Hi Karen.

    Yes re Diana. I also see that you both mention ‘The Paris Wife’ in your blogs. Think I might get around to it now. http://www.dianastevan.com
    ~Jonathan

    PS. Are comments working on your blog? I forgot to switch mine on for some hours when I posted this, so missed out on hearing from many regulars. But you’re here :)

  • March 14, 2013 at 9:12pm

    Jonathan, you write: “I froze. My imagination completely evaporated. What if the world thought my TV series was complete garbage?” I can relate to that. The best writing comes, for me, when everybody around me has no clue as to what I’m up to and when I will deliver. If I tell people too much they will eventually rush me without knowing it. I especially like your “What I didn’t tell them…” conclusion. It reminds me of a quote from the novelization of Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal” by A.C.H. Smith: “A word spoken is a step taken.” I have made the mistake of speaking about a story too early occasionally. The feedback I got confused the hell out of me. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the feedback, but it disturbed the delicate process within myself. It needs no interference, it comes from within. And to answer your question directly: I have had writer’s block in mornings occasionally. If I start at 9AM and I’m having a bad day -guess I’d call that a writer’s block- I know for a fact that the blockade is lifted between 2PM and 4PM. No exception. But this hardly ever happens, actually, because the trick for me is not to MIND the block. Only when I accept it, it allows me to move forward. Writer’s blocks are basically a test for writers, and they stick to the ones who resist.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 9:47pm

      M.H.V. Interesting point re “…the trick for me is not to MIND the block.”

      My own most effective writing / creative time is around midnight onwards. (This is something of a curse, because I should be sleeping then.) I know with absolute for certainty that no interruptions will come at that time, and social defences come down. Flow is so much easier.

      But the truth is a little discipline goes a long way. As Mars Dorian pointed out earlier (in the same vein as Meave Binchy) ‘sit and start writing’ has as much to do with succeeding as anything else.

      ~Jonathan

  • March 14, 2013 at 9:36pm

    Writing can tend to be such a lonely occupation – and we forget, while in front of the computer screen, that other authors are having the same problems! Thank you, Jonathon. It makes me feel less worried – after all – if I like pears and hate apples – I now know someone else out there has the same likes and dislikes (even tho’ my family insists I should like apples and hate pears!)
    There you go – I just read that analogy and thought – that wasn’t good enough – no body will want to read THAT!!!

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 9:54pm

      Maureen.. you are not alone. Re apples and pears, its a matter of our books finding their audience, the people for whom our writing resonates. They are a small percentage, but across an entire population do add up. (Unless you’re Danielle Steel who more or less created her own ‘everyone’ genre… ‘Women’s Fiction’. (She stoutly avoids being called a ‘romantic fiction’ writer.)
      ~Jonathan

  • March 14, 2013 at 9:36pm

    My remedy for writer’s block? Write harder. Seriously though -I haven’t really experienced writer’s block, but that’s probably because I still have difficulty finding the time to write. When I do.. the flood is unleashed. I have had those terrifying moments when I think that my writing is crap -but that usually comes after I finish, lol…

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 10:17pm

      Bard.
      You belong to the Mary Heaton Vorse school of writing: ‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
      If it works for you then… box on.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 14, 2013 at 9:55pm

    Every-day issues can often crowd in to stop me writing. Logistically speaking, my days are full, as we have five children ranging from three to nineteen and so writing time is short unless it encroaches into the working day.

    And then, as you rightly say, the self-doubt did cloud my creativity. It stopped me for a long time after my first book was complete. But I left my characters, sitting, waiting for me for far too long… after all, they had become a part of my daily thoughts and I find I cannot now leave them stranded. So at the end of the day, I will continue to write for my own enjoyment and hope that at least a few people enjoy the journey with me.

