What’s worse than writer’s block?

In Writing on June 4, 2012 at 9:00 am

overcoming writer's block - crumpled paper on ...

The Extended Family

A couple months back I posted some tips and tricks for defeating writer’s block. I wish now, though, that I had posted tips for defeating writer’s block’s more pernicious, vicious and malicious cousin: Editor’s Block. I could really use some strategies for that right about now.

Maybe I should call it “Editor’s Trepidation,” though, because the problem isn’t necessarily that you become unsure of what to write next, but that you become paralyzed with uncertainty about the quality of your work.

How it Starts

I’m about half way through editing my work in progress, Alberija, but it’s been at least a month (and truthfully probably more like two months) since I’ve had much of anything to do with it. My short fiction has kept me writing, but it’s the novel that I really want to get back on track.

The problem is, I put it down feeling good about it, take a break for a couple days, and then find I’ve lost some of my enthusiasm for it.  I wait a few more days, but then I start to wonder if it’s really as good as I originally thought it was. So I wait another week and start to worry that maybe the structure is all wrong, and the entire first half of the book has to go. Eventually I get to the point (roughly now) where I think I won’t be able to pick it up again without wanting to change everything — and that’s just no good.

The Solution (I hope)

Now, since I didn’t write tips and tricks for defeating editor’s block before, I guess I have to do them now on the fly. Here’s my four-step plan:

1. Rekindle the enthusiasm

Obviously this can mean different things depending on what gets your creative juices flowing. You could write vignettes like I’ve already done, telling a part of the story from the perspective of a new character; you could do some research related to your story, in hopes of finding the spark of inspiration that set you off in the first place; or you could read something in your genre, something really really good that gets you inspired (I’m thinking Fifty Shades of Gray).

For me, rekindling the enthusiasm means delving into the background and lore of my story world. I’ve got literally binders upon binders stacked up with information on the history, customs and culture of Alberija — complete with little vignettes of daily life in a few of the cities. Going through this stuff is probably a good way to remind myself why I had fun writing about Alberija in the first place.

It’s also a good way to remind myself that someone who isn’t a writer — but still has binders and binders of information on a fictional world — starts to look an awful lot like a  crazy person, so I’d better keep being a writer.

2. Get confident

Again, what makes a writer feel confident about their work is probably different for every writer. In my case, I have a couple chapters of my book in mind, already edited, that I really like — ones that just strike me as capturing the exact tone and pacing and voice that I want the entire book to have. I’m going to go back and give these a read to remind myself that, on occasion, I actually know what I’m doing.

3. Jump right in

The title of this step pretty much says it all. The biggest problem with editor’s block is it’s harder and harder to overcome the longer you have it. Your willpower is slowly sapped, until you almost can’t be bothered to write at all — but with help from step 1 and step 2, you can hopefully pick up where you left off and keep going.

4. Don’t stop again

To prevent editor’s block in the future, just don’t stop editing (sounds easy, right?). If you lose interest or enthusiasm or confidence, return to steps 1 and 2, but don’t stop! You can put your book down for an afternoon, maybe a whole day even, but any longer than that and you risk slipping back into a bad pattern.

Just keep moving forward and making improvements, remembering, of course, to save earlier drafts, just in case you become suddenly neurotic and worry you’ve ruined everything and wasted four years of your life and deserve to be trampled to death by the million cold, wet feet of a goose stampede. It happens.

So, that all sounds very good anyway (except for the goose stampede bit). Now to see if it actually works!

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  1. Thanks for this. I am editing a friend’s short story and somehow, I don’t feel like going ahead with it. This has been helpful in a round about way.

    • Ha, yeah I hadn’t thought about people editing something that wasn’t theirs to start with – but glad it got you there in the roundabout way at least!

  2. This why writers have such a reputation for being drunkards. Damn those demons! My best wishes to you, my friend.

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