NaNoWriMo is coming to a close, which means you are either scrambling to finish, have failed long ago, or you’ve already won. Or maybe you didn’t even participate. No matter which category you fall into, congratulations. You sat down to write a story, and that in itself is a major achievement.
But sometimes when we sit down at our desks with our fingers poised over our keyboards, we suddenly find ourselves frozen. Our words and thoughts–our everything–suddenly seems lost. Trapped as though your skull has become a prison and refuses to let anything roam free. It is a crippling feeling. Something, like many emotions, that you cannot control.
And it is called writer’s block.
I’m lucky to say that I don’t suffer from writer’s block too often, and when I do, it’s usually brief and minor. But this month, I experienced quite a few firsts in writing.
- I tried to write 50,000 words in one month.
- I began writing a completely different novel
- I experienced possibly one of the worst and scariest writing blocks of my life
I started off strong with NaNoWriMo, but I soon fell behind because of schoolwork and life commitments. I’ll admit I was discouraged, but I was still happy to be getting words down. But then once I hit the 25k mark, something simply felt off.
It didn’t take long for me to realize I had little idea as to where I was going with this story, and most importantly, what my characters wanted. I’m an advocate for strong, layered characters, but I realized a quarter through my own story that my characters were flat and contradicting their own values.
I realized this the week of Thanksgiving and made the decision to take a step back from NaNoWriMo and my novel to allow things to simmer. This is something I do not typically do, because I view writing as a skill that you have to keep sharpened. But I figured by the end of the week I would come back with a clear image of how the story and characters develop, what they’re made of and what they’re fighting for.
Thanksgiving passed, and then I came down with a cold. I gave myself the weekend to recover and get back to my story afterwards. But then I realized that nothing had changed. I had not figured out one thing about my story or my characters. I wasn’t thinking about them, and when I did, I was completely blocked.
This is a foreign feeling to me, because with my first novel (and second, if we’re being technical here), they were all I thought about. I would constantly think about writing and watching my characters grow and open themselves to me.
So what was wrong? Am I not ready for this novel? Do I need more time to think about this book? Am I too distracted and worried about minuscule things, like what to wear, or what people think about me, or these cute boys suddenly popping up around my house? (True story, by the way. I have no idea where they’ve been all these years.) And the scariest question of all, the one that has swarmed my brain this entire month of writing this new novel: What if I’m never able to write a book again?
Just writing that question makes me want to cry (and I might be, a little [thanks, sad song that I’m listening to]). It makes me very, very anxious. Because if I’m not writing, what am I supposed to do? Sure, I adore photography, but I don’t love it nearly as much as writing.
It’s good, I suppose, that I do get emotional about writing, because that proves to me how passionate I am about writing. I know I love writing. I know it’s my passion, so why am I not able to write this new novel? I have dozens and dozens of ideas, so why can’t I get this second story of mine out on the paper? Why? Why? Why?
After a scroll through my Pinterest board of quotes and thinking deeply about what was wrong, I came to a conclusion: I’m human.
I’m a human trying to chase their hopes and dreams. I’m a human who sometimes becomes stunted by fear and doubts. And that’s all it was.
I’m not broken. I’m not done writing–I never will be. I was scared of writing a bad story like the very first drafts of my first novel. I was scared that it would take years to perfect this novel like it did with the other. I was scared, and I still am and will continue to be scared. But that’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay.
I’ll always be okay and writing something in the end. And that’s all that matters.
Now I’m back writing again, and though I’m still struggling with a few doubts (as I always do), I feel like me again. I feel proud of myself for beating this fear and tearing down this wall that was holding me back. And I want to share the steps I took to not only break this barrier, but to put myself in the head of my characters and their world. How I’m building them into true flesh and blood as I did with my latest novel.
HOW TO DEFEAT WRITER’S BLOCK
And this time I don’t just mean music. (But I also kind of do.) Whether you prefer music or silence to gather your thoughts and ideas, simply sit down and listen. Erase the world around you. Tell your family and friends to quiet down. Seclude yourself in a room by yourself. Just listen.
I constructed a playlist for this novel quite sometime ago, but I have yet to sit down and really listen. I’d play it in the background during various activities and tune out the passion behind the words. When it came time to sit down and write, I felt completely disconnected from the setting and the characters.
So today, I finally sat down, crossed my legs as though I was meditating, turned on my headphones, and listened. I listened to each lyric, the feelings in the notes and symphonies. I then took those bundles of tunes and transformed them into scenes and characters. I mentally placed certain songs to each character, thinking of how they feel and what they want.
It didn’t take long for them to spring to life and consume my mind. I simply needed to sit down for a few moments and tune out the world. I had to focus on these characters and their stories. Nothing else, just them.
And it worked. I sat down and wrote (and rewrote) a few hundred words in ten minutes. My main character felt alive like the protagonist in my first novel. All I had to do (and I need to continue to do) is sit down and listen to these characters in my mind. And music helps me find them in the dense forest of my mind.
No, I don’t mean get up and actually fight someone. Sit yourself back down and continue reading this.
What I mean by fighting, is to fight your fears. This is easier said than done, but it is very possible with the proper mindset.
There are many ways to overcome fear, and it works differently for each person. For me, I like to read through my quote board on Pinterest. Not only to these thousands upon thousands of words lift my spirit with an uplifting message, but they show me that I’m not alone. That it’s okay to be scared or be in pain. That we can always overcome it.
I like to think the best way to fight fear is with words. Read poems and quotes. Surround yourself with positive people who care about you and what you do. Encourage yourself each and every day, even if the odds are against you.
You can do this.
I guess this is an obvious one. But yeah, you have to write.
This ties in with fighting your fears. It can be difficult, but we must nullify those thoughts of failure or not finishing or being stuck behind a block for eternity. None of that will happen unless you allow it to happen. Writer’s blocks are purely psychological. Nothing is stopping you except yourself.
So sit down at your desk or cuddle up in your bed and let your words pour from your fingertips. Play around with your stories and your characters until everything clicks into place. It may take several drafts and rewrites and editing, but it will be worth to get the story you want in to the end.
As a writer, you have to be patient and persistent. But if you have a few down days, that’s okay. Writing, in my opinion, is one of the hardest activities out there. We invent things and people who never existed. We research the most random things and places to find the information we need, even if we look like a serial killer according to our search history. We put in countless hours to a project we’re not even sure will be liked or sold. We are strong and brave, and we suffer for it.
But we are writers, and we must write.
Well, this was a long blog post with a lot of emotions throughout. I apologize if this wasn’t what you were expecting, but I hope by me being open and honest with all of you that you realize you aren’t alone and it’s okay to struggle. But know that you’re not a failure and you’re not even close to being done. You have so many stories to tell, and they will be told.
As always, be sure to leave any other thoughts or comments down below. I would love to hear your recommendations for pulling yourself out of a block. And let me know if any of these steps helped overcome your writer’s block.