Sometimes things come to you when you need them the most. That’s what happened today when I opened my Absolute Write newsletter and clicked on an article about writer’s block by Mayra Calvani. You see I’ve been struggling lately. I sit down at my computer with the best of intentions. And then I inevitably get sidetracked. Last night I spent four hours reading about George Eliot’s extraordinary life because I was looking for the right book to have my heroine read. Unfortunately, my story is set in 1853, almost twenty years before Middlemarch was published. One of my critique partners says this should be known as NTW (network time waster) from now on, and is to be rooted out before it can rear its ugly head. Given my propensity for NTW, the article was exactly what I needed to read.
One important point it raised was that lowering your expectations might actually make you more productive. If I set a goal that is impossible for me (20 pages a day) then I’m more likely to write nothing because I get depressed about my inability to reach the goal. But if I try to write five pages a day, I might just surprise myself and get excited enough to write more, thereby surpassing my initial goal.
Here’s the deep dark secret that we published authors hide: we’re not necessarily better writers than the unpublished. What we do have is a finished and polished manuscript. Ninety-nine percent of writing is finishing the product…which is why, every day, I sit down and write. I sit down and write even when I don’t feel like it—especially when I don’t feel like it.
I have a long history of writer’s block. The most famous example is the college paper I turned in six years late. It was a paper about a Vietnam war book, and I finally managed to write it while I was traveling in Vietnam for three weeks. I somehow needed that historical immediacy in order to finish a task that had been weighing on me for so many years.
Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? Have you done anything extreme to jolt yourself out of it, or do you have a simple little trick that works?
I know, I know. Just sit down and write.