5 Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing

Last month, I wrote a couple of posts on losing your first love for writing and my journey to rediscovery. If you haven’t read those posts, take a minute now to do so. They will give you a little background for this post.

It’s been five weeks since I wrote the first of those two articles. I’ve started a new story and it’s making wonderful progress. That’s all I’m going to say about it (see #1 below), but I’m thrilled with the way things are going.

Since writing those two posts, I’ve come to realize that the quenching of my first love for writing didn’t happen overnight and that several things contributed to the process. The sad truth is that I’ve already seen them at work in my writing life. Even sadder; I’ve fallen victim to some of them already!

None of the things I’m about to list are bad in and of themselves. They may work wonders for you. If so, wonderful!

But they can be hindrances for others of us. Hence, this post.

5 Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing

1. Too much talking

talk-talk-talkAs in, too much talking about an idea or a story before it’s written. For me, that energy is best spent hammering out words and pages. Writing the story instead of talking about it.

So what should you do when someone asks what you’re working on?

I’ve started saying, “I’m working on a new story about….” and then I throw out my single-sentence summary if I have one. If I don’t, I stick with the bare bones.

“I’m working on a new mystery” or “I’m working on a new political thriller”. That’s about all most people are really interested in anyway.

2. Too much planning

mapI know. I know. I’ve written dozens of posts on the value of pre-planning. You know what? Pre-planning is great…. For those writers who actually benefit from it.

As much as I love pre-planning, it actually does more harm to my stories than good.

How can that be?

If I spend a week writing a long narrative summary for a story, my mind thinks the story is finished. Zip goes the energy for that idea. I may as well bury that story ’cause my brain is salivating for a new idea.

This was an especially painful realization because I have a dozen or more fully summarized—in long form—stories.

3. Too much journaling

I first started keeping a writing journal in 1999, after reading a book in which Lawrence Block recommended keeping a writing journal. But his idea of what a writing journal is and my version of a writing journal are not the same.

To Lawrence Block, a writing journal is where writers record new ideas, personal experiences that might play a part in a book, and things like that. That’s how my writing journal-life started.

But within a year or two, my writing journal started reading like a personal diary.

Then I started keeping a journal for every story and they started reading like a personal diary. There were still character and plot questions in the journal, but it was more about what was going wrong with a story than with figuring out how to write the story. Big. Difference.

And I’ve discovered in looking back over some of those journals that expressing those doubts, fears, and discouragements on paper didn’t purge them from my system. It nurtured them. Made them grow and multiply.

So keep a writing journal for ideas and experiences.

Everything else needs to be dealt with in some other way.

Like, say, fiction?

That brings me to the next point.

4. Too much navel gazing

The first time I used this phrase with Danielle, she didn’t know what I was talking about. So I suppose I should define what I mean.

The term navel gazing is another way to describe self-analysis. Especially excessive self-analysis. You know. As in sitting around with your chin on your chest, thinking about whatever’s wrong or going wrong or could go wrong.

When it comes to writing, this is one of those things that can completely derail a story or a writer. If you happen to be of a naturally melancholy nature—as I am—it’s especially counterproductive.

There comes a time in every writer’s life when he or she needs to sit down and analyze what’s going right and wrong with a story, but don’t let that process take over your writing life.

Because there also comes a time in every story when you have to throw your self-analysis out the window and write with abandon.

5.Too much time spent considering plot options or story questions

One of the things I’m having to relearn is that it’s okay to make a note in a manuscript if a question arises. If a character does something and I wonder why, it really is okay to ask the question in the manuscript itself.

What isn’t okay—for me at any rate—is shutting down writing to brainstorm all those possibilities. As much as I enjoy brainstorming, there is a time and place for it. For me, that is not  in the middle of the first draft.

So leave a note either as a footnote or insert a comment posing the question or suggesting a follow up scene, then let it go.

I like putting those notes into the manuscript itself so they’re there when it comes time to edit and revise.

So that’s my Top Five list of Writing Obstacles. Which ones resonate with you?

Daydreaming Run Amok

 

2016-04-27 daydreaming woman bubbles floating happy green blueOne of the top reasons why I struggle with time management and productivity is because my mind wanders way too easily. I’m never thinking about what I should be thinking about–a.k.a., whatever project is right in front of me at the moment. I daydream! So … assuming you want to quit daydreaming … is there a way to curb it enough to get the work done?

2016-04-27 Daydreaming Run Amok

A Brain Run Out of Control

2016-04-27 raining light sad dramatic intense dark circleI talk to myself. Let’s just be honest about that up front. (Then again, don’t most authors talk to themselves?) There’s a conversation going on inside my head at all times, and there’s never any knowing where the conversation will go next. My brain runs out of control! And it’s so much easier to just follow my brain wherever it may lead, rather than try to curb it and focus on things like writing blog posts or the next book.

Radio Silence

2016-04-27 woman happy flowers colorfulBut there was once–for the first time ever–when I had the experience of complete radio silence in my head. It came after several hours of being so dazed that I truly had nothing to say. It wasn’t a distressed dazed, but a peaceful dazed, because something unexpectedly good had happened. When I sat down to my writing after that, I got twice as much work done in half my usual time.

Getting in Control of Your Mind

2016-04-27 coffee woman happy smile peaceful quiet redMore recently, I read an excellent book (Self-Made Success by Shaan Patel) in which the author talked about gaining control of your own mind. “Try to become a third-party, objective observer of the thoughts that occur in your mind,” Patel wrote. This idea really struck me. I don’t have to be carried about by the changing tides of my thoughts! All I have to do is stop and think about my thinking.

