On the Two Types of Writers’ Block

On tour and at other events, I’m frequently asked, “How do you deal with writers’ block?”

My answer is: there are two different kinds of writers’ block for me. The first is the fear of suck. This kind of resistance pops up when my inner editor, who’s a total perfectionist, rears her stupid head and declares that whatever I’m writing isn’t good enough. This hits A LOT during the first draft stage. I’ve definitely been experiencing this while working on Cahill Book 3. The usual fear of suck is heightened because rewriting most of STAR CURSED in edits was difficult and painful (though ultimately the best thing for the book), and frankly I’m a little scared to turn in this draft. I don’t think such drastic measures will be necessary for this book, but it’s hard to tell! Plus, it’s the end of the series, and I want the ending to be all epic and bittersweet (because my favorite endings are more bittersweet than HEA – just sayin’). But it’s hard to really capture epic and bittersweet in a first draft.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to address that kind of writers’ block. Which is basically solved by plowing through. I use Write or Die. Employ Freedom for an hour at a time. Reward myself with a Care Bear sticker on my wall calendar for every 1000 words I write. Remind myself that I can make things better in revision.

But it wasn’t really working. I wasn’t excited or inspired. I wasn’t having fun. And while writing can be difficult and draining, it should still be fun more often than it’s not, right? At which point I realized maybe it was actually a problem in the story. That’s the second kind of writers’ block – when I’ve made a wrong choice somewhere and the story feels dead or just off as a result. This is such a tricksy, gut-instinct thing; everything can seem fine on paper or in my outline or when I discuss it, but I keep coming back to that deep sense of meh. This is where that “plow on ahead, you can fix it later” solution doesn’t help AT ALL and can actually be wildly counter-productive for me. I’m more of an edit-as-I-go girl – your mileage may vary.

How do I deal with this second kind of writers’ block? Well, Monday night I went back to the last scene where it felt right and I cut 2500 words. Eventually I figured out it was a few different small things – a missing plot thread that lent motivation and a sense of urgency to the previous scenes, an argument that felt contrived because I had Maura saying something that she wouldn’t really say just because it was dramatic and it helped get from point A to point B, and another place where I was pulling my punches for fear of going too far. I made different choices, basically. And now I feel excited about the story again.

What about you? How do YOU handle writers’ block?

Also – if you’re a bookish sort – reader, blogger, librarian, bookseller, author, aspiring author, etc – and you  haven’t filled out my little social media survey, I’d love it if you’d click here. It’s super short, it’ll only takes 2 minutes, and I’ll be sharing the results on my blog after April 15! I’ve gotten over 300 responses so far and it’s very interesting!


7 Responses

  1. Loie

    I think you've outlined my two types of writer's block as well…..cause there is a point where something must be changed in the story, that gut instinct rears its head and I realize I must sit down and work out where it went wrong.

    That gut feeling usually occurs and essentially steals away the excitement from the story because somewhere's along the road, I took the wrong path.

    Usually sitting down and taking the time to think about where things started to go wrong helps 🙂
    Loie x

  2. AMEN. Jess, I'm right with you. I have experienced both types of writer's block and sometimes the hardest part is identifying the difference between the two. It seems to be such a fine line. Great post!

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  4. Renee Newberry

    My writers' block is currently the result of figuring out that a character I originally thought was one of the main characters of my story is, in fact, NOT a main character at all, at least not yet. I am realizing that this character doesn't actually fit in until later in the story — she is far too contrived a character in the situations I currently have her in. Now, I'm trying to figure out how to pull her out of the beginning, and I've highlighted all of the parts she appears in and just need to get up the nerve to delete and revise. Lots of deep breaths are in order …

    1. Belated thanks for reading & commenting on this post, Renee! I hope your writing is going well! It sounds like you know what you need to do to fix your story – and revising can be so hard – but it's worth all the work to get the story right, isn't it? I'm having the opposite problem at the moment – I realized a major character and the threat she presents sort of…just disappears…for several chapters in the middle of the book. Oops!

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