    Thank you for another helpful and supportive article.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 10:09pm

      Peter
      That’s quite a touch stone you’ve put here. “…I left my characters, sitting, waiting for me for far too long… after all, they had become a part of my daily thoughts and I find I cannot now leave them stranded…”. This jolted me into action today if I’m being honest, because it applies directly to a project I’ve had in the ‘cloud’ for years. Only we can take action. No one will do it for us. So as you can see, the energy of this blog flows in both directions. Contribution valued.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 14, 2013 at 11:29pm

    Another great post Jonathan. Although I am NEVER writing at 2am, that doesn’t mean I don’t wake up and think about writing, while telling myself to go back to sleep damn it. As for writer’s block, I agree with many here, and recognize that it is fear of failure (or for some, fear of succcess) that inhibits us. When I come to a section where I just don’t know what to do, I follow my mother’s words and do nothing. I walk away, for an hour, a day, a week, whatever I need. Sometimes I just need to let ideas germinate in my head before committing them to “paper” on the computer. Most of the time though, I just sit and write. I don’t worry about whether it’s good enough – I leave that for the editing and re-writing stage. I try to let the story flow, and the characters develop as they will, often times surprising me in the process. That’s the fun, and the freedom, we have as writers. :)

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 14, 2013 at 11:40pm

      Debbie
      Another simple variation on how to escape from the weight of expectations. i.e. Move the pressure away from your writing simply by knowing it can be ‘fixed later’ at the editing stage. Quoting you: “Most of the time though, I just sit and write. I don’t worry about whether it’s good enough – I leave that for the editing and re-writing stage…” Great.
      ~Jonathan

      • Belynda Kitts says:
        March 15, 2013 at 11:09am

        That’s exactly what I do on the days I have no idea really what I’m going to write. I always have good stopping points however, and have ideas where I’m headed. But then when I actually sit and write, I surprise myself when my writing takes me in a direction I wasn’t expecting and THAT really excites me and keeps me motivated.

        I don’t share too much of where I’m at in my story because I don’t like the pressure. It inhibits the freedom I feel when I write the way I want to write.

        I’m also for afraid of success….weird, but true. I have yet to figure out why and would love to overcome this!

        A friend told me once that I had to make sure I wrote very technically, with “I”s dotted and “T”s crossed. I told him that my story is being told through the eyes of 10yr old, so grammar and such don’t really matter as much to me. That I am writing like that on purpose another words. He didn’t get it.

        My point is, those of us that love to write need to allow ourselves to write the way WE want to write and not worry about the outside world at all. For me, this is truly freeing as a writer! And this is how I am most creative!

        Thank you for a great blog post!

        • Jonathan Gunson says:
          March 15, 2013 at 11:41am

          Belynda
          “I don’t share too much of where I’m at in my story because I don’t like the pressure. It inhibits the freedom I feel when I write the way I want to write.” That’s it, don’t share, don’t tell. Keep it in your own never, never land. Therein lies the answer.
          ~Jonathan

  • Bonnie says:
    March 15, 2013 at 4:14am

    This was a great read! I tried to leave a comment this morning but couldn’t figure out how to do that. Then this evening I came back and saw other people had commented and figured you must have a secret access comment door for special friends and I obviously wasn’t one of them (I didn’t notice the comment link was fixed). Then I read your comment to Joanna Penn on Twitter and came back for my own back stage pass. :-)

    Quite the deal just to say that I found so many helpful tips in what you wrote, especially the following: “Cease planning to ever publish, and let your imagination run free to produce whatever it likes – even if it’s not very good. Who cares? You’re writing just for yourself. No-one will ever see.”

    And I loved the example of your own experience in writing for the TV series!

    Something I personally find helpful is deep breathing for a few minutes before I write and also playing soothing nature music in the background to get me into the right brain creative side instead of the left brain logical side, which loves to tell me my writing is “crap”. Now I know there is a time for writing – go with the flow – and a time for editing.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 15, 2013 at 4:44am

      Bonnie

      Thank you for your patience.

      Let’s just say that the infinite variety of ways that people find to motivate themselves to write is fascinating. They range from a type of staff nurse “NONSENSE, no such thing”, to yours, which is more closely aligned with my own thinking. There’s no question however that in the end we must knuckle down and get on with it.

      One comment apart from yours I found particularly useful was from Debbie McClure: “…I don’t worry about whether it’s good enough – I leave that for the editing and re-writing stage..”

      ~Jonathan

  • March 15, 2013 at 11:07am

    My way of beating writer’s block is to lower my standards and carry on. I feel that, so long as I’m getting something down on the page, I can always come back and fix it later – but, unless you start laying some bricks you’re never going to get the house finished.

