For me, Matt Haig summed it up when he said writers block = writer’s indecision. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in things in life that stop you writing or make it harder. In the lure of procrastination. In a lack of confidence. I believe in how on hard days, even doing your taxes seems more appealing than sitting your butt down and putting words to paper.
But I don’t believe in writer’s block. Why? Because once you starting calling it a block, you make it seem as though there’s something there that’s completely prohibiting you from writing. And apart from physical issues such as illness or not having the time to write, or mental issues such as illness or emotional hits, I do believe that if you can identify what is holding you back from writing, then you can learn how to overcome it.
Indecision (or lack of confidence, hesitancy, The Fear)
I’m guessing that this is the biggest reason why writers feel as though they can’t go on (and all other reasons apart from those physical and mental issues I mentioned above come back to this). And no wonder. I mean, it’s absolutely terrifying writing a novel. It’s like piloting an airplane without a co-pilot, a crew, or even air traffic control to chat to back down on earth. Plus, more often than not, you’ve never even had any training. And if you’re a published author, then it’s even worse, because you are doing this all WITH passengers on board (we love you readers, but you don’t do anything to help The Fear).
Sometimes the indecision is small. You’re unsure about what scene comes next, but you’ve got the rest of the novel pretty much planned out. Or you don’t know how you’re going to relay a particular bit of information to your readers. But sometimes – and more often than not, I find – the indecision is a great big whopper (this is especially true for pansters) – HOW DOES THIS ALL END? WHY IS THIS ALL HAPPENING IN THE FIRST PLACE? DO I REALLY NEED ALL THESE CHARACTERS AND PLOT TWISTS AND OH DEAR LORD THIS IS THE WORST THING TO HAVE EVER BEEN WRITTEN AND PLEASE JUST LET ME CURL UP IN A BALL AND CRY.
So you see how indecision = The Fear = block. It’s all part of the same problem. I imagine that this applies to any creative activity actually – painters start with a blank canvas, carvers start with a plain hunk of wood. But the thing with writing is, it’s not even like there are boundaries such as the size of a canvas or the type of wood in place. There are millions of different scenarios you could play out with your characters. And will it be a standalone or a series? First person or third? Focused on one or two characters or a multi-character head-hopping fest that would make even George R. R. Martin quake in fear? Worse, there are no right or wrong answers, and it is all down to YOU to decide (I’m not really making it any better, am I?).
Decision (or having confidence, executing, kicking The Fear’s butt)
To be honest, I don’t think there’s any way to get rid of The Fear for good. If you love writing and are passionate about improving as an author, then it will always be there – because you care, because you want to do the best by yourself and your readers. And that is only a good thing. So while writing will forever be a tussle between you and The Fear, hopefully by acknowledging it and identifying the root cause of each individual bout, you’ll be able to keep overcoming it.
I find the most important thing is to figure out what it is exactly that’s bothering you about your current WIP. If it’s a small issue, like what happens in the next chapter, do a little brainstorming to help you feel your way forward, or maybe try plotting the bare bones of the chapter. Or just go ahead and write it and see what happens. More often than not, just getting on with the writing and putting aside all my worries and hesitancies usually leads to the problems sorting themselves out. This is the same with bigger issues, like just what the hell is this whole book going to be about? Trust the story. More importantly – trust the characters. They’ll find their way. And remember that YOU CAN ALWAYS EDIT LATER! Your words aren’t going to set in concrete once they’re on the screen. You can come back any time and change them.
Lastly, keep in mind that all writers go through The Fear at least once (but I’m guessing more often a gazillion times) during the course of each novel. It’s not something that goes away completely after having had books published, because as I said, if you truly care about your writing, you will always worry whether what you’re doing is right. But just remember that it’s all about it being right for you. Only you can write this novel, and only you know how you want to tell it. So just jump in and swim whichever way takes your fancy. You’ll find the current soon.