Writer’s Block Update: Last one, promise

If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know that I’ve blathered about my writer’s block many a time. The fact that four months later it’s still going strong (and preventing me from getting an awful lot of things done) means that I’m having to rethink my writing commitments.

Obviously this sucks. In addition to letting people down, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that writing may not be for me.

Which is tricky since writing has always been for me.

Ever since I wrote a short story about a magic pizza base aged 7 (disgustingly full of product placement – that’s what growing up off a high street will do to a child), penned the first issue of a fanzine for my girl’s club aged 8 (my Dad let me use his laptop) and wrote an account of the Passover story aged 9 that had my Jewish teacher ask if I was Jewish, I’ve always wanted to write. I don’t know what, just something.

And since starting blogging a year ago, I expected to gradually improve. But I’m not. If anything I’m getting worse. I’m no longer pleased with whatever I write. Or I get bored and don’t bother to finish the post. It’s troublesome at best and distressing at worst because it begs the question “What am I supposed to do with my life now?” Without wanting to go all emo I feel a bit lost because, for the first time, I don’t know what direction I’m going in career-wise.

Strangely it feels like a sort of rejection. For some reason I’ve decided that my writing just isn’t good enough. And unlike being rejected by a boy, it’s not something that a slutty dress and lipgloss can cure. Not that I would revert to such measures anyway *ahem*.

But what also feels awful is the fact that I have no clue where this writer’s block came from. It could be down to any one of the following:

1. I started full-time work a few months ago, not long before the writer’s block kicked in. Maybe my minute brain can’t cope with more than 45 piddly hours of exertion a week? If so then I’m screwed. Nobody gets successful without putting in evenings and weekends.

2.  Being surrounded by incredibly clever and talented people with brilliant projects is great most of the time – I have no shortage of excellent advice and I feel better about working all weekend if I know several others are too. The rest of the time? Well, it kinda makes everything you do look inadequate, sub-standard and a bit pointless. And using youth as an excuse gets dull after a while.

3. I just don’t have anything to say. Opinions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, right?

So what now? I don’t have a fucking clue. If anyone needs me I’ll be weeping into a City Lit prospectus.

Flickr image from orijinal‘s photostream

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18 thoughts on “Writer’s Block Update: Last one, promise

  1. diane says:

    Oh, this makes me feel sad. I wonder if you’re putting too much pressure on yourself, though. Sometimes taking a break is OK, in fact, is necessary. I know one very talented author who’s had a stressful time and recently took 4 years off writing (not that I’m saying you should do that!) but now she’s back with a vengeance because once you’re a writer, that’s it. You’re a writer for life.

    Maybe don’t focus on being successful or getting better (as you see those things) but get back to what you love, in short bursts. Better to do 15 minutes a week than aim for 15 hours and do nothing. Seriously.

    • Alexandra Sheppard says:

      Don’t feel sad :-) I think you’re right – I need to start writing about something I’m completely passionate about…which is why I’m restarting the book I began writing two years ago. At the moment I’m focusing it on being a short story so I don’t overwhelm myself. We’ll just have to see how it goes!

  2. Jen says:

    Writes block sucks, but I can relate – I love writitng. Secretly I always knew it was what I wanted to do, but never had the confidence to pursue it as always had doubts about being good enough. It’s only now that I know it really is what I want so I’m trying to shut the questioning voices up and get on with it.

    Anyway, before I waffle on – it’s hard to feel passionate about something that feels like work on top of a full time day job. The passion will come and go, if your not ‘feeling it’ then give yourself a break. But maybe try and cling on to the feeling you had when you saw your by line in Time Out and see if that keeps the momentum going. Remember what it is about writing that makes you want to do it and then when inspiration strikes go for it.

    Sorry – that is a load of waffle. But stick at it, take the pressure off yourself so you go back to writing because you love it, rather than because you have to.

  3. Christiana Mbakwe says:

    Hi Alex,

    I dip in here from time to time and enjoy reading what you write. Don’t be disheartened, I know exactly how you feel. I’ve had my blog for two years now and the more people have the read the more pressure I’ve felt to ‘outdo’ myself. And for a stage it became more about writing to please an audience, than writing to write.

    I’ve had intense seasons of writers block (ironic since I don’t actually consider myself a writer) when the words wouldn’t come and when they did come they were lacking that ‘thing’ that I think makes writing special. I’ve since realised that it’s better to focus on the process not the result. Just write. Whether it’s good, bad or excellent. Write what you know, from how you’ve lived and what you’ve observed. Let the ideas flow without over-analysing or self-critiquing. Just write without inhibitions and fear. I think you just need to rediscover the freedom writing can bring, rather than worrying about the ‘quality’ of your work.

    Furthermore I don’t think you should doubt your ability or feel discouraged about your chosen career path. The fact you feel so passionately and intensely about how you write, demonstrates there’s something in you that’s there to be written.Don’t be intimidated by those who you think are ‘better’ writers, we all have our own path to take in life. And letting what others do prevent you from cultivating your gift would be a disservice to your obvious talent.