    • Belynda Kitts says:
      March 15, 2013 at 11:12am

      Well said Chris and I couldn’t agree more. That’s why even on days I really don’t feel like I have anything to add, I do anyway. It always amazes me what I end up with!

      • Jonathan Gunson says:
        March 15, 2013 at 11:37am

        Belynda.
        ‘Just get on with it come what may’ works for you then. There’s a degree of not caring what anyone else thinks in that, which I’m sure is the reason it will be working.
        ~Jonathan

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 15, 2013 at 11:44am

      Chris.
      Very similar to Debbie McClure’s approach. Question is, does doing this remove the ‘what will they think?’ pressure? I suspect it does exactly that.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 15, 2013 at 3:44pm

    Fantastic blog post. Thank you, Jonathan. I needed this. Excited to go to my never never land!

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 15, 2013 at 10:46pm

      Liat.
      See you in never never land. Judging by all the comments here so far the reasons for being blocked are variations on the main theme of the pressures of expectation. Some never have this issue and cannot see what all the fuss is about, others realise they just need to sit and write, and after a while the flow happens. Some, like you and I, need to escape. But John Mountford (below) has a different take.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 15, 2013 at 4:35pm

    Great article. I’ve found this to be true for me as well. In fact it has delayed my writing career many years.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 15, 2013 at 11:16pm

      Terri. Yes the expectations can sometimes create a high wall. Each writer here has a different take on why this occurs – so do read what they all have to say. In fact for some, this issue doesn’t even exist.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 15, 2013 at 7:45pm

    Jonathan, I believe that writers block is no different to any other kind of block that all artists encounter. To create something original we must get outside of ourselves. To do this we must be happy with who we are. I find that I am blocked when I know I have acted in a way that is inconsistent with where I need to go to get my inspiration. An authentic life is the antidote to writers block for me. When I fail to be real, I lose the confidence I need to be a partner in the creative process.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 15, 2013 at 10:56pm

      John
      Insightful thought – and agree.
      “An authentic life is the antidote to writers block for me.” This has wider implications than just for writing of course. Fortunate are those fully aware of who they are, and who’ve also embraced it. (Some spend their lives trying on the various ‘suits of life’ and carefully avoid the one that fits.)
      ~Jonathan

    • March 17, 2013 at 3:58pm

      Thanks for the response. I get the impression that authenticity is something that comes naturally to you. Is that so, or do you find you have had to work at it over a period of time. I guess what I am asking is: is authenticity primarily born or learned?

      • Jonathan Gunson says:
        March 19, 2013 at 1:48am

        John

        I feel that ‘authenticity’ is something we’re born with and then lose in many cases. But I also have great faith it can be recaptured. What generally seems to happen is that people become overwhelmed by the buffeting of life, e.g. In order to pay their mortgage, they do something entirely unsuited to their temperament and end up having to be ‘political’ within that situation in order to survive. Terribly sad, and common to most. (Looking back, I’m no exception.)

        If people would simply take the small risk and trust doing what they’re best at, then all would be well in their world. But I’m also aware that this is very easy to say, and oh so hard to do.

        ~Jonathan

        • March 20, 2013 at 1:55pm

          Thank you for taking the time to post a great response, Jonathan. You are a good man. John.

          • Jonathan Gunson says:
            September 30, 2013 at 10:39am

            I’m here for the duration.
            ~Jonathan

  • March 16, 2013 at 3:29am

    I’ve been blocked on my sequel for a year and a half. Despite trying not to care how it turned out, I couldn’t seem to escape the pressure. Finally, I wrote and published a completely different book instead. I tried again last November, but still had writer’s block, so I put it away for another three months have come back to it just last week. This time, and I have no idea why, I’m relaxed and comfortable about the process for the first time. Perhaps because I told myself I’d just edit what I had instead of trying to write more yet.

