I once heard that the biggest cause of writer’s block is the fear that our work will be judged. I have to agree with that.
In other words—writer’s block is the fear of being wrong.
Why we get writer’s block—
We writers are interesting people. We vacillate between two camps:
Ego <–> Insecurities
First, it’s important to know that ego is not a bad word! A balanced ego gives you self-confidence, a personality, and helps you maintain boundaries. It also inspires you to write. The belief that you can create something wonderful and share it with the world comes from that place of ego and drives you forward toward your goal. That’s a good thing!
And the insecurities? Well, that’s where the fear of being wrong comes in, which is essentially the fear that we won’t be loved and accepted. Like ego, insecurities are very important. They keep the ego in check, motivate you to function as part of a group (family, work, society) and they’re an intrinsic part of your wonderful, artistic nature. I’ve never known an artist, musician, actor or writer that didn’t have them.
The roller coaster of writing—
Like it or not, these two traits are part of you. And they’re in a constant state of war with each other. Ego says, “You’re great! The world will love your novel! Readers will adore your protagonist! They’ll laugh. They’ll cry. You have to write it now!”
And the creative juices flow.
Then Insecurity screams, “What the heck are you thinking? You stink! There was a mistake on page two for crying out loud. Only a moron would make a simple mistake like that. And you call yourself a novelist. You couldn’t write yourself out of a paper bag!”
Kicking Writer’s Block
For me, overcoming writer’s block means giving the insecurities nothing to worry about and the ego something to do. I approach this in a very simple way.
Have a clear idea of your characters—
Create a simple character sheet for each of your main characters. In addition to the usual information of name, age, gender, and description, your cheat sheet should include:
- dominant personal philosophy
- education and career
- three to four personality traits (and no more)
- goals in the story
- motivation for those goals
- internal conflicts
- external conflicts
Have a solidly constructed plot—
You wouldn’t take a trip without knowing where you’re going, would you? Write your novel using a similar philosophy. Know where you’re going and then work backwards to find out how you got there.
It’s a wild way to look at writing, but it works. As I outline in “Streamline Your Writing: Know What Happens Next”, the most efficient way to create a novel is to plot backwards.
Start with the big problem your characters have to solve. From there, fill in the main plot points. They’re listed below in reverse order:
- The event that solves the big problem
- The moment when all seems lost
- The event that changes everything
- The event that launches the protagonist irreversibly into the problem
- The event that starts the problem (and the story) off with a bang
With a well laid plan, both the ego and the insecurities will be satisfied. The ego sees that it really does have a kick butt story to sink its teeth into, and the insecurities can relax, knowing that everything is under control.
Goodbye writer’s block!
Comment below and tell me how you stay in the grove when you’re writing.
I love new ideas that make writing easier. Please share yours below!