    So my advice is to keep pressing on through this block. Nothing in life is permanent and I’m sure this will pass.

    Keep writing….and I look forward to reading.

    Love & Light

    Christiana xxx

  4. Maggie Bob says:

    I used to write all the time – articles, stories, poems, blogs, free-form creative prose. It didn’t matter, I just loved to write. I still have stacks of notebooks filled with scribbles, some of which are even comprehensible.

    Then, like you, one day I stopped. Other things in life got in the way and I didn’t feel like writing for a while. Now, ever since I’ve gone back to it, I don’t feel the same, and I feel ridiculously critical of and embarrassed by my writing.

    Emm, sorry, no constructive advice for you. I think you are already doin the best thing by going back to your old story and thus doing something you are passionate about. Maybe I need to do similar?

  5. Gail says:

    1. It’s ok to be tired. Most of us are. You’re also working a lot (45 hours plus travel?), and writing at work undoubtedly, and it’s hard to come home and start doing that again, “for yourself”.

    2. These creative people are brilliant for stimulus and inspiration. But also a bit annoying, if truth be told. Gah, overachievers.

    3. You have plenty to say when it’s something that sparks your imagination or gets you fired up. And that’s just as it should be, really.

    I think you’re doing *just fine*.

  6. Emma Cossey says:

    I think it’s a rarity to find a writer who hasn’t encountered some form of block. Perhaps the worrying about uni etc and future decisions are proving to be a big distraction, and when that’s dealt with you’ll be able to refocus on writing.

    Don’t rush yourself though. Enjoy life and experience loads of fun things to write quick posts about, maybe do some other work for a bit and you’ll hopefully start to see writing as enjoyable again rather than something you ‘have’ to do.

    Also, those talented people you’re surrounded by? They’re partly surrounding you because you’re really talented too. Don’t beat yourself up so much! Sometimes it’s good to do a list or brainstorming page of all your talents and what you want to achieve. Geeky, but can help clear your mind a bit.

    Hope it all clears up soon for you though! x

  7. Matt says:

    You can clearly do it and have done things that some people wish they could achieve. Fair enough, you might be having a bad patch in terms of getting the words out, but it happens to everyone. Stuff I’m doing has been on ice for literally years and only now and then do I open the document I have saved and add “ideas” to it. In actually fact, storing some ideas up and then going back to them later can work. One day they do gel in to place.

    I’m probably the last person to offer advice on this sort of stuff, but write in an environment that makes you happy. Even if your belting out your favourite music, supping a brew or eating something yummy. Writing in a negative frame of mind will only give the same results.

    And this sounds cheesy as hell for sometimes writing down things you see/hear will help. I’ve used done this for the ever dragging comedy project I’m doing and overheard fragments of conversation/misheard chats can be a source of gold.

    I hope I didn’t miss the point in this.

    :)

  8. Kerry says:

    Hi Alex,

    I recognized your experience as similar to my own a few years ago. Now I write every day but I have a have a sign above my computer that warns me every time I start to seize up: Procrastination is just fear of failure. And it’s true. It seems as if you are putting pressure on yourself to be brilliant. And you’re setting very high expectations of yourself and judging your own work in relation to others. All writers write badly–they just learn to be good editors.

    You need to give yourself permission to write badly. Have fun and don’t judge yourself. Easy to say I know! Writing is such an act of faith that it’s no wonder our faith wavers a little when we come face to face with our turgid prose but keep knocking it out, girl! You can’t edit a blank page!

    In terms of wanting to improve your style, further down the line when you have something substantial enough to edit, look at your favourite writers and ask yourself why they are your favourite writers. What do they do with style, structure etc that excites you. Take the writing you admire and analyse the shit out of it. Pull back the curtain to see how the magic works. Look at how the sentences are constructed and then use it in your own writing. This is a surefire way to improve. Don’t suffer from anxiety of influence: all good writers use others’ work like textbooks.

    When author Jane Smiley was blocked, she read, and read and read until the ideas were bursting out of her.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/mar/25/featuresreviews.guardianreview2

    But it’s not just reading, it’s how you read. Francine Prose’s brilliant book Reading Like a Writer shows you how to close read in a different way to how we were taught in school/uni. I highly recommend it.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reading-Like-Writer-Guide-People/dp/0060777044

    After you are done with the writers you love, expand your horizons and read books that you would never normally read by writers you would never normally read, and see how they do it, what you like and what you don’t like. And use it all in your own writing. Your own voice will come through and you’ll have learned so much about the nuts and bolts of writing.

    Sounds though from your comments that you’re doing all the right things anyway! But I hope the advice of a recovered procrastinator helps!

  9. misssiany says:

    When I was your age, I was selling advertising for an insurance magazine.

