Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Never Suffer Writer’s Block Again

By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton  

Part of the How They Do It Series (Contributing Author)

JH: Not being able to write sucks. It's emotionally draining and can make us question our entire career choice. Laurence MacNaughton has tips on never being blocked again. 

Have you ever sat down to write, and everything you wrote seemed terrible? Every writer has felt that way, at one time or another. Here's the uncomfortable truth about those critical thoughts: they can actually help you become a better writer. But only if you know how to recognize those thoughts for what they are, and then train yourself to have them at the right time.

There are two sides to your creative process.

The creative side of your writing process helps you get the rough draft down on paper.

The critical side, on the other hand, helps you revise and polish the final draft.

In order to be write, you actually need both of these very different thought patterns in your head. You just can't have them at exactly the same time.

Your positive side is for creating.

If you can convince yourself that what you're writing right now is the best thing you've ever written, you're much more likely to keep going, and not get stuck.

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, it actually makes you more likely to write something great. When you believe that the story you're telling is fantastic, you're more likely to create some of your best work.

The key is convince yourself that it's true (even if you're not sure). Tell yourself that it will make people sit up and take notice. Convince yourself that it'll make them laugh, make them cry, truly move them.

Is that a realistic view of your own work? Maybe. Maybe not. But here's the thing: right now, while you're in the middle of creating it, it doesn't matter.

Positive energy is the essential ingredient that pushes you forward and gets you wrapped up in creating something new and exciting.

You absolutely need that jolt of optimism the way a tree needs sunshine and rain. Without the positive side, your creativity will wither and die.

In order to be able to create, you need to be able to embrace your positive side.

Some people can do this naturally. The rest of us need a little help.

In a moment, I’ll show you some proven exercises that can put you in a creative frame of mind. But first, let’s look at the dark side of creativity. The negative thoughts, which are actually your critical side.

Believe it or not, the critical part isn't destructive. In fact it is just as essential.

(Here's more on What to Do When Your Writing Stalls Out)

Your critical side is for editing.

Anyone who's ever sat down to write knows that creativity has a critical side. It’s the part of you that whispers doubts in your ear.

It gives you the sinking feeling that what you're doing right now is mediocre at best. It might even be downright awful.

Believe it or not, this critical side isn’t harmful, when used properly. It can actually help you get better, as long as you don't let it get out of control.

The critical side gives you the ability to take a good, hard look at what you've written and say, "I'm not 100% happy with this. How can I make it better?"

You need to be able to see the flaws in your writing, sense its weak spots, and find areas where you've backed away from potential breakthroughs.

The critical side of your creativity is essential, because if you don't let it harm your self-esteem, it can push you to rewrite, revise and polish your writing until it really is as amazing as you hoped.

(Here's more on Avoiding the Unmentionable (Writer's Block))

Write positively. Edit critically.

Where we run into trouble is when these two halves of the creative process get tangled up.

If you’re too positive when you edit, you won't have enough perspective on your work. You'll go blind to your weaknesses, and that can quickly get you into trouble. It’ll convince you that everything is just fine, when it actually needs work.

On the other hand, if your critical side intrudes when you’re trying to create, you'll stop cold. That critical voice – the one that you need so much later on, in the revision phase – can make you feel unworthy to create. Some people call that writer's block, and it can be terrifying.

So how do you beat this problem?

First, recognize what's happening. If you sit down to write and you start to feel unworthy of the task, tell yourself to stop that critical thinking right now. It's not time for that yet.

Remind yourself that critical self-talk at this point isn't helping you reach your goal of writing. Give yourself permission to be critical later, after you've done writing.

But not now. First, stay positive in order to create. Then you can give yourself permission to be critical later.

(Here's more on Battling The Block)

Top 4 exercises for positive thinking

There are plenty of good exercises out there designed to get you into a creative mindset for writing. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Pick up a ridiculously awful book and read a random page. See if you can write better than that. Remind yourself that if this got published, there's a place for your book, too.

2. Read a random page out of one of your favorite books. Remind yourself why it inspires you to be a writer. Also remember that this author started out not knowing how to write.

3. Type up (or handwrite) that random page of your favorite book, from top to bottom. You'll throw away this writing afterward, of course. But it will subconsciously help train you to write like one of your favorite authors.

4. Once you've cleared your head of the critical thoughts, set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing but write. Banish from your mind any fear, doubts, worries, any kind of negativity at all. For the next half hour, you'll be free to do nothing but write your heart out.

And isn't that really what it's all about?

How do you deal with critical thoughts while you write?

Laurence MacNaughton is the author of more than a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories. His work has been praised by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, RT Book Reviews, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. He lives in Colorado with his wife and too many old cars. Try his stories for free at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.

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About No Sleep till Doomsday (Dru Jasper, Book 3)

An inexperienced sorceress must retrieve a priceless artifact from the enchantress who stole it, break the curse on her half-demon boyfriend, and stop her friends from turning on each other before the enchantress calls down doomsday.

When a wicked enchantress steals a cursed doomsday amulet, crystal sorceress Dru Jasper has only twenty-four hours to get it back before the world will come to a fiery end. With this supernatural amulet in hand, the enchantress intends to break the sixth seal of the apocalypse scroll--making the seas boil, the stars fall from the sky, and the earth itself split apart. Overall,  bad news.

Dru must hit the road to get the amulet back. But she suspects her half-demon boyfriend, Greyson, and his demon-possessed muscle car, Hellbringer, are hiding a dark secret. Can she trust them to help her stop doomsday? Worse, tracking down the enchantress runs Dru smack up against a pack of killer  shape-shifters, the grim mystery of a radioactive ghost town, and a dangerous speed demon even more powerful than Hellbringer.

As the clock runs out, Dru is locked in a high-speed chase with the enchantress, fighting a fierce, magical duel she can never win alone. Can Dru and her sorcerer friends unravel Hellbringer's secrets, outwit the shape-shifters, and retrieve the stolen amulet before the dawn of doomsday?

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  1. Thank you!! I needed to hear this today! Sometimes when I get stuck I pull out pen and paper to fool my inner editor into thinking I'm just playing around and there's no need for critical thinking.

  2. Switching up your writing tool is a great way to break through! Sometimes, switching to a fancy pen and notebook (or a mechanical pencil and index cards, or whatever) is all it takes. I'm also particularly fond of my old AlphaSmart Neo word processor (a little battery-powered keyboard that does text only, no internet). Some people like to dictate their notes into a voice recorder. Whatever works. Just keep writing! : )

  3. While drafting longer works (novella size and up) I periodically stop and pick a scene to edit and improve. If I don't, I inevitably get discouraged about the sheer amount of fixing the manuscript will need, and start doubting my ability to do it after writing a lot of words that are, well, first draft words. They're obviously not great words yet. By stopping and improving a scene, or even just a snippet of a scene, I remind myself that it's possible, and seeing what the work can look like after making it good makes me eager to finish drafting so I can go do it for the rest as well.