Friday, 25 February 2011


Hi everyone, and happy Friday! My re-write on FF is starting to heat-up and it's getting where I don't really want to stop writing at all, so today's post will be short, but hopefully sweet.

The topic of writing roadblocks was inspired by regular commentor Megha, who asked me a couple of separate questions in various comments, which I've smushed together to make this:

"Do you ever feel that your plot is too... big? Too much? I'm scared of starting my novel. It has been planned and plotted properly, and now I'm too scared to start. It's not writers' block, I know. And I know that all the writers go through this. My planning's done. There's nothing LEFT to plan about. I need to start, but I can't."

This is a writing roadblock.

Megha is right - this does happen to most writers at some time or other, for various reasons. In my case I'm usually scared the story is too SMALL, rather than too big. I worry that not enough happens, that I haven't made the right choices to stretch my characters, that I'll just run out of stuff to write after 30,000 words. I worry that it's all flawed because I've missed some huge, vital conflict that would have made everything worthwhile. Hence this Post-It stuck in the first page of my FF notebook:

But being scared that the story is too big, that it's too ambitious, that you won't do it justice, that it'll be too long...those are crippling fears too (I know, 'cos that's The Scary Place I've posted about here, and which I usually enter at around the 50% mark of my manuscript).

These roadblocks are hard to break through specifically because they don't come from the logical part of your brain. They're not based on anything you can put your finger on. They just appear out of nowhere, causing a nebulous sense of dread that makes us feel we'd do anything, even scrub the bathroom clean with a toothbrush, to avoid actually writing.

This isn't about writer's block in the sense that I think writer's block normally has one of several concrete causes (which you can read about here). This is basically about your own fears, your conscious and unconscious worries about writing, getting all snarled up and taking all the fun out of everything. And there's only one cure. One way to kick that writing roadblock to the curb.

If you've read many of my writing posts before, you probably know what I'm going to say next.

The one way to destroy a writing roadblock is to write.

It will NOT go away on its own. You won't wake up one day and find it's miraculously evaporated. You may wake up on many mornings thinking 'This is the day! Today I will write!' and then find yourself making excuses, procrastinating and pottering until it's midnight and you need to get to bed, but that's obviously not very useful. You will never be able to escape the sense of horrible forboding until you punch through it and actually write. And the longer you leave it? The harder it gets.

I know it's horrible! Believe me, I know! But taking charge is the only way.


  • Put the plans/notes/story outlines/folders of maps you've made for this story away.   
At this point you're using these as an excuse to avoid writing. They've become part of the problem. Put them at the bottom of the draw. You are forbidden to look until you actually NEED to check a fact or remind yourself of something. 
  • Leave your normal writing place. 
If you've been sat in the same room in the same chair, or lying on your bed, or sat at your desk, every day, stewing over his for hours at a time, your brain has now incorporated the location into your sense of dread. Go somewhere else. Somewhere you would never normally associate with writing. A new coffee shop. A corner in the library. A friend's house, if they can be trusted to leave you alone. I find trains very good for this, personally. Anyway, chose a place and go there. 
  • Set yourself a time and stick to it. 
Tell yourself that you will start writing at precisely whatever-o'clock and that you will write for a certain, set amount of time. Make it manageable. It's no good saying you'll get up at 6:00am and write for three hours. You'll fail and feel even worse. Give yourself a reasonable start time, and a reasonable writing period. Half an hour is a good stretch to start. 
  • Remind yourself that you're just scribbling. 
You're just writing to fill up the blank page at this point. It doesn't have to be great. It doesn't even have to be good. I find it useful to use a pencil and paper when doing this, because it looks messy and smudgy and reminds you that it's just scribbling, not actual writing. But if you normally write with pen and paper, maybe you'd want to switch to a laptop, so long as you're okay taking it with you to wherever you've chosen to write.

You don't have to start at the beginning of your story. You can plunge straight into that awesome scene from the middle that's been teasing you. You can write a long, rambling speech from that noisy character who keeps muttering in the back of your head. Whatever you want to write and which seems fun. Don't set yourself a word or page target either. You just need to scribble for the required time.  