    You’ll figure it out. You will. Because you are so very talented. Your writing has got better. I was a terrible writer when I started. You’ve always been nothing short of excellent. Youth isn’t ‘an excuse’, you’ve achieved a huge amount of the last year. Be proud of that, lady.

  10. Alexandra Sheppard says:

    Wow, so much helpful advice! I’m a little bit overwhelmed. Think you all make very interesting points, and I’ll reply soonish :-)

  11. Robyn says:

    Baby girl,

    The only thing you’re doing wrong is not finishing what you start. Writing is putting down words EVEN IF they feel gauche, stupid and clunky; EVEN IF you think others’ talents outstrip your own; EVEN IF you hate what you’re writing and you’re not even sure you’ve anything to say anyway; and EVEN IF (and especially if) you realise with that cold creeping certainty that you’re not meant to be a writer.

    It’s about hitting that wall of crap, it’s about feeling AWFUL, but finishing the sentence ANYWAY.

    It’s about putting words on paper. Being PLEASED with what you write is a completely different kettle of fish and may not occur on the same day.

    Writers’ lives would be easy if that flow – that sense of productivity and connectedness – occurred every time a writer sat down at his or her desk. But it doesn’t; most days it feels like wading through wet mud and the gnawing suspicion that you should be going in the opposite direction.

    HOWEVER, if you drag yourself to your desk and write a little every day, that “flow” will occur more frequently and you can use it to surf effortlessly across your narrative arc.

    If you’re tired, sick, fed up, overwhelmed, overworked or undersleeping, your writing may suffer. More often, though, it’s your judgement of your own writing that’s compromised. Don’t wait to be impressed by your own writing – write anyway.

    You’ve a lot on right now – maybe your point of view is a bit skewed. I’d wager that you’re not giving yourself any credit when you say your writing hasn’t improved.

    Do these things:

    1. Google “writing prompts”. Find a topic this way and write 200 words on that topic EVERY DAY for the next seven days. The entire exercise should take you about 30mins.
    2. As you write, make sure you’re choosing the MOST ACCURATE words and phrases to describe the thing you’re writing about. Not the most impressive, alliterative, modern, stylish or clever – the most accurate.
    3. Put that piece of writing away and ABSOLUTELY DO NOT LOOK AT IT for one entire month. You know when you see a recent photo of yourself and think “ugh”, but then look at it again years later and realise you actually looked quite nice? It’s like that.
    4. After a month, read your writings of the week, and consider again whether writing is for you.

    x

  12. Mof Gimmers says:

    Okay. I’ll keep this short (hopefully – I’m winging it). I always see writing blocks like The Beatles playing Hamburg. They slogged their guts out playing bog-standard blues riffs for rooms empty save for a handful of bored German businessmen looking for prostitutes. They plugged on regardless and went on to be one of the greatest creative hubs the world has ever known.

    Speaking to Charlie Brooker last year, he told me at great length about how he thinks he’s a terrible writer and that he’s constantly waiting for people to “see right through him” and rumble him for what he deems himself to be.

    Basically, writing is a thinking job… however, with that, it’s also a *doing* job. It’s an uneasy marriage but one you must accept. If it was easy, you wouldn’t regard it as a gift or a blessing.

    My point? Stick at it. You’ll sail through this with no bother. Don’t analyse it too much or you’ll end up having nightmares about blank pieces of A4 paper and that gets you nowhere. The very fact you’ve created a piece on not being able to write should show you that, in fact, you can.

  13. Luke says:

    Self-doubt

    Self-critical

    Feeling that your work is getting increasingly worse

    Sounds like all the hallmarks of a born writer to me! Stick at it — I read that whole post start to finish without stumbling over the words once, I think you have a really natural, easygoing tone and that’s really valuable. :)

  14. Robyn says:

    Sorry… didn’t meant for any of that to sound patronising or bossy. I have been unsuccessful, I expect. Anyway, you write good: don’t give up just because of self-doubt – we all have it.

  15. Jess says:

    “And since starting blogging a year ago, I expected to gradually improve. But I’m not. If anything I’m getting worse. I’m no longer pleased with whatever I write.”

    Erm. Actually what’s probably more likely is that you *have* improved as a writer, and as a result you’ve become a more critical reader. Bella, the day you’re pleased with everything you write is the day you should look into becoming an investment banker.

  16. Matty P says:

    Hey Alex,

    There’s already been so much great advice posted here, but for what it’s worth, I’ve been reading a book called “How To Write” recently. It’s a collection of advice from many writers of various kinds of fiction and non-fiction, written in a very methodical yet entertaining manner and covering everything from subject matter to research tips, style, punctuation and publishing.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Write-Philip-Oltermann/dp/0852651384/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282752188&sr=8-1

    I don’t normally dig self-help stuff, but having suffered from a touch of creative block myself as of late, the book has given me a mental kick up the arse and got me itching to go again.

    I hope you get everything sorted one way or the other. Good luck!

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