At some point, almost everyone who sets out to write a book is faced with an unfortunately reality: to write a book, you have to spend time writing. It seems like many people have an illusion that they will suddenly have a great window of time when they can go off to a picturesque cabin in the woods and write the Great American Novel. The words will flow effortlessly and it will be a transcendent experience.
Well, I live in what could loosely be described as a cabin in the woods and I've written five books. Maybe people have watched too many movies or something, but I can report that writing really doesn't work that way. Many times writing is a struggle.
When you sit down to write, suddenly it's just you and the words. A moment of clenching anxiety hits when you stare at the blank screen and you wonder if you'll ever be able to get that first word out, much less an entire book. At this point, many people will go to great lengths to avoid that feeling. They attend writers groups, surf the Internet, do excessive amounts of "research" or go find something (like food) to distract them.
How do I know this? I've done them all and mastered about 200 other avoidance techniques. Realistically, writer's block is something that almost every writer will face at one point or another. The first thing you can do is accept that, as with most things, getting started is often the worst part of a project. Actually starting to write is rarely as awful as the anticipation of starting to write.
With that in mind, it helps to think about why you feel like you can't get started right now.
1. Is it because you don't have enough information? If so, try brainstorming ideas or free writing. Free writing is the practice of simply sitting down and writing something -- anything at all -- for a specific period of time. For example, set a timer for 10 minutes. Now write without stopping for the entire 10 minutes without any interruption.
2. Is it because you haven't figured out a direction, slant, or thesis for the project? If so, try talking about the topic with another person. Sometimes ideas can spin in a circle in your head and make you feel stuck. Talking over the project with someone else can help you get out of circular thinking. (Yesterday, I talked out an idea with my husband during a walk in the woods when I was particularly stuck!)
3. Is it because you feel inadequate or anxious about your ability to write? Many of us have a little voice offering up all types of negative thoughts, like "you are a rotten writer and you'll never get this project done in time!" Believing these gremlin thoughts makes them more likely to come true. My approach to deal with this problem is to exercise, go outside, or do something else that forces my brain to just shut up. Sitting at the computer festering rarely helps when the destructive thoughts are swirling. Some people like to meditate or do yoga to help relax and shut off the comments running around in their head.
Realistically, most cases of writer's block have a lot to do with your own thoughts. Making excuses or avoiding the problem won't make it go away. If you can get out of your own way and get that first word out, the rest often starts to flow more easily. The other good news is that the more you write, the less you will be afflicted with writer's block. Writing is like anything else; it gets easier with practice!
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