That's all. 

As soon as you've started writing again, as soon as you've defied the dread and the worry and the stressing-out and put pen to paper for fun again, you remember why you actually wanted to do this writing lark to start with.

Don't go too fast - don't put pressure on yourself when you start to feel better. But don't let yourself off the hook either. Keep doing your half-hour scribbling sessions until you get to the point where you're starting to over-run, to not want to stop. Then stretch yourself with forty minutes. Maybe think, 'Today, I'm going to use my forty minutes to play around with opening lines. Opening paragraphs for the first chapter. Hmmm...'

Then one day you'll find you've written for two hours straight and that you've got a first chapter staring at you.

Writing roadblock? Dust.

Right - time for me to get back to my precious. Hope this was helpful everyone - and have a great weekend!


serendipity_viv said...

I live with this huge fear that I will finish my manuscript for the tenth time, be happy with it and show it to someone who will tell me it is rubbish. All my dreams and hopes are pinned on that one manuscript and the thought of it failing, scares the hell out of me.
I have been braver and now show random chapters to people, but you do wonder whether they are being honest when they say they like it. Are they just trying not to hurt your feelings.

Zoë Marriott said...

I know this isn't a popular thing to say, and it goes against the advice given by most of the Big Deal Authors, but...I never show my work to anyone. ANYONE. Not before I was published and got an editor, and not now. I have just enough self belief to write and revise and revise and revise a manuscript and send it to my agent/editor. No more. I don't find beta or alpha readers useful - the few times I've tried I've just ended up feeling really frustrated and hurt and like I had no idea what they meant (even when it was people I liked and respected a lot).

Of course this means you need to be willing to develop a very sharply honed critical sense of your own, and work through lots of revision by yourself. But I prefer it. I *know* my agent/editor is being honest - that's their business. I can't allow myself to care what anyone else thinks. And a lot of writers historically have worked this way. So if having people read your work wrecks you, stop it. Just make it as good as you think it can be and submit it.

As for pinning your hopes on one know what the cure is for that, right? Start another one and fall in love with that. Cushions the blow marvelously.

Isabel said...

It's great that your FF revisions are starting to take off, Zoe! I'm also having a fantastic day. I'm past 9000 words (I started off with 7000 something) and I'm almost done with page five of chapter six! I started today! I'm feeling amazing. Plus, I was so worried about this chapter! No worries now! It's going absolutely swimmingly...

So now, I'm gonna go write.

P.S. What's an alpha reader? How is it different from a beta reader??
I love having a beta reader, but the problem with having friends read your work is that sometimes it makes you more hesitant to change stuff and edit, which isn't good. Do you get what I mean?

Isabel said...

Sorry, page five of chapter FIVE. (I combined chapter four and three when I realized that it made more sense.)

Zoë Marriott said...

Looks like we're having the same kind of day, Isabel! A Writing Rocks kinda day. I love them.

I believe (and I could be getting mixed up, 'cos I've only heard the term a few times) that an alpha reader is someone who reads your manuscript as you're writing it and helps you to develop the story with criticism. A beta is (I think) someone who reads the whole thing once you're done. But again, don't take my word on it.

I'm actually not sure what you mean, there - is it because you're hesitant to change things on your own if your beta reader has said they liked it, or something like that? Or that you feel you rely on them and can't revise by yourself? I'm clueless. Like I said, NO ONE reads my stuff. Not even my mum.

Isabel said...

Hmm. Then Alex must be my alpha reader, if you're correct - every time I finish a chapter, I send it to her and she gives her feedback...

I thought maybe it would be a bit confusing. Let me elaborate.
It's actually not my beta reader that makes me hesitant to change stuff. It's more when you let friends read your work, it's already kinda... out there, I guess. (This is hard to explain, I'm finding - bear with me.) Because people have already read (and I'm using a personal example here) chapters three and four AS chapters three and four, and then you decide you're going to make them one chapter, instead, you have to explain to all those people. You feel like you have less freedom to change something, because people have already read it as something else.
This is so difficult to explain. Do you get it now? Even a little bit?

