Week of Writers’ Block: Day 4

Welcome back to day 4 of our week of writers’ block! For the passed couple of days, we have been talking about how we sometimes get stuck when writing new stuff and how to overcome the barriers that keep us from finishing our work. Today, we are talking about a fun one: fear.

Day 4: Too Many Mountains

This metaphor actually came from my mother, though she wasn’t talking about writing. She was talking about going through labour, but in some ways, writing a novel sure feels similar to labour.

You standing at the base of a mountain. It looks absolutely massive. How in the world will you be able to scale this sucker? When you look towards the top of the mountain you see yet another, taller mountain towering behind the first. And another behind it. Suddenly, you’re overwhelmed by the entirety of the mountain range that you’re going to have to traverse if you want to reach your goal. It’s just too much. Even if you get over one mountain, there are dozens after it! Why not quit before you waste anyone’s time?

Those mountains can be anything. For a dear friend of mine who has already completed the monumental task of writing a novel and is starting on the second, the mountains are the publishing process. Self-publishing or traditional? Agent or no agent? What if it takes years and years to get published, if it happens at all? What if self-publishing is so much work that she has to settle? What if, in either case, the book gets lost in everything else out there? With all of those unknowns, it’s hard to think about writing another book that will put her right back in this same situation.

For me, a big part of this block is fear of the internet. I know, weird right? Between the Gamergate thing last summer and the Hugo awards, I’m absolutely terrified of the sci-fi/fantasy worlds right now. If I complete my novel, get it published, and have any success at all, what is the backlash I could face? I see the twitter mentions of some of my favorite authors and it immobilizes me. I can’t imagine having my phone constantly notifying me of the latest person who hates my work enough that they threaten me and my family. What about doxing? If someone publishes my personal information and endangers my kids… I just can’t imagine.

Your mountains are probably different. What if people hate my book? What if there’s no market for what I’m writing? What if it becomes wildly successful and I never get to have time to myself? What if I work incredibly hard on this book for years and nothing comes of it? What if my writing isn’t enough? What if someone else had this idea already and I just don’t know it? These fears can be debilitating to the creative process. So what can you do?

Yeah, they're beautiful, but I'd rather look than climb...
Yeah, they’re beautiful, but I’d rather look than climb…

1. One Step at a Time

This is what my mom suggests and you can’t argue with motherly wisdom. Yeah, those other mountains might suck and you might be tired and there might be bears on that one over there, but those don’t need to concern you right now. Focus on the mountain in front of you. You can conquer it in a series of steps and, in writing, each word counts as a step (tell that to my fitbit). Yeah, that publishing stuff is scary and you might have lots of internet haters, but that’s not what you need to worry about right now. Just put one word behind another and you can put this mountain behind you. Once you’ve completed the writing mountains, then you can look towards the publishing ones.

Once you’re at the publishing ones, figure out what bit-sized pieces you can turn the mountain into. Oh, publishers like writers with an online presence? Then the first step is to join some social media, start a blog, or whatever. Other publishers want authors that have short stuff already published? Write some short stories, submit them, etc. You want to self-publish? Get it edited (at least get it proofread, I’m serious), consider art for the cover. If that all seems too much, write your acknowledgements.

Yeah, the mountain range is huge, but you don’t have to plan for every mountain until you get there. And for every mountain you conquer, you’ll have a little more confidence in the next.

2. Make a Plan

For some people, a great way to relieve anxiety is to make a rough plan for what you want to happen. I’m terrified of internet trolls? Maybe I plan to hire someone to deal with my social media if I get to be that successful (but like, why plan for that success when I’m not even finished my book?). Scared that there won’t be a market for your book? Do some research. If it’s a book you want to read, there’s probably a market for it. If there’s no market, are you open to changes to make it more marketable? If you make a rough plan for the next, say, three mountains, you might feel prepared enough to keep writing.

However, in this case, keep in mind what kind of person you are. If doing research is going to terrify you further, maybe resist the temptation. Remember that things change over time. If you are worried about something now, it may not be an issue by the time you get to finishing your book.

3. Talk About It

If you’re a creative type, chances are you know lots of creative types. It doesn’t have to be writers, even. Artists, musicians, every person who loves creativity deals with these issues. Get together with someone and talk about your fear. Remember that the biggest boogeymen live in our heads. Friends can give us some perspective and reduce that fear down to something much more manageable. Plus, you could go somewhere that has delicious food. Double win.

Your turn! What are the mountains of fear that keep you from writing? Do any of these three methods help? See you tomorrow for day 5 of our week of writers’ block where we talk about the motivation block!

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