Writing is, at once, the most fun and exciting job and the hardest (no doubt plenty of people would say the same about parenthood). You start out and you don’t know anything, so you’re happily splashing in the pond that is your work in progress, just basking in the joy of creation–and probably pantsing every step of the way. Then you get that first real critique and you realize, holy CRAP, I don’t know anything.
If you get past that point and determine to learn your craft (the thing that ranks you above the average Joe who thinks writing a book must be easy and anybody can do it), then you immerse yourself in book after book telling you how to do it. Some will resonate with the brilliance of a thousand lightbulbs in your brain. Others will leave you scratching your head and wondering how the heck you’re supposed to apply that. Over time, if you work at it, you begin to develop a better understanding of stakes, of pacing, of character arc, and all the myriad tiny pieces that come together to make a truly good book. You learn what you’re doing.
But you know what? There will still be times when you revert back to that holy crap I don’t know ANYTHING feeling. In the dark of the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle. When your hero refuses to even talk to you. When you’ve made it through the Zero Draft and realized that your heroine didn’t change a whit and you don’t know what to do about it. When you run slap up against a road block at any point in the book and your brain is waving it’s little legs like a turtle stuck on its back (because it’s too tired to do anything else, you’ve been beating it against that wall so hard).
Writing is hard. Any pro will tell you that. The whole 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration saying. Professional writing is showing up, day after day, even when you aren’t inspired and putting words on the page. Perseverance is what what separates the women from the girls.
But sometimes when you’re slogging through and every word is crap, when each and every sentence is won with the ease of digging a tunnel to china with a teaspoon…sometimes THEN there is a tiny voice in the back of your mind that says stop. Wait. Think.
No, NO, you want to protest because, dear God, if you STOP then you’ll lose all the momentum you’ve built and you’ll never get going again. If you STOP just because the words aren’t flowing, you aren’t really anything more than an amateur hack and you have to PROVE you can hang with the Big Boys.
Then it’s time to ask yourself these questions:
1) Am I distracted and just unable to buckle down on the story because of stuff going on In Real Life?
2) Am I bored with what I’m writing? And if yes, is that because it’s gotten hard or because what I’m writing is truly unengaging to the reader?
3) Am I going in the wrong direction (even though it’s how I outlined everything on the front end and I have hit all my plot points, damn it)?
If it’s #1, then either take some time to deal with the Real Life stuff, or, if it’s going to be an ongoing thing and you’re not going to be able to get away from it for a while, keep on slogging. Eventually something will shake loose.
If it’s #2 (and you may need to solicit a second opinion from a trusted crit partner or beta reader to fully answer this), take some time to figure out what would make it more exciting. What would get you eager to see what happens next?
It is #3 that is often the hardest (for me anyway) because I put so much in to the pre-planning phases of a book that I want to think I got everything right the first time. Admitting that I didn’t is sometimes really really hard because it’s inefficient (which might as well be a 4-letter word to my busy little brain).
But after all the years I’ve devoted to learning craft, all the memorizing of the aspects of writing a book, I do actually know my shit. I’ve internalized this stuff, whether I can adequately verbalize it or not. So if I’m hitting that unacceptable writer’s block, it means something. And I have to get to the point where I trust myself, trust my gut and my brain for balking, for telling me, whoa now, this isn’t the right way to go. I’m still learning that trust, still struggling with the desire to push on through because I should. But every time it gets a little bit easier. Maybe some day I’ll get to where I trust my instincts well enough to climb write….er right over that wall.
Do you trust yourself?