chokingCreative Commons License Gisela Giardino via Compfight

Writers can come up with a lot of reasons for not finishing a first draft, and some of them even sound plausible. I know the real reasons. (And I’ve got a solution.)

  1. Fall in love with the thrill of new ideas, but don’t fall in love with the work it takes to execute them.
  2. Need to begin at the beginning and make it perfect before you move on.
  3. Wait to find the time to write.
  4. Leave the work before you can get through a difficult patch of writing.
  5. Abandon the current writing project for a new and better writing project.
  6. And then abandon that project for another one.
  7. Seek praise from others, show embryonic work, and then be broken by how people react to it.
  8. Write as if you’re being watched.
  9. Decide too soon what the piece is about, and don’t allow yourself to wander off the trail you’ve set.
  10. Compare your writing to the writing of others.
  11. Judge and discount your work prematurely—early in the draft or even before you get anything down on paper.
  12. Talk about it instead of writing it.
  13. Think  about it instead of writing it.
  14. Think you need to write in a certain order. “I can’t write the next scene—chapter, line, paragraph—until I write this one.”
  15. Think it should be easy.
  16. Think it’s easy for other people but not you.
  17. Think you’ve got to get it right the first time.
  18. Think you’ll run out things to say.
  19. Think your writing doesn’t matter.
  20. Think you need to know in the beginning how it all turns out in the end.
  21. Romanticize writer’s block.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I have, at one time or another, taken just about every route on the list. And I still wander some of those paths.

The last one–romanticizing writer’s block–is delusional. We might feel we’re members of some cool writer’s club, even when we’re not producing work, if we have writer’s block. (Heck, movies are made about it. ) But we don’t feel quite so cool when we admit to what writer’s block really is—crippling fear and anxiety.

All the behaviors I’ve listed above are based in fear and anxiety.  But once you cop to being scared and understand that it’s normal to feel anxiety about a writing project in development, it can get easier to move forward in spite of these feelings. It would be healthier, I believe, if writers would talk honestly with each other about how scary writing can be, instead of romanticizing the idea of writer’s block.

Here’s the road to finishing that first draft: Get comfortable with discomfort.

When you start a new writing project, you can’t be sure how it will turn out. No one is, even the pros. Uncertainty is inherent in the writing process. Accept the discomfort of uncertainty, make friends with it, invite it to sit next to you as you work, but don’t let it grow into the kind of fear and anxiety that stops you from writing what you are meant to write. Easier said than done, I know.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Florida Writers Association blog.

A Writing Workshop at Kerouac House

It’s a new year and there’s no better time to keep that resolution—write!

But what if you don’t know how to start? Or you’re an experienced writer who feels stuck? Fear of the blank page is normal, but there are ways to overcome it. This workshop will explore tips and techniques to get your pen flowing. Emphasis will be on generating new material and experimenting with different approaches. You will walk away with new avenues to pursue and strategies to continue writing long after the class is over. Appropriate for all levels and genres as we’ll be using a variety of prompts and exercises.

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#3 copyClose the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. —Barbara Kingsolver

Writers have many ways of sabotaging themselves. One of the most insidious ones, in my opinion, is showing their work too early.

I advise writers not to seek feedback from a writers group, or even a professional editor, when they’re in the process of generating a first draft.  I lose a lot of potential business this way, but here’s why I believe this so strongly.

When you’re generating new work, ideas are trying to happen and you’re discovering what your book is about.

Stephen King uses the metaphor of the “boys in the basement” to explain how a writer’s subconscious mind works. The “boys” are at work creating characters, conflicts, and scenes, when you’re out and about running errands, when you’re fixing a sandwich, when you’re working your day job, when you’re washing the dishes, and even when you’re asleep. When you sit down to write in an attentive manner, King says, the boys will send their messages up to you. The act of writing opens you up to receive the messages. Be patient. Listen. You’ll hear them.  And when you hear them, you are hearing your own creative voice.

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