Writers Block/Writing Against Resistance

2013 update: This post was part of an ongoing discussion about things that contribute to writing resistance/writers block.

My basic feeling about what causes writing resistance/writers resistance is that it varies quite a bit from writer to writer in part because it’s really 3 separate phenomena that can act individually or in concert.

1. I’m notism. As in, I’m not inspired. Or, I’m not having fun. Or, I don’t feel the way about this piece that I feel when I’m really writing.

This is the one that I am most subject to, because most of the time when I’m writing I’m having a blast and feeling inspired. Except, sometimes I’m not, because sometimes writing is really hard unpleasant work. So, sometimes when I’m not feeling terribly inspired I wait for things to happen instead of making them happen. But then I usually remember that doesn’t really work for me and I go make things happen.

I’m notism is the biggest reason why I’m writing 2 books a year instead of 3 or 4. My actual writing time for a novel is between 2-1/2 and 4 months, while completion time is around 5-7 months because there’s a lot of dead time in the process, sometimes weeks in a row.

2. Perfectionist control-freakism. In this case the writer isn’t willing to finish the work because some portion of it isn’t up to their current standards, and (A) they’re damned if they’re going to let anything go out the door that isn’t exactly as it should be, and (B) they are damn well certain they can control the quality of their work at all times.

The problem with this one is that it is a falsehood rooted in the truth of the writer’s experience. Most writers get better with age and practice. Experience plus improved craft tends to equal better writing. So, as you get older you see how much better a job you could have done on earlier work. This leads to hanging onto things longer and longer in hopes that you will figure out how to do it better, because you know you will.

But, if you don’t let go of anything then it never gets to readers who can teach you things, and you never sell anything. That means you don’t get to focus on your writing as much as you could if you were a high-selling professional, and you don’t improve as much as you might if you would just learn to let go. And, even more than that, the way that you grow is by always trying to write in way that you’re reach exceeds your grasp. If you don’t fail in little ways in a piece, it means you’re probably not attempting something that’s at the level you should be shooting for.

3. I suckism. This is the conviction that whatever piece your working on is awful and you hate it and no one will ever want to buy it and if you’re foolish enough to send it out your agent, editor, readers, friends, family etc. will all decide the you are a fraud and should never have started writing in the first place.

In response you hide in a dark room and don’t write because if you don’t write it, it can’t suck. Or, if you don’t finish it, no one will ever see how much it sucks.

I personally don’t generally get this, though I often have the corollary I don’t know if this makes senseism moments. Fortunately, those tend to be brief and can be solved by calling someone else, telling them what you’re trying to do and seeing if it makes sense to them. With I suckism the only answer seems to be write it anyway, then find an audience who can read it and talk you down off the ledge.

2013 nota bene: In the original thread someone asked if there was much difference between two and three. I think so. There is a significant difference between “it has to be perfect and it’s not” on the one hand and “it sucks so much the universe gets smaller every time someone reads this on the other.” I occasionally get into a perfectionist mood, but I’ve never really had a case of the I sucks.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog June 19 2008, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)