I look outside, and the world is a sheet of white from the snowstorm we had just a few days ago. It’s just like the Word document I have pulled up on my computer. I’ve been trying to force myself to write a short story for several days now in an attempt to prove to myself I still have what it takes to write something brand new. I haven’t written a story from scratch in a long time, and I’m long past the point of panic over it. Panic has come and gone. I’m to the point where I’m almost convinced that writing was a “phase” in my life – something I did back in my late 30s and early 40s, but something I don’t do anymore.
My mind often feels like a blank canvas, and not in a good way. I used to approach a brand new, empty Word document with hope and anticipation, my fingers poised above the keys, excited about what I was about to write. Now, I’m filled with trepidation. Will I be able to write anything at all? And if I do write something, will I be able to finish it, or will it fizzle out like so many other unfinished projects sitting in my “Work in progress” folder?
I want to write. Deep in my heart, I feel the need to write. But maybe that need isn’t strong enough to overpower all the other needs in my life, because if it was, I would actually be writing. I’ve gone through a lot of challenges this year with some family health issues and with my own health issues, but many of us have. I’m not alone in that. Life and its many challenges happen every year. In many ways, I’ve had more time to write this year than any other year.
So, I have the will to write, but I lack the willpower (obviously, because I keep watching Christmas movies on Lifetime instead of writing). I have the time on weekends. What is holding me back? Do I turn off the TV, lock myself in a quiet room, and force myself? Or do I wait for the ideas to come? As writers, how long do we wait for “writer’s block” to clear out? Is writer’s block even real, or is that just an excuse for laziness? Over the years, I’ve given tons of advice on this blog, but I would really appreciate some advice from all of you.
13 thoughts on “Blank Canvas”
You need to talk to someone who’s had writer’s block and overcome it. It is real, like depression is real, not just a fancy that you can ‘snap out of’. I write all the time, possibly more than some professional writers because I don’t do anything else. I have a chronic health issue and can’t do the heavy stuff like cleaning or gardening so I don’t bother trying. We don’t have a TV, we live in the middle of the countryside so there’s nowhere to go, no distractions except the usual worries about children, bills, money etc etc.
I have the ideal environment, but I also have a compulsion to write. It’s become what I am. I never get anywhere with the results and that in itself is a reason for getting depressed, so I keep on going, never let the machine slow down.
I will start with a vague idea for a story. Really vague. Then I get a first line. Once I have the opening words, I let the machine start to roll. It begins as testing the waters and often what I write one day, when I’ve thought it over, I realised I’ve told the story wrong and rewrite.
Somebody, I forget who, said that the first draft of a story is just the author telling herself the story. The second draft is the novel, with the author’s input. I try to think of the story as an entity. It exists outside of me in its own right. I put it down in words and embellish it so that others reading it will be interested.
This maybe doesn’t help, but it’s how I do it. I understand your frustration. Writing is like catching a thread and hanging onto it. Just keep going, even if you don’t know exactly where it’s going, if it’s just a feeling. Let the story come out as if it’s as old as the hills and really everybody should probably already know it by heart. That’s the donkey work so treat it like that, and don’t get worried that the prose is flat or the opening is boring. Just get the story out, then make it your own.
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I love the way you explain story-writing. Oftentimes, I believe I’m overthinking it. Especially once I started writing for the sake of publishing. When I began writing, and I just let the story flow without considering an audience, I was a much happier writer. Now I’m frozen by the self-editor in my head and the imaginary future audience. Maybe I just need to let go and write something without any expectation of ever letting it see the light of day.
Sometimes when I read snippets of things I’ve written in the past I can’t believe it was me who wrote it. I truly do worry I’ve lost that part of myself and that I’ll never get that back. It used to be terrifying, but now I’m afraid I’ve given up on the dream. I don’t want to give up on my dreams. I’m not even 50 yet.