    Rereading my previous writing, I must admit all of it was awful, but not in the way it felt at the time. It wasn’t lacking in ideas, it was lacking in coherency. I’d start a scene and then bounce to the next one without developing it. I’d give up on each idea before actually exploring it. While I have to rewrite pretty much everything, at least finally being able to let go of the end result gives me perspective (and I still don’t know how the last 3 months changed that for me). I’m putting together a detailed revised outline, and hopefully I’ll be able to finally divorce myself from feeling I’m failing my marketing plan by not having it done already.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 16, 2013 at 3:57am

      Ardyth

      Re “…something changed after 3 months…”
      The mind is extraordinary. It continues to work on things behind the scenes without us even realising, while we’re occupied with other issues, and for extended periods. (3 months in your case.) This is closely related to why we say ‘Let’s sleep on it’. Furthermore, leaving the book for a while can make the world of difference, because our perspective during that time will alter, and we see though different eyes on returning. These two factors are most likely to be what has brought about the welcome change.

      ~Jonathan
      PS. Do watch what Ray Bradbury has to say about ‘awful’ writing. (He uses the term ‘dreadful’!) http://bestsellerlabs.com/how-to-sell-8-million-books

  • Dana says:
    March 17, 2013 at 11:22am

    Wow! Thanks. Although I don’t generally suffer from writer’s block I decided to read all the comments on this page. Thank you all so very much.

    I’ve been a writer for years, gradually developing and hopefully improving my skills. The greatest block to me is when my own work becomes mundane and flat. (Guess we’ve all been there haven’t we?) So I’ve learned that I must always stretch myself, never allow myself to write something and think ‘sod it, this’ll do’ but rather re-read and ask,

    ‘What am I trying to say?’
    ‘Have I said it?’
    ‘Could I possibly say it in a more interesting way?’

    This questioning keeps me interested and engaged in my own process, and, on the odd occasion when I do get stuck, I read a paragraph or two of a writer who truly inspires me, and lifts me out of the tendency to write in too mundane a fashion. For me the second draft, the re-writing stage, is the truly magical part.

    But these days, and it’s been for a long while now, writer’s block boils down to ‘Publisher’s block’. I find myself unable to make any steps towards getting myself published, and become so overwhelmed with information and a sense of hopeless helplessness that I scuttle back to my latest novel and try to make it all go away. But then I feel guilt for indulging myself with writing, and end up blocked on two sides, trapped by my fear. Crushed by ineptitude! (And by a sense of head-dropping embarrassment.)

    Thank you Jonathon, and everyone else here, for a very interesting blog. Maybe something will soon shift in me and I’ll begin to move through this stasis. In the meantime I’m completing a third novel, so if I do ever break through my own inertia, I will at least have something to publish.

    P.S. Regarding writing, I live in Ireland. It rains a lot. When it rains I write. It’s a wonderful feeling, writing while the rain drones down outside. I might be the only person for miles who doesn’t long for sunshine!

  • Tom Gold says:
    March 17, 2013 at 7:33pm

    Jon,

    Love this: ‘…the unfinished draft of your book lighting up your tired face…’

    Know the feeling well and have developed my own remedy for writers block which I might have shared with you in response to a different post, anyway, its this:

    1 Pushups (you decide how many, but go hard)

    2 Strong cup of coffee

    3 Inspirational youtube clip (opening scene of Dances with Wolves or pre battle speech from Braveheart both work for me)

    4 Write

    5 Repeat as necessary.

    A number of folks here have mentioned the importance of just writing to break the deadlock and that it doesnt have to be brilliant. I’m a big subscriber to this idea.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. Btw, how does an earthquake work as a way of breaking out of writer’s block? T

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 17, 2013 at 7:37pm

      Tom.
      The earthquake was … startling to say the least. Was centered about 10 miles from where I live in Auckland. Tends to bring everything into sharp focus.
      Writer remedies appreciated.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 17, 2013 at 9:06pm

    Excellent article, and certainly rings true to my own experience. I’ve never been completely blocked, but writing my second book was far harder than the first. With the first I wrote huge chunks just for fun, and went down several redundant byways that I had to return and alter, and it was all great fun because, as you say, there was no pressure. I didn’t know it would be published and I just played with it as I chose. I’m trying to return to that with my third novel.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 17, 2013 at 10:41pm

