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 afraid, even fearful. Why?
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?
If 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.
But many instances of writer’s block can actually be avoided, provided you know why it’s happening. And the real cause is often not what you think it is…
The Biggest Cause Of Writer’s Block Is Fear That Your Work Isn’t Good Enough
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.
We’re afraid of being judged negatively. 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.
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:
“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:
“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.”
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.
To 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.”
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.
While 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.
And then, just write.
Are you in fear of what people think? Have you ever had writer’s block? Have any other tips for overcoming it? Please do leave a comment.
Article written by Jonathan Gunson
Author / CEO Bestseller Labs
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