Just. Keep. Moving.

SnailI’ve had two crippling bouts of writers’ block in my career.

The first was for a year and a half, right after my first book was published.

My editor said, “we loved the book!  What else do you have?”  I replied confidently, “I’ll get you a proposal as soon as I can!”

Then I promptly stared at a blank screen until drops of blood formed at my temples.  (Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad.  But sure felt like it.)

It’s not that you can’t type.  It’s that you don’t.  Or you do… and then you look at the words that you’ve been spewing, and you recoil with an almost physical revulsion.

The latest was when a serious of tumultuous events were pounding through my life, to the point where a typhoon would’ve seemed like a tropical vacation.  Lots of external stuff, lots of deadlines.

Even though I knew what the story should be, I developed keyboard-o-phobia.  I would clean my kitchen floor with a toothbrush before I’d drag myself to my desktop.

Blog Block.

You guys know that my website imploded.  Rather, I stupidly decided to try to install an add-on that had no earthly business being on my WordPress site, and it spanked me for my impertinence.  In my non-techie way, I did everything I could to resuscitate the thing, before finally deciding to start over.

I finally decided to start over.  But the process has been both heartbreaking and, it felt to me, impossibly slow.

The similarities.

As I was gearing up to start posting again, I noticed some similarities between all these blocks… or, more specifically, how to get out of these blocks.

1.  I was unable to let go.

I don’t know about you, but I get this “perfect idea” in my head.  Of the novel I want to write.  Or how my writing career ought to go.  Or how much I loved what I had on my blog.

I couldn’t let it go.  Not any of it.  Even though letting go of my preconceptions — for plot ideas, for example, or the old blog posts — was exactly what I needed to do to move forward.

2.  I “wasn’t quite sure” what I ought to do next.

This is one of my all time favorite Stephen King quotes, from his novel Misery (which, if you write genre fiction, I think you absolutely have to read):

“…not being sure of things, he knew, was a charmless corner of purgatory reserved for writers who were driving fast with no idea at all where they were going.”

I’m a plotter.  Not because I think that once I’ve got the outline, things are going to go swimmingly and I’m going to skip through a meadow of happiness from the opening to THE END.

I write a plot outline so I narrow my choices.  If I’m presented with too many options, I find myself vacillating, getting overwhelmed… getting paralyzed.  It doesn’t matter if, when I’m in the scene, things turn out differently.  The plot outline is there to make sure I make a choice.

3.  Inertia.

“An object at rest… CANNOT BE STOPPED!”

Ah.  Words of wisdom from The Tick.

It takes just a minute to say, “I think I’m going to play Angry Birds instead of writing today.”  And then before you know it, an hour vanishes.

If you need to take a day to recharge, there’s no harm in that.  It’s when that day stretches out into a week that you realize you’re in trouble.  And it sneaks up on you.  Suddenly, you’re not quite sure how to start up.

An object at rest tends to stay at rest.

As it happens, there’s only one solution to all of these.

Just.  Keep. Moving.

One page.  One paragraph.  One sentence.  This sounds very facile, but at the end of the day, the only thing that’s going to get you out of it is little steps, one after the other.

There are plenty of other things that help.  I’m a big fan of support groups, accountability, mind tricks like Write or Die.  I am a huge fan of bribes (as I stare at the chocolate cake on the counter, which I’ve promised myself I can eat when I’m done with this.)

But at the end of the day, you’ve got to just keep moving.

11 Replies to “Just. Keep. Moving.”

  1. “One page. One paragraph. One sentence. This sounds very facile, but at the end of the day, the only thing that’s going to get you out of it is little steps, one after the other.”

    This is SO true. Every word is one step closer to digging out of that hole.
    (And I second the support groups and accountability!)

    1. I’ve got my writer’s group in Seattle, and one from my hometown in San Diego, and an online loop. Between the three of them, I definitely feel supported. I certainly wouldn’t have gotten as much as I have done without them!

      Sounds like you’ve got a great posse. It makes a difference.

  2. Great post, Cathy. I’m a very slow writer and beginnings are always hard for me. I always tell myself, “Just see what you can do.” No feeling bad allowed. A sentence is a victory. Your Just keep moving mantra feels much the same. If we just keep moving, sooner or later we find we have something we can work with. And what a relief.

    Usually, my biggest relief is when I’m done the book and revisions (I revise as I go) and “only” have to edit. That seems easy compared to every other part of my process.

    1. I think knowing your process is important, too. It’s so easy to get sucked into “she writes so much faster/does more promo/sells more” comparisons that you lose touch with how your process works, and then you break down.

      I don’t revise as I go… my biggest relief is turning the thing in! 😀

  3. This is VERY timely for me! A few weeks ago, I was ahead of the blogging game and looking forward to a week or so of uninterrupted fiction writing. Instead, it just took on rock in my path to throw me off. A couple days of no writing became “Oh, I should really get this done. Oh, I should get that done while I have time. Oh, it’s Mother’s Day, I deserve a break. Oh, I have a bunch of errands to run, I should do them now while I have 3 hours of uninterrupted time.” Sigh. Really, I think the book got a little hard, so by procrastinating on my blog, too, I now have to make up time on blog posts, which means more time away from the book that was getting hard.

    Geez. I feel like I just came out of the confessional. “Forgive me, Father, for I have procrastinated.”

    1. You know, I should’ve included that. One of the biggest “stuck” points for me is guilt. Like, “Oh, my God, I’ve been away so long… I can’t even bear to face it.” I’ve noticed that even a little step does alleviate some of that pain, thankfully!

      I’ll write you a procrastination slip. 😀

      1. LOL! I may need that! Actually got a post done today and am working on some organization of the RWR article I have coming out in December. Have plans for the coffee shop tonight, too. So, I’m getting off the procrastination train. Thank god!

  4. “I would clean my kitchen floor with a toothbrush before I’d drag myself to my desktop.”

    It’s amazing how many things I’m absolutely CERTAIN need doing before I can sit down to write. Just a moment while I dust the tops of the doors….

  5. Wow…If I didn’t know better I’d think you know me. This post is the swift kick I needed. *SIDENOTE* I have actually cleaned my kitchen AND laundry room AND bathroom floors with a toothbrush,(the kind with the spinning head),THREE times in the last three weeks instead of writing. (Amongst other weird things). I’m learning the hard way why everyone says to “WRITE SOMETHING…Anything…EVERY SINGLE DAY.” Thanks for this. 🙂

    1. I used to say “I can’t write every day — I write a lot, then I take long breaks.” Yeah, when the breaks are longer than the writing — hello, procrastination! (Or better still, hello, fear!) I still don’t write every day, but I certainly try to…

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