Zoë Marriott said...

I think so, yes. I think the answer there would be to only let Alex read what you've written, since she's a writer and she understands that everything could change. Letting other people's expectations make you hesitant to follow your vision and change things could be bad for your story. Tell anyone else who wants to see it that they need to wait until it's a complete draft.

Isabel said...

Okay. I'll let Megha read it, because she's a writer too, and she understands, and I value her feedback, but I'll try to tell the other people that they'll have to wait until I finish. It's hard, though. Some of my friends are really enjoying reading my story, and I don't want to let them down. But you're right. I'll try. Thanks for the advice.

Isabel said...

Also, it's more the number of people that have been reading this (nine, not including Alex and Megha) that is more of a problem. So many people to explain my changes to, and so many people to keep up with... sorry, Sadie. :( I'm sure it will be more exciting for you reading it as a whole - a novel. I hope you're understanding. :/

Zoë Marriott said...

It is hard to hold back from people when they've been enjoying it, but the book will be better (hence allowing them to enjoy it MORE) if you feel free to make changes as you need while writing.

Isabel said...

Yes, you're right. Thanks :) I'm sending the email out to them all now. I feel so badly, so you really help a lot. Wish me luck! I hope I don't receive fifty (okay, an exaggeration) furious emails over the course of the hour. I'm sorry, guys!

I finished chapter five. I won't be able to write for the rest of the day, (I don't usually, anyway - I like to have the rest of the day to relax and not have to worry about it for a bit) because I have my piano lesson at 4:00, which is in 24 minutes, and there's going to be a party at 6:00. I have to do the babysitting. (My three-year-old sister's friends are coming over.) But I will write tomorrow! I already have an idea about chapter six. I mean, I've planned the book, but each individual chapter has to undergo some planning, even if it's not very much sometimes.

Okay, I really need to stop rambling now. Nobody cares, Isabel!

Isabel said...

Actually, besides Megha and Alex, there were TWELVE people reading my book. Too many. It was the right decision.

Anonymous said...

We care, Is! And trust me, for your friends and all, the wait will be worth it. I love your work, and it actually reads like a published novel.

I feel guilty too because I'm not letting MY MUM read the story. I... don't want her to; not yet, anyway. When I finish the story, she's welcome to read it. But not now. I just... couldn't imagine her reading it straight away.

It's not that I'm embarrassed, I just don't want to.

Thanks for this post, Zoe!!! I finished my prologue and I SO wish I could show it to you! Eh, I'll at least give you like a summary of my work or... keep you updated, especially if I have the problem. You're always the best one to fix it.

Isabel said...

Thank you, Megha! This is why I'm letting you continue to read it... And you're a writer, so you understand.

I also don't let my mom read it!!! She's, like THE LAST PERSON I let read my work. Don't ask. She can read it when I'm done. She says she "can't wait" to read my book, but she doesn't ask to read it then. I think she understands...

I also wish Zoe could read my work. She would give such great feedback!

Nara said...

Hmm . . . I'm probably like you, Zoe. I don't allow anyone to read my work. Well, actually that's not true. I don't let anyone I know or can see read my work. I've joined a writing forum called BBC Blast and they have a Writing Messageboard where people post their work. Thankfully, I do know the people who are on it, but I haven't seen them for a long time, so that helps. Anyway, if I ever let anyone read my work, I'll do it online or through email, but never face to face. I don't know why but I find it easier and less intimidating. But I never let any of my family read ANYTHING until I've finished. I don't know why; it's strange. Oh and I change the place I write all the time. I find it helps with concentrating on the actual writing.

Great post, by the way. I'm going to write now, as well ;)

Isabel said...

I feel the same way, Nara. Face-to-face... you can see the expression on their face as they read it and... it's just awkward. I get how you feel.

Zoë Marriott said...

Nara & Isabel: I've never actually *seen* anyone read my stuff, and I would just as soon keep it that way! Argh. Even the thought makes me shudder!

Isabel said...

Yes. It's really aggravating. And AWKWARD. I don't recommend it to anyone - unless cruel and painful torture is something you find fun.

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