I very much appreciate your comment. Your writing inspires me above all others. I consider you one of the great talents out there, though you might not have received all the recognition you deserve – yet. Thank you, Jane.
Maybe you’ve put your finger on the problem. I can honestly say I have never thought of who might be reading what I write. One of the reasons I suppose nothing of mine ever gets picked up. I write a story. Period. Try just writing ‘the story’, describe the characters you see enacting the story and get them across. Don’t get too deep into it, looking in mirrors, second-guessing readerships, just write it as it speaks to you.
I know agents and editors bash on about knowing who you’re writing for, but if they mean, trim your story to a demographic or rather market, you’re just writing as a commercial venture. I get the impression you’d rather just write.
I’m very flattered that you have found anything in my stuff inspirational. And I’m very pleased. It vindicates my position that we should just write the best story to the best of our ability. Sod fashion, sod agents and sod the dumbing down that means we’re supposed to write for the average goldfish.
You know what? I actually wrote 4000 words yesterday. I may not finish it. It may never see the light of day, and I’m happy if it doesn’t. But I was delighted to be able to come up with a a complete plot and to be able to toss together a prologue and a first chapter, no matter how badly written they are. I think my personal challenge will be to finish the damned thing, even if there are plot holes and large gaps.
I think there are too many rules now, especially when it comes to making a piece marketable or commercial. It makes it so easy to overthink. In order to survive financially as a writer, you have to think about those rules, always. But in order to survive, emotionally, as a writer, you have to toss the rules. This is how I see, anyway.
I do appreciate your feedback more than you know. As I’ve dropped in and out of the blogger scene as depression and health issues have taken me down, you truly are one of the authors I have consistenly followed. Your writing is unique and I hope you never let commericialism dim your light.
I’m so pleased you have got back into it! 4000 words is enormous! I’ve never written so much even when I’ve been on a roll!
I think you’re right, toss the rules and write as you know you ought to. If I’d ever had a commercial success or an agent behind me I might have been pushed into a style that isn’t me. But happily that has never happened.
Every time I finish a novel I send it out to agents. I rarely even get a form rejection, but once in every 50 or so queries I get a personal rejection where the agent tells me how much she loved the story, the style, how beautifully written it was, but she couldn’t see any publisher being interested. Those comments (and the suggestions to cut out some of the characters, simplify the plot) have never moved me to change my style.
The pile of unpublishable mss is growing but failure hasn’t stopped me writing or made me dumb down. You are obviously not happy with the dictates of commercial fashion, so if I were you, I’d stop listening to them. If you wrote with an individual sparkle once, you still have it in you. Don’t write like everybody else just to make yourself an easy sell therefore easy money for an agent. Be yourself and be damned.
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No advice here. I am in the same boat except I know what my trouble is. My trouble is being a “serious” writer. I used to write for the sheer joy of writing, for the fun of discovering the storyline, but now I overthink every sentence. Will it offend someone? Will it trigger someone? Will it get me in trouble on social media in some way? Will my six readers like it? Does it fit their perception/expectations? Does it fit the pre-existing pattern/template of the books that did well? (I did one book that didn’t, and it’s sold horribly.) If it’s a short story (which means I won’t make any money on it) does it fit into the universe and tie into pre-existing material so that it will make someone want to pick up one of the books that will make money? Because, if not, then why bother? The author world has taught me that writing isn’t about the joy, it’s about sales, and if I’m not making sales then why waste my time? Better to unplug, disconnect and do something *real* like spend time with my family, or watch a movie, or play a game, or be a *normal* person instead of a “creator” who never has time for anything except the creation (and the marketing, and the website maintenance, and the blogging, and the social media – where we can’t actually market for fear of making someone annoyed, but where we are supposed to just casually mention our work and hope that after six months of cultivating a friendship some person will decide to look at our book, unless of course they tweet for book recommendations, and then we can jump on that and try to out beg the other authors to get the high and mighty tweeter to maybe grace us with a moment of their time – and the networking, industry news consumption, etc. etc.) I’m 40 and I want more to my life than typing all day (and marketing all night) to make pretty much 0 sales on stories I have sanitized for the market. Bleh.
