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.

Why Do You Write Your Novels?

Note:  This is a re-post of an earlier article, before I destroyed my database in a horrible, fiery conflagration.  More posts coming soon. 🙂

Writing is a tough business. There are going to be days when you get rejections… sometimes several, back to back.  You’re going to feel blocked.  Everything you type is going to look like crap.  You’re going to get a rough critique – deserved or undeserved.  You’re going to hear about someone who started just a few months ago getting a seven figure book deal; you’re going to hear about how the book industry is going down the toilet and NYT bestsellers are getting jobs as greeters at Walmart to make ends meet.

You’re going to wonder why the hell you’re even trying.

This is where a mission statement comes in.

For those of you coming from the corporate world, a mission statement usually seems like a pointless piece of bureaucratese, created during some expensive retreat where executives sit around and spitball high-minded platitudes to put on their yearly brochure.  Or it’s a rah-rah sounding thing that you learned in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” where people like Gandhi and Churchill talk about wanting to save the world.  (That’s not all the book covers, and I’m not knocking the habits, but having been through the training, I also know that it’s hard to read about Gandhi and then put “I really want to make a bunch of money” without feeling like a complete tool.)

What’s your “mission” as a fiction writer?

Your mission is the fuel in your engine.  When you have those craptacular days where you think about throwing in the towel and ignoring the voices in your head, you’re going to look at this little paragraph and remember… oh, yeah.  That’s why I’m doing this.

Maybe it’s a little description of the first novel you read that made you cry, that you re-read about a thousand times before thinking “you know, I want to do this.”  Maybe it’s the first story you ever finished.  Maybe it’s the first positive rejection letter you ever got, where someone said your writing style was fresh and interesting and they’d like to see more from you.  Whatever it is, it’s got to inspire you.  It’s got to remind you why you’ll keep going on against all odds.

What if my mission is to quit my day job?

If your mission is to quit your day job… well, there are a bunch of ways to quit your day job that don’t involve the soul-crushing beat downs that our chosen profession dishes out on a regular basis.  In a way, it’s like taking a job as a mine-sweeper just so you can get out of the tedium of being a clerk.  If your only motivation is being an entrepreneur, or no longer being “held down by the Man,” then maybe you need to look at some other ways of generating income and save writing for a hobby.  Writing is a tough business, and it takes a certain mindset and a certain determination to pull it off.  Be careful what you wish for.

That said, if thinking about how you’re going to quit your job keeps you typing the keys, if it keeps you inspired thinking of how much you’re going to love being creative every day, then write that down.  Nobody needs to look at this thing but you.

What if my mission is to be famous, a big, well-paid New York Times Bestseller?

Then be honest with yourself.  If you want to be famous, it’s pointless to write that you want to “touch the lives of millions” altruistically because it sounds better.  This is for you, not for anyone else.  If this is going to keep you tapping the keys, do what you have to do.

What if I don’t know my mission?

This might be a good thing to kick around with your critique group or your cheerleaders.  Meditate on it, if that works for you.  Take time, but not too much time.  Ask yourself: why did I start doing this?  In a perfect world, what do I want my writing career to look like?  What’s going to keep me typing?  When was I happiest writing?  What’s my best writing moment?

Then write something.  Re-visit it every year.  Keep it somewhere you can look at it when you’re feeling stuck – maybe near your keyboard.  It sounds simple, but it’s a very powerful, very effective tool.

So… what’s your mission?