Author Insider,  Introspection

A Different Kind of Writer’s Block

I am not the type of writer that struggles to come up with ideas. I have, in fact, more ideas for stories than I would be able to write in my lifetime. But I have definitely suffered from a different kind of writer’s block. So much so that I went over a decade without writing a story.


My writer’s block came from anxiety. From a constant fear of failure, of not being good enough, of not measuring up to other writers. I spent a lot of time coming up with countless ideas and fleshing out characters and making up worlds for my stories. But I did so at the expense of actually writing anything that could be read by someone else.


A few months back I came across a life changing book by author Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird. I had read an excerpt from her chapter titled “Shitty First Drafts”, and it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

“Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments,” she says, “is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts….I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.”


This short little chapter, in its humorous, self-effacing way, was perhaps the most reassuring thing I’ve ever read when it came to writing advice. I had felt so much pressure to write perfectly the first time, to be judged by what I naturally produced without any revision, that I refused to write at all. If I didn’t write, on one would ever think my work subpar. But then again, I had no work anyone would ever see.


She continues on to say “the first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, ‘Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,’ you let her. No one is going to see it.”


No one is going to see it!

 

That knowledge alone changed everything. No one had to see my absolutely shitty first draft. It was for my eyes alone. All that mattered was that it was written. After it was written, I could shape it however I wanted. Improve upon it until I was ready for other people to see.


And so, piece by piece, bird by bird, I wrote my first story in over a decade. Once I had started to put pen to paper, in the confidence that it was for my eyes only, it wasn’t so bad. Little by little it began to flow, as it did so many years ago. The block was gone.


Will the block come back? Will the inner voices of critique and self-doubt rear their ugly heads again? Without a doubt. But I’ve got some tools in my belt to fight them off this time around. The writing fire is in my veins once more. The passion to tell my stories is stirring in my heart. Now I just need to find some time, in the midst of virtual schooling my kids this semester, to actually start writing something new.

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