      Jill
      Your experience mirrors that of Colleen Hoover. So I looked over your author blog. Like you, I’ve read Mary Stewart’s ‘The Hollow Hills’, and currently catching up with Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark Is Rising’ series book by book. It’s somewhat ‘secret seven’ and ‘famous 5′ but still a good read. (!) More interestingly, I’ve become fairly certain that the series had a significant influence on the genesis of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter. (Nothing wrong with that either, Shakespeare learned from Ovid in a not dissimilar way.)
      ~Jonathan

  • March 17, 2013 at 9:14pm

    I found that having a digital recorder helps quite a bit. It seems that bits and pieces, and even whole chapters come to me at the least opportune time. Now I just pull out my voice recorder and either run through the dialogue from the scene, or just put my thoughts down in electrons- sometimes just a set up and punchline.
    Then later, when I’m at home, I download the files and as I listen to them and transcribe them, I am able to crank out my story. The recorded bits work as springboards to get me going.
    I think the other drivers think I’m nuts because I’ll do the voices of my mostly non-human characters when I’m recording a scene. Even the female voices.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 17, 2013 at 10:53pm

      Robert
      Interesting. Sounds to me that recording those precious ‘scraps’ at random allows you to escape any form of immediate pressure to ‘produce’. After all, they are genuinely just thoughts captured, so there’s no stifling ‘will this be judged?’ feelings attached. Great.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 17, 2013 at 9:30pm

    Hi Jonathan
    I agree with all the psychological points that you make regarding writers block. However writing originates in the brain, a physical organ that has to be kept in good shape. I recently had a major creative surge after going on the Alternate Fasting Diet, breaking a sort of block and getting the final twenty thousand words of my third novel out in two weeks. I would recommend it as a general ‘tone up’ for all workers who use their creative faculties and writers in particular. You also lose weight, feel better about yourself with increased confidence, all of which helps the writer. There are lots of publications about the diet but basically you fast (limit to 600 calories) one day and eat normally the next. When you’re in shape you can cut to two days a week. It’s the easiest diet I’ve ever followed. I’ve blogged about it at http://alancalderwriting.blogspot.com
    I’m enjoying your regular dollops of writing wisdom.
    With best wishes
    Alan Calder

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 17, 2013 at 10:33pm

      Alan
      Timeless advice with which any writer would agree. Healthy body = healthy mind = healthy writing.
      ~Jonathan

  • Deborah K. Anderson says:
    March 18, 2013 at 4:01am

    Great post, Jonathan.

    My best stories (and those that published) have been those that I wrote without thinking about anything. Just let it rip. It’s when I allow things to creep in, just as you did on your series, that I freeze up. Not only that, it messes with my voice.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 18, 2013 at 6:19am

      Deborah
      “Just let it rip?”
      Great! Interesting comment re ‘voice’ too. There are many ways to get to that all important state of flow. Some believe in the ‘force it’ method, others need different ways to avoid the ‘freeze’, but most employ techniques that are simply ways of avoiding the fear of their work being judged negatively.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 18, 2013 at 2:48pm

    Jonathan, you hit the nail on the head for me. I used to work as an accountant. Now I just write for the fun of it. Your blogs are the best, the most helpful, I’ve found.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 18, 2013 at 8:03pm

      Thanks Elaine. Such comments make it worthwhile.
      ~ Jonathan

  • Jeff says:
    March 18, 2013 at 6:31pm

    I have found that when I feel frustrated at writing whatever it is I am “supposed” to be writing at that moment, the best thing I can do is simply write something else. Just start writing about my day, my week, even start a new story altogether. It is my Never Never Land, because as I write something that has no pre-scripted expectations, I find that my consciousness relaxes quite a bit. Usually I can never finish writing my “relax” writing because I get inspired or relaxed enough to go back to my original work.

