Some hard truths about writer’s block

Chuck Wendig posted a great article on writer’s block today, “Writer’s block might be…” If you haven’t read it yet, I thoroughly recommend it — as long as you don’t mind his regular use of four-letter words, that is. 🙂

This problem that “writer’s block might be” particularly struck home with me:

Doubt In What You’re Writing

Problem: This thing you’re working on just ain’t working. It’s not writer’s block. It’s the material. Something wonky is hiding in the various gears and dongles of your wordsmithy. You halt because you instinctively recognize that you’re charging forth into an uncertain reality, as if you went back in time and stepped on a butterfly and now you’re back and something feels wrong and you can’t tell what it is …

Solution: A few ways to go here. First, say “f*ck it,” keep writing. Act like nothing is wrong. Persevere and write through it and eventually the solution may present itself. Or: stop writing forward and start looking backward. Flip through and see if you went wrong somewhere, if there’s some moment in the story where you feel like you took it in a wrong direction, or see if you can spot a plot-hole whose heretofore-unseen absence of logic has been haunting you like a gibbering ghost rising from past pages. Or: take a good long long at the story. Is this really the story you wanted to tell? Is this your heart, minced into narrative, or is this the story someone else wants you to tell? Sometimes writing to a market or to another person’s expectations feels unnatural, like we’re wearing someone else’s underwear. It’s halting, jarring, unpleasant — and it can lead to creative blockage. Here, I’m afraid the solution is to go and write the thing you really want to write. The thing that speaks to your storytelling soul. The thing that is your blood on the page.

This seems to be a part of my problem at the moment. I know there is a spark of enthusiasm in A Wasted Land, a central idea that made me start it in the first place, but at the moment that enthusiasm seems to be drowning in the daily word-makery. I had the same problem for a while with Shadow of Stone, My solution was to sit down with pen and paper and “talk to myself” for a while, ask myself what it was about the idea that originally grabbed me and made me want to tell the story. At the moment, I’m doing much the same thing for A Wasted Land — and coming up with new scenes and ideas in the process. So it seems to be working. 🙂

Another problem that Chuck points out is also contributing to my present slow progress, I think, “Uncertainty About Where The Story Is Going.” I do have most of the big plot points for A Wasted Land mapped out, but things in between are looking very fuzzy, and I’m not quite sure what to put there. Working on that as well, while I try to regain my enthusiasm.

There’s one thing that’s also messing with my drive to write at the moment that Chuck doesn’t mention:

Lack of Success

And no, this is not the same thing as Fear of Failure. I know I can write. I’ve been published traditionally both in novels and short fiction, I’ve been nominated for and won awards, the books and story collections I’ve self-published have gotten lots of good reviews, none of them from my grandmother (I haven’t had a grandmother since I was sixteen). None are from any other family members either.

But the thing is, when I first started out as an indie writer, and my books were selling hundreds of copies a month, that started a wonderful feedback loop that inspired me to write more.

When the marketing strategies I was using stopped working and my sales dropped more and more, that sent me into a downward motivational spiral. Of course, it was complicated by the Big Translation Project, which left me with less time for writing. But knowing I have to relearn the whole marketing gig before my books start selling again is discouraging. In 2012, I had tons of drive and enthusiasm for my writing. In 2014 it’s more like, yeah, okay, let’s knock another 500 words out — I’m not a writer if I don’t write, right?

The empty brain

What my brain looks like on a negative feedback loop. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.)

Sales, praise, good reviews: it might sound like a pretty superficial need. And “need” is probably too strong a word anyway. I’m still writing, after all. I’m pretty good at shrugging off bad reviews too. My philosophy has always been that I’m writing the books that I would most want to read myself. Nonetheless, knowing I don’t have much of an audience I’m writing for besides me is a bit frustrating at times.

So what about the rest of you? What’s your biggest problem in getting motivated to write?

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11 thoughts on “Some hard truths about writer’s block”

  1. I’ve been a bit disillusioned, following the release of my debut novel last year, that I didn’t get more sales and that I wasn’t more successful with self-publishing. But actually that hasn’t put me off my writing – now I just feel that I need to keep writing, to get as many novels out there in the public domain, so to speak, as possible. My philosophy is this: if I have more books published, I’m more likely to get noticed by more people.

    Best of luck with your writing Ruth. Hope you get out of your funk soon. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Elaine! It feels less like a funk, and more like an ongoing disenchantment that’s tainting my motivation, if that makes any sense. Maybe for me it’s also the come-down from the really decent sales of the first year after I went indie.

      1. I can understand that. I can imagine you might feel deflated after your sales dropped. I felt like that after I did my free promo of my debut novel last November. I had thousands of free downloads, thought it would translate into sales a bit, but no. It didn’t and that was very disheartening. I think, though, at times like this we just have to pick ourselves up and carry on, because what’s the alternative? Giving up – and that’s not something that I plan on doing any time soon!

      2. Exactly, Elaine — giving up is not an option. So we keep muddling through, hoping one of these days the work will pay off or we’ll get a lucky break, or we’ll have so many publications under our belts that the few sales here and there will amount to a lot of sales. 🙂

  2. This. This. This. GAH. It hit me straight in the heart with so much truth. I think the “Lack of Success” is one of my biggest block right now. It’s a shit storm to get out of…but I have faith and it feels good to know, I’m not alone. Thanks for your words, today.

  3. Thank you for writing about this, Ruth. Your energy and commitment to writing are inspirational — even admitting that you fall into a funk now and then is helpful as this is the process, facing down those barriers — internal and external. Have you worked on a mail list? experimented with a newsletter? My sales are nowhere near yours, but I’ve read in a number of places that connecting with readers makes a difference. So my next question (even though your blog and feedback have been very helpful to me as a writer): Is your blog designed for fans? I’ll be interested in what you say! Best always, Beth

    1. I guess I would have to say a combination of fans and other writers, Beth. I know there are fans who read my blog, but they don’t often post here. And while a lot of my posts are for readers, a lot are also for writers.

      I haven’t had much luck with the whole mailing list thing for some reason. Maybe I should redesign my blog to display it more prominently.

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