6 self-sabotaging thoughts that can stop you writing (and how to slay them)

We all lament the lack of time we have for creative work. But then, when we actually get some, we often fail to make good use of it. Here are 6 classic blockers to getting the writing done — with thoughts on how to deal with them…

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Problem: You think: There are so many stories in the world already, what could I possibly add that hasn’t already been said a hundred times before, a hundred times better?

Solution: Remember that unoriginality at the level of structure isn’t a bad thing — in fact, it’s almost inevitable. As readers we all love stories that are variations on well-known templates and structures. We like to see good triumph over evil, the odd couple finally get together, the killer unmasked.

Yes, it may have been said before. But not by you, to your audience, with your style and perspective.

Problem: You feel you can’t actually get down to the work till you’ve read every other word on the subject, just for background …and you’ve still got dozens more books and articles and websites to look at.

Solutions: Research is important, but so is a sense of perspective. The key thing to discern here is when the research stops being useful preparation and starts becoming an excuse for not writing.

Don’t just research in the abstract — use what you discover to add to your story plan as you go. If you research in this focused way, you’ll often get to a point where you’re itching to write. And of course you can always do more research later to plug any gaps.

Ultimately, you have to practise loving acceptance over your perceived ignorance. It’s OK not to know everything — you’re a fiction writer, not a history professor.

Another tip: Invent a deadline. Make a commitment with your agent or publisher or writing buddy to have that chapter ready by a certain date. Announce it on Twitter, write it up on a poster in your kitchen.

Do something that makes you feel you have to stop researching and get something written by a certain time.

The demon of equipment fetishism is an agreeable chap most of the time — many of us go a bit weak-kneed in the stationery aisle — but he can become another excuse not to get down to the work.

The demon of equipment fetishism is an agreeable chap most of the time — many of us go a bit weak-kneed in the stationery aisle — but he can become another excuse not to get down to the work.

A screenwriter friend of mine cannot do his first drafts without his trusty Pentel Rollerball of a particular shade. He used to tramp miles to find a replacement if his local shop sold out, and in the end took to buying 20 at a time because he genuinely believed that he couldn’t do any good work without one.

Solution: Sorry, but we’re going to have to talk tough here. This is just procrastination pure and simple.

If you’ve actually managed to carve out some time in your day when you can get down to some real creative work, do you really want to sabotage that because you’ve only got a scruffy biro to work with?

When writers are in the flow, they barely notice what they’re writing with, or on. So get over it. Just start, using whatever’s to hand.

When the work isn’t flowing, it’s easy to blame ambient distractions. Someone’s voice in the street is too loud. The workmen next door are a nightmare. How can anyone concentrate with that dreadful gargling sound coming from the water tank? I’m trying to work here!

Exorcism tips: Sorry, but this is procrastination 101 again. You’re annoyed with yourself for not getting down to the work, so you cast round for someone else to blame.

And it’s funny how all these murderous thoughts about street noises miraculously vanish when the work’s flying…

A good tip here is to set yourself a manageable time limit with a teeny treat at the end of it. Say: ‘I will write down notes or words for my next chapter — just jot down anything that comes to mind — for the next 30 minutes, ignoring all distractions, and then I will check Twitter/make a coffee/look up the football scores’. You’ll usually end up doing a lot more.

Sometimes you reach a point — let’s call it the middle — where the start has been safely tucked behind you but the end shows no signs of hoving into view. You know where you’ve come from and you know where you want to go, but you just can’t see how to get from one to the other.

Solution: Keep going, meta-style. If you don’t know how to say the next thing, write about what you want to say next, what effect you’re hoping to deliver, how this will all move the story on.

Move from show to tell. For example:

At this point I’ll insert an initially scary but actually quite touching scene with lots of dialogue, in which my MC finally realises that Bob has been watching her all along, but not in a bad way. Bob actually cares for my MC, and has been looking out for her because he was always suspicious about her boyfriend, and made a promise to MC’s mum to see she stays safe.

When you’re write about what you want to write in this way, you are still effectively writing your book. It’s not quite as good as actually drafting that chapter, but it’s a lot better than just browsing the internet looking at random stuff.

Fear of failure is another classic nudge to inaction. But — at the risk of sounding like your mom — if you don’t push yourself, you’ll never know what you were capable of.

Solution: Remember that the more you do, the easier it gets. Joining a writers’ group is a massive help here. Reading your words out to others and listening to feedback helps you understand your work better, of course, but it also helps you to build resilience and thicken that tender skin.

When you complete a piece of writing that was hard to get down to, take a moment to actually pat yourself on the back. Stop and savour the feeling of a job well done. You did it! — and you can do it again…

Dan Brotzel (@brotzel_fiction) is author of a collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack, and co-author of a new comic novel about an eccentric writers’ group, Kitten on a Fatberg (Unbound). For 10% off your order, quote KITTEN10

A version of this article first appeared on www.livewritethrive.com

Written by

Funny-sad author | Hotel du Jack @SandstonePress; Work in Progress (formerly Kitten on a Fatberg) @unbounders | Pushcart, Slackjaw, Pithead, X-Ray, Ellipsis

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