My usual habit is to jump into my pile of work and tear away at it until it’s done, without stopping to ask myself what I’m doing. This never quite works, because I end up daydreaming. Instead, a better way to start the work day may be to simply sit quietly and let my mind wind down for at least a few minutes. Get in control of my thoughts.

Then start writing.

What about you? Do you daydream when you should be working on something? What do you do to curb it?

What To Do When You Lose Your First Love

This is not a post about the love lorn!

Nor is it a primer on writing romance novels.

It’s about something much more serious: Losing that flaming first love for writing.

When You Lose Your First Love For Writing What Do You Do

A Personal Experience

I’ve been writing stories for a long time. My first complete story was written when I was in the eighth grade. I’ll be 57 this year. You do the math.

Suffice it to say that short story—written and illustrated with a number two pencil on lined, loose leaf notebook paper, is no spring chicken.

I always loved reading. I listened to the same stories until I had them memorized before kindergarten. Learning to read was an open door into a number of other worlds.

Lined Paper and PenBut discovering I could write my own stories? Wow! I mean, WOW! Once that train left the station, there was no stopping it.

Sure, there were periods of time—sometimes years—during which I wasn’t working on something, but those idle periods are neither as frequent nor as long as I’ve always thought they were.

In those days, it didn’t seem like I’d ever lose the fire for writing.

You’ve already guessed that that’s exactly what happened, haven’t you? Otherwise, why the post. Right?

What To Do When You Lose Your First Love

Beginning in 2009, it started getting more and more difficult to write stories. Yes, I was still kicking out word count, but novel production took a nose dive. Prior to 2007, I finished four novels. Several times. That is to say, I finished every single one at least twice. Most of them were revised three or more times. Sometimes serious revisions; sometimes not.

Since 2008, I’ve finished three novels. Only one is complete. The other two have gaps. I’ve started revisions on all three, but nothing has ever come together in a satisfactory manner.

Nor was I having much fun. Writing became work. Then it became a chore; something I did because I was supposed to write, not because I was on fire for it. Then it became drudgery. I couldn’t keep an idea in my head more than two or three days in a row before it grew cold and faded away.

No surprise, pretty soon I didn’t want to write any more. I kid you not, I’ve thought more than once about hanging up my writing hat. Forever. At least so far as novels were concerned. The struggle just didn’t seem worth it.

Memory Verses

Memory versesA few months ago, I started memorizing passages of scripture. The reasons were many, but one of them was to improve my memory.

The first passage I decided to memorize comes from Revelation. Revelation 2:4 and 5, as a matter of fact.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

That passage comes from the letter to the church at Ephesus. It was written to a group of believers who were doing a lot of things right but were still wrong. Why? Because their heart wasn’t in it anymore. They were going through the motions. They’d forgotten the why.

That passage has been committed to memory for months. But it was only recently that I said the words out loud and stopped dead in my tracks.

The spirit wasn’t only talking to the Church at Ephesus; it was talking to me.

Could it be that my problem was that I’d forsaken my first love, too? The first love of writing? Of story telling?

A Punch Between The Eyes

There was only one way to find out. I decided to look at those old stories and see what—if anything—I was doing then that I was no longer doing. Or if I’d picked up some habits since 2008 that were counterproductive.

I devised a plan.

I collected the finished manuscripts into a single folder. I did the same with all the digitized unfinished stories.

Then I opened each story folder and took a look at the documents inside that folder.

And I was amazed.

Quick Results

For the first two stories, all I had was fiction documents. In every case, I had the first draft and every subsequent revision on file. But for those first two stories, the only other documents were miscellaneous scenes.

No pre-planning. Not even a story journal. Nothing.

Just.

Fiction.

Beginning with the third story, support documents began to appear, but mostly only a story journal or other documents. If there were planning documents, they were all dated after the first draft and pertained to the editing and revising process.

I didn’t have to look at the stories started since 2008 to know those folders were crammed with pre-planning documents.

The Answer, Possibly

I spent nearly a week reviewing five finished novels, one finished short story, and four unfinished novels. At the end of it, I’d reached some very clear patterns.

I used to write pretty much off the cuff, beginning with whatever scene appeared first.

I used to work out plot questions by writing scenes.

I used to not journal the writing process.

That was all before I got serious about writing. Since then, I’ve adapted parts of a number of structure methods into writing. I plan and I love it. While planning is beneficial, it comes with some hazards, which I’ll talk about in a future post.

The solution was just as clear as the patterns I found in early writing. In short,

  • Stop pre-planning
  • Stop journaling stories
  • Stop writing detailed list of plot options during the writing process
  • Stop analyzing every doubt, every fear, and every moment of discouragement

The Road Ahead

As you might guess, there is no quick fix for rekindling the fire of devotion for writing after it’s been allowed to flicker and die.

But there are some basic steps you can take toward recovery.

The first is realizing that is what has happened to you. After that, what you do will depend in large part upon how you write in the first place and why your love for writing grew cold. How long it’s been cold is also an important factor.

I’m still looking for the complete answer because there’s the very clear sense that something still missing. Until I find it, I’ll keep looking.

And that’s the best advice I can give you, too. If you suspect that you’ve lost the fire of that first love for writing, take a step back from current work and look at some of your old work.