Thursday, 15 December 2011


Happy Friday, Dear Readers! We made it to the end of the week - which probably seemed impossible somewhere around the middle of the week - so let's all have a pat on the back. Now the time has come for me to delve deep into the cool, secret shadows of the blog archive, emerge with a dusty old post, give it a quick polish with a damp cloth, then pop it onto the dinner table so that new readers can experience its delicious vintage, and long-time readers can sip of its rich sweetness once more. That's right! It's RetroFriday!

The topic of writing roadblocks was inspired by regular commenter 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 foreboding 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.

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!


Isabel said...

Another really helpful post, Zoe! :)

Jenni (Juniper's Jungle) said...

Great post again, filled with useful stuff. Thank you :)

Megha said...

Always liked this post :)

Haha. Just realised how much I'm mentioned in your blog posts xP

Zoë Marriott said...

Thanks, guys :) And of course you're mentioned on the blog. The blog would be no fun without you!

Luisa Plaja said...

This is such a brilliant post. Thank you, Zoe.

Zoë Marriott said...

Luisa: Thank you!

Rebecca Lindsay said...

Great post :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Rebecca :)

Robin said...

Good advice!

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