    Fantastic post.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 18, 2013 at 8:06pm

      Jeff.
      Clever. Deflect the issue by ‘warming up’ with something unrelated. Makes perfect sense to me.
      ~Jonathan

  • Carin says:
    March 18, 2013 at 6:48pm

    I, too, find my muse after midnight when time feels more infinite.
    This was very helpful – thank you.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 18, 2013 at 8:13pm

      Carin
      Welcome to my world. I’ve figured out why ‘after midnight’ works. Not only is no-one else around, there is not the slightest chance that they will be. No visitors, the phone will not ring. Nothing. This means that all social defences and walls come down. The creative mind steps out from hiding.. freedom. Flow can begin. Nevertheless, I still attempt to discipline myself and knuckle down to work during the day.
      ~Jonathan

  • Tracey Delaney says:
    March 18, 2013 at 7:07pm

    What a wonderful article. I have almost finished my second book (which is the first of a two parter) and I must admit that I’ve not yet suffered writers block (I tell myself its because I haven’t been writing long enough…and also that I write only for myslef) but now I know what to look out for, if I ever do, I’ll know to go to my happy place!

    And you’re right. The fear of our work being ridiculed prevents a lot of authors from publishing. I have a finished manuscript, have already edited it four times, have chosen and designed a book cover and it is still safely in my document folder…

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 18, 2013 at 8:17pm

      Tracey
      Admire your confidence. I hope your second book goes well. Any chance the two parter could be a longer series? ‘Series’ is a killer strategy. Here’s a link to a relevant article that goes into why.
      ~Jonathan

      • Tracey Delaney says:
        March 18, 2013 at 10:12pm

        Perhaps but I’m not really sure. I guess I just need to see where my characters lead me.
        And of course, if these two books can’t be made into a series, it doesn’t mean that the next idea won’t be ‘The One’

        Thanks for the article – very interesting.

        Your blog is fast becoming my favourite most visited place :-)

        • Jonathan Gunson says:
          March 18, 2013 at 10:32pm

          Tracey
          Most favourite visited place? That’s heart warming indeed. You say “…I just need to see where my characters lead me.” Great to hear. The moment they take on a life of their own, you’ve entered that magical realm… ‘Story’.
          ~Jonathan

  • Molly says:
    March 18, 2013 at 9:13pm

    I am terrifically terrified of fear, however, it can be motivating. When? When it becomes boring; when the fear becomes more than the issue; when fear of ____ becomes more than the thing we’re trying to accomplish. Oh, it’s SUCH a boring place. I … gah. I have to stop here. Really.

    I commented to you, Jonathan, on Twitter that I often find my best work writes itself and that I am merely the help, the typist. I think those moments are what we call “inspiration” when we don’t think about what we’re doing other than to just get it out of our heads and “on the page/screen” —

    from Webster’s: inspiration: “inspiration |ˌinspəˈrāSHən|
    noun
    1 the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative: Helen had one of her flashes of inspiration | the history of fashion has provided designers with invaluable inspiration.
    • the quality of having been so stimulated, esp. when evident in something: a rare moment of inspiration in an otherwise dull display.
    • a person or thing that stimulates in this way: he is an inspiration to everyone.
    • a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea: then I had an inspiration.
    • the divine influence believed to have led to the writing of the Bible.
    2 the drawing in of breath; inhalation.
    • an act of breathing in; an inhalation.
    ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense ‘divine guidance’): via Old French from late Latin inspiratio(n-), from the verb inspirare (see inspire) .”

    blah blah.

    I like to think of what I write, when it’s good, as breathing in (someone else’s?) thoughts and “exhaling” them on to the screen or paper; an involuntary act, a matter of living; as breathing is what is required to live. The last 4k words of my book I wrote in less than 2 hours and I was on autopilot. Before I started them, I said a quick prayer / asked for guidance from Gabriel (the archangel of messaging — hey man, don’t judge, some people rub a troll doll for good luck — whatever gets you to the next step) and I didn’t look back. I read it later and it was lovely.

    Now… what moves me forward from here, oh sage Jonathan? How do I dislodge myself out of my writer seat and thrust myself into the editing process?

    Thank you for replying on Twitter. I look forward to learning more from you. :)

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 18, 2013 at 9:56pm

      Molly
      Super comment. A blog post in of itself thank you.
      What you said on Twitter struck a chord: “I often find my best work writes itself and that I am merely the help, the typist.” What you’re really describing is ‘being in the zone’. It’s the only way you could possibly write 4k words in less than 2 hours, and at the ‘lovely’ level of quality you describe. Call it inspiration or flow state if you like. Once in that state it’s a free ride. But the weird thing is that we strenuously avoid going there.
      ~Jonathan

      • Molly says:
        March 18, 2013 at 10:03pm

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply! I LOVE going there: I put on some seriously amazing music and go. It’s the coming out that stinks. It’s the culling that can be hard… but this is how we know when we’re ready.