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Wow. I can’t believe you have the audacity to complain. As a serious writer, you’re not allowed to have opinions, unless those opinions are perfectly in line with THE RIGHT AUTHORS. You must know them. And you must champion the right causes and jump on the right bandwagon with your hair on fire and eyes full of rage. Do NOT spend a second away from Facebook or else you might miss a second of high drama! This is your chance to write an extremely outraged blog or Tweet, or post a wild-eyed ranting video so everyone knows where you stand. If you go viral, people will buy your books (they won’t read them) as a show of support. You’ll make the right friends. People will know your name. You’ll finally be able to afford to buy that bacon double-cheeseburger you’ve been eying. (No more dollar menu!) You’ll brag to your family about how famous you are (for the moment), but the convoluted drama that started it all is so stupid and confusing, they won’t understand what you’re talking about. (Besides, they’ll still hate you because you’ve been ignoring them for the past ten years.) You’ll ride that 15 minutes of fame, but at the end of the week, all you’re left with are overdue utility bills, an unfinished manuscript that you sort of hate, and no freaking idea what the next trend will be. Congratulations. NOW you’re a serious author.
Bahahahahahaha!! This made me literally laugh out loud because you’ve nailed it!! This is exactly the writing community at the moment! On a side note, I now want a bacon cheeseburger…
Not that I’m above drama. Not at all. It’s just that I usually disappear from the author scene for a while and when I emerge there’s oftentimes been some kind of major thing going on that I have to quickly get caught up on. I have to jump from blog to blog to FB video trying to figure out why people are so pissed off. Usually, one (or more) indie authors emerges as a hero and is an unofficial spokesperson of the cause. I can remember a big drama a couple of years ago. There was a sassy author who went head-to-head with an enemy of the self-publishing world. She was making all sorts of fired-up FB videos. Her books sales went through the roof. I bought one of her books. (I didn’t read it. I wasn’t that good.) Anyway, I got bored of her after a while, but I looked her up about a year ago and she was in hot water with half the indie community for something SHE said that rubbed people the wrong way. I can’t even remember her name now.
Hi Tricia, I know that for me I had done everything but write for a while there because other things took priority. I also needed to figure out what I wanted to write about and why it was important to me. That helped me get to writing and find ideas regularly. I think you’ll find more joy in writing again, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get there today or tomorrow. Sending love to you and family at Christmas and always xo
Thank you, Christy. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.
It’s hard to give advice on something like this because what works for one may not work for another. As far as writer’s block, not only is that a thing so is writer’s burnout. From what I’ve seen heard and, even, experienced it helps to talk about it- treat it like depression. I think it’s okay to step away from writing if it causes you more stress than joy, but if you really want to write, maybe take it even slower than a short story. Maybe just start with ideas, write a line or two, write reviews about the movies you are watching, etc… and only write when and if it makes you happy. Again, everyone is different, but anytime I’ve tried to make myself write it hasn’t gone well. When I wait to write without the stress of producing something I’ve done better. Hope that helps, but even if it doesn’t I’m still rooting for you to find your way.
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There have definitely been times when writing caused me more stress than joy. That’s when I knew I had to step away. At this point, I feel like I want to go back to it, but I often feel like I’ve lost the ability. I’ve written a few short stories here and there. I tend to be hard on myself, so since I started out writing novels, I beat myself up and tell myself the short stories somehow don’t “count.” If I’m not working on a novel, I’m not really writing. Also, I have unfinished novels still haunting me, so I feel like a failure for not having finished those. I think I need to find a way to let all of that go and just celebrate and find joy in any writing at all.
Thank you, as always, for your encouragement and help. You’ve been a wonderful friend through it all.
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