Discouragement and Writer’s Block
Discouragement is always unexpected. It creeps up on most people at some point, but for an author it saps the life blood from our creative veins. Writer’s Block often starts as a consequence of discouragement.
I finished my most recent novel a few weeks ago and should’ve spent the next day skipping through long green grass like a new-born lamb. I didn’t. The mantle of discouragement settled on my shoulders and left me kissing the floor under its deadly weight.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this novel. It’s probably one of my best and has occupied my thoughts for much of the last year. My writing process was fantastic, I’m happy with my product and yet I feel flat and very much stuck.
What fuels this feeling and what are the steps to write through it?
1. Anger based discouragement comes from outside influences.
As my granny used to say, the world has gone to hell in a hand cart. 2016 has been a crazy year for so many reasons, politically, environmentally and personally. People are suffering, book sales seem to have no consistency and circumstance tells me I’m bound to join the ranks of the failed and gone. We get angry because we can’t control these influences – and then we get discouraged. I can’t make Amazon pay me. I can’t force readers to buy my novels. If they’re ignoring my reader magnets and dodging my offers, I can’t force them to engage with me and do what I want.
I must choose not to care. Ten years ago I wrote for myself, not believing anyone else would want to read my work. No matter what happens around me, there will always be a plot in my head which will torture me until I write it down. Even if I never publish another novel, I will write because I can’t stop. Outside influences will try to break me but they won’t because writing is in my blood.
2. Discouragement from the inside is fear and guilt ridden.
This kind of discouragement destroys your soul. It eats you from the inside out and is accompanied by words like ‘can’t’. But what’s changed since last month when you wrote your latest bestseller with a chuckle in your heart and a skip in your step? Remember when you rehearsed what you’d say to Ellen Degeneres in your head and now, you don’t even want to look in the mirror? The problem here is you.
We allow our inner dialogue more prominence than it deserves and its sole purpose is to convince us we’re worthless. Fear tells us that our goals are impossible and guilt tells us that someone else could’ve achieved them. We spend our lives expecting other people to blow out our candles when we’re the one most likely to do it. If you liked your book last week, the only thing that’s changed is your attitude towards it.
Put it aside, leave it alone and wait for the voices to shut up. Write something else, do something else but above all, refuse to listen to self-generated negativity about your writing.
3. Pressure driven discouragement.
Sometimes outward factors dictate this; deadlines over which we have no control, time constraints, accidents, emergencies, things which stop us writing and producing what we promised we would. Fear and frustration manifest in our thinking and behaviour as we are kept away from our heart’s desire for longer than we can tolerate.
These deadlines and boundaries can be set for us, inducing anger when we think we might fail to deliver. But we can also self-impose them, adding fear and guilt to the pile. I remember hearing a friend once say, “No, I won’t come out tonight, thanks. I’ve promised myself a soak in the bath.” Her choice of words sounded odd but age and experience has taught me otherwise. Because that’s exactly what we do to ourselves; we make promises.
I promised myself that Du Rose Family Ties would be out just after New Year. In line with that promise, I set up a pre-order for early January, which extended that promise to my readers. Then I wrote to order. Nobody made me but I promised myself. Things got in the way; a trip to the UK, a major earthquake and lots of drama. That deadline kept me writing until the final sentence.
But there were times when I didn’t feel like it and would rather watch a movie with my husband or go to the beach. That’s when guilt and fear set in and I was beset by a sense of hardship and sentences like, ‘I don’t want to.’
Write through it. Little and often is just fine. If you need to move deadlines, then move them. Just don’t make a habit of it or you’ll be perceived as unreliable.
4. Discouragement caused by lack of direction.
This is a real ouchy one and can hang around for a while before we even realise what’s at the root of it. It strikes at any time and without warning. A session scratching your head over a character’s behaviour can bring it on or a plot hole that won’t be filled. We lose direction and start avoiding the issue which compounds it in our heads and blocks our creativity.
Lack of direction is one of the underlying issues of writer’s block. I’ve known authors who’ve deleted whole manuscripts suffering from this kind of discouragement. You should never do that. Anything you’ve written will eventually find a place in a story line. It just might not be your current story line.
I’m not a planner so sitting down with a pen and paper won’t help. I’m a chaotic writer and sometimes chaos leads me astray. I find writing a different chapter, the ending, or some other part of the novel can release the blockage. Brainstorming with my children or husband is also fantastic as often they can see more clearly from an outside perspective.
5. Discouragement from unrealistic expectations.
This is another one that we do to ourselves. I’ve taken a few courses this year and each time I’ve allowed myself to be built up like a skyscraper. Yes, I can be the best. I will be the next JK Rowling. Watch me on The Ellen Show before next Easter because the invite is in the post.
I know the old adage, reach for the moon because then at least you’ll hit the stars. There’s nothing wrong with pushing ourselves to be the best, but unrealistic goals help nobody, least of all our fragile creative egos. It opens up a channel through which we compare ourselves to those around us and invariably those who are doing better. They got the Facebook advertising to work and are now making a million dollars a day. They tweeted once, compared to my two thousand interesting cat photos; now they have over four million verified followers and a Klout score to rival Justin Bieber’s.
It’s important to start slow and manageable. We keep one eye on the overwhelming success stories and the other one on those of our number who’ve disappeared and don’t return our emails. There are few of the former and disturbingly many of the latter. I know I get carried away by the tales of authors who wrote a book 2 years ago and now own their home outright, holiday abroad four times a year and released their spouse from full time work. I watch the podcasts about the overnight successes but not the ones led by people like me.
When battling this type of discouragement, we need to work out our goals. What do we want from our writing? As I’ve said before, I would write anyway, even if I made no money from it at all. I love my job as an archivist and even if I became a multi-millionaire, would probably still do that role voluntarily. I need to balance my writing with work outside the home because it’s good to be around people who are paid to talk to me. It’s also a reason to get dressed. I chipped in to my husband’s new car using my author royalties and can afford dinner out every so often. That’s better than I imagined when I sold 5 books in a bumper month.
It’s not about giving up, but moderating my goals so they’re realistic and don’t serve as a noose around my own neck.
Write a list of the things you’d like your writing to provide for you. Make it part of a business plan so you know how you can achieve those goals. Keep it realistic and put it somewhere safe. You might exceed all expectations and if you do, that’s awesome. Go you. For now, just do what you’re good at, which is writing.
The road home
My current brand of discouragement is a partial mix of anti-climax and a hefty dose of number 5. Every time I finish a novel and take an evening off, I’m greeted by my own face in the mirror next morning telling me that all the others need editing. Again. I am obsessive compulsive and nothing is ever perfect in my eyes. I’m my own worse task master and wouldn’t work for myself given a choice. It creates a feeling of overwhelm which is very hard to shake. Unless I’m tampering with something, it doesn’t feel right.
I find it helpful to isolate which type of discouragement is reacting with me at any given moment. There are antidotes to each but we need to face them head on and look at why they’ve got a hold of us.
Don’t forget that writers are creators. We weave a paradise or form nightmares which touch other people’s lives. If we can influence the minds of others then we’re more than qualified to shape our own.
The road home is paved with flowers or strewn with barbed wire. The view is up to us.
K T Bowes is the author of 21 mystery romance novels for women, although men do sometimes sneak a review in there. Du Rose Family Ties is the 9th in a mystery series and will be launched on 8th January.
3 of her novels are permanently free and can be found on her BOOKS page.