        • Jonathan Gunson says:
          March 18, 2013 at 10:43pm

          Molly
          I play a ‘trance’ channel to get there sometimes. e.g. http://www.di.fm (No ‘singing’). But not when actually creating anything. Music uses the same part of the mind and interrupts me I find.
          ~Jonathan

  • Jonathan Gunson says:
    March 19, 2013 at 9:20pm

    So many great and heartfelt comments here. Thanks to all.
    ~Jonathan

  • March 20, 2013 at 7:07pm

    Hello Jonathan,
    I first saw your article last week but didn’t bother again as I thought you’d scrubbed the reader’s comments.
    Re Writer’s Block, I’m about to send three chapters in of my latest book to a publisher. It’s called I Want To Live. This is the first of two books, the second being called I To Live, part two. The book is about my recovery from three bouts of cancer, in 1994, 1996, 1997 – a skin blockage – and again a melanoma in 2007.
    Fingers crossed that it is accepted. I had a few problems with typos, I rewrote a few pages as I don’t like sloppy work, but carried out a few corrections for the publisher, like a misspelt word for example, I wrote three short strokes under the letter that had an ordinary letter instead of a capital one. I usually correct my errors before I send a manuscript in, do you think this is a good idea, or do I rewrite the entire page again? I’m sending the manuscript in on Friday, cheers Jonathan, regards from Patrick.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 20, 2013 at 8:06pm

      Patrick
      The most effective pathway when presenting is always to put your best foot forward. Submit a clean, properly typed manuscript without any typos, and definitely without any handwritten corrections.
      All the best with your submission.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 20, 2013 at 10:42pm

    Thanks Jonathan,
    I may have to retype four or five pages of the three chapters that the publisher wants because there’s maybe just one typo on each page, a lot of work I know, but you know the score, thanks again, Patrick..

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 21, 2013 at 2:31am

      Patrick
      Tedious, but yes. Once again good luck with your submission. Let me know how it goes. Good to know that your book is complete and that ‘fear of being judged’ never held you back.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 22, 2013 at 4:23am

    Thanks Jonathan,
    The publisher stated word would come back from them inside six months, although a person I know got the affirmative word back in four weeks. Luck is the thing I suppose, and if a writer is good enough. The submission went in today, although the snow is falling very heavy here in Belfast, regards Jonathan. Thanks.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      September 30, 2013 at 10:40am

      Patrick…
      Standing by.
      ~Jonathan

  • March 25, 2013 at 9:07am

    Every writer suffers from self doubt. We all think we are frauds and one day someone will realize we are not really a writer! If you are not in the zone…just get sentences down and then you can edit them later.Ignore that delete key!
    My next book is on Self Editing Tips for Aspiring Writers!

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      March 25, 2013 at 12:14pm

      Standing by for the book Annie. But …. no pressure :)
      ~Jonathan

  • WriteOnNZ says:
    April 7, 2013 at 6:02am

    Never a truer word blogged! I’m now going to rename my book “Not for Publication” and see if that subliminal message silences my inner editor :-)

  • April 9, 2013 at 5:25pm

    Jonathan, the other side of writer’s block occurs when one’s work doesn’t win contests, or attract agents, or result in reviews full of praise or reach the bestseller list in six months. The writer is blocked because he or she comes to believe that all the hours of vision and revision are not worthwhile. Unfortunately, thoughts of defeat require less energy than those of victory, but the universe exists because of energy, and not its absence. I comfort myself with the idea that God imbued me with the desire and the talent to write, and wouldn’t do so without a purpose in mind. You are absolutely correct that we must write, and not wait for the world to give us its approval.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      April 10, 2013 at 4:41am

      Tom
      You hit it square on the nail with the word ‘purpose’. We are in synch Sir.
      ~Jonathan

  • Lauren says:
    April 24, 2013 at 6:33pm

    Great advice. It reminds me of the Bob Marley song, “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Though, I don’t know if ganja affected his state of mind. : )

    Worrying about anything while writing is a buzz kill. You really need to find that special place, physically as well as mentally.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      April 26, 2013 at 10:54pm

      Lauren
      Seems my blog post motivated several other bloggers to cover the same topic (fear of being judged) in similar fashion. Shows how prevalent the issue is. You put it succinctly: “Worrying about anything while writing is a buzz kill.”
      ~Jonathan

  • Molly says:
    May 23, 2013 at 3:09am

    Excellent advice and wonderful selection of perspectives. I feel less blech. Thank you for sharing this. I feel as though I’ve got a lot of pokers in the fire. Once things calm down a bit for me, I’ll be able to relax… RIGHT?! Right. :)

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      May 24, 2013 at 10:41am

      You’re welcome Molly. It’s remarkable how the mind goes to work behind the scenes. Your ‘blech’ will vaporize soon. Mark my words.
      ~Jonathan

  • Michael says:
    June 22, 2013 at 8:14pm

    It’s funny. I’ve written a dozen screenplays and never worried about what producers or agents thought of my writing. But writing my first novel is much more worrisome for me. I guess it’s the thought of putting something so personal on the market where anyone can read it. We all want to be accepted. That goes for our writing as well. We want people to like what we’ve worked so hard to create. I guess we should just accept that we can’t please everyone and do the best we can.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      June 22, 2013 at 10:13pm

      That’s it Michael.
      “Concentrate on what you want to say to yourself and your friends. Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness. You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening.”
      ― Allen Ginsberg

  • Michael says:
    June 23, 2013 at 1:52am

    I am going to follow that advice. While I’m letting my current novel sit before getting into revisions, I’m outlining Book One in my YA series titled ‘Eliza Twitchel and the Haunted Forest’. Since I’ve already written the script, the novel shouldn’t take too long. Knock on wood.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      September 30, 2013 at 10:42am

      Michael
      The Script? That sounds more than exciting – enterprising to boot.
      ~Jonathan

  • November 22, 2013 at 1:49am

    I posted this originally to your Twitter feed, and since you asked me to share it here on your website, I’m doing just that. :-) I tweeted:

    I oftentimes think that being “blocked” is caused by placing too many expectations on what *should* happen. Just let it be. Whenever I come up against a difficult passage, I ask myself, “I wonder what will happen next?” And then something happens.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      November 22, 2013 at 2:12am

      Elyse
      Great writing tip thank you. That wide-eyed tension of “What on earth is going to happen next?
      ~ Jonathan

  • May 6, 2014 at 3:21pm

    I needed to hear this today. Thanks, Jonathan!

  • May 7, 2014 at 9:26pm

    I so needed to read this today. I just self-pubbed my second book, the second in a series. The first did very well and I received many requests for the second book. It was almost painful to write that book because of expectations. I hit upon different social hot buttons in the series, and I know there are some who will completely disagree with what I write and the directions the characters take. I’m usually a confident person, but when it comes to writing I seem to be extra vulnerable to those niggling little feelings that crush the momentum and the creativity. Thanks so much for referencing this post in the comments section of another post!

    I truly appreciate your blog and the quality content you provide for authors.

    All my best,

    Annie Adams

  • Chloe says:
    June 7, 2014 at 7:27am

    Thank you so much for this post. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for for at least five months solid. I have a feeling this will help me a lot.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      June 7, 2014 at 11:05am

      You’re welcome Chloe. I found the CSI lighting information highly insightful.
      ~ Jonathan

  • Adryanna says:
    June 7, 2014 at 7:40pm

    Jonathon,
    I’ve just begun attempting to write actual books. (before my writing was more like journal entries and short stories) And writers block has been a big struggle. I’m constantly worrying that some one won’t like it, that it isn’t good enough. This is so very VERY helpful to me. I feel motivated to keep writing again. Thank you so much.

    • Jonathan Gunson says:
      June 8, 2014 at 12:23am

      Adryanna
      Most authors sailing the writing ocean suffer a type of sea sickness as they’re swept between total narcissism and massive self doubt.
      ~Jonathan

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