I’m writing again.
Yes, after two years of being unable to put fingers to keyboard without an existential crisis, I’ve written over 60,000 words of a new high fantasy m/m romance.
And while I worry about the things writers always worry about (it’s crap, it’s dull, I’ll unintentionally offend someone and everyone will hate me) a lot of the time I’m having fun with it.
This post tells you how I did it; how I got through my writer’s block. Of course, your blocks might be different, but maybe my tips will help?
I want to say first that I didn’t do it alone. I had lovely friends and readers-who-became-friends and occasional advisers who listened to my woes and encouraged me and helped me to feel that they hadn’t given up hoping for a new Lee Welch book, even if I had.
I also want you to know that there were no Hollywood moments. There were no dramatic breakthroughs, no flashes of inspiration that led me to sit up all night typing or left me grinning at my screen as dawn came with a coquettish ‘oh, you!’ expression on my face.
It was more like drips of hope wearing a stone away.
It was long. It was boring. My progress felt infinitesimally slow. I’d write a few words and hate them all. I’d slip back into not writing for a few weeks. I’d spend hours at my computer, staring at the screen. Then I’d write a few more words. I gave up lots of times.
But even though I gave up, a few days or weeks later I’d find myself once again searching for the way back into fairyland.
Here’s what I did:
Pick a ‘good enough’ idea: When I was bemoaning how my new ideas didn’t excite me, some wise person asked ‘did your last book idea really excite you at the beginning?’ and I realised it hadn’t. All I’d thought was ‘that could work. It’ll do’. So, lesson number 1 is that you needn’t be in love with a nascent idea before you start. As you write, you’ll develop that idea. You’ll find the depth and the intricacies and the truths of it. You’ll make it great. So, don’t wait for the perfect idea – go with something that feels ‘good enough’ or ‘sort of interesting’.
Remember YOUR goal: Out there in Romancelandia, lots of people bring out six books a year, or more. They work incredibly hard and produce relentlessly. They have to because it’s how they pay their bills – or maybe it’s just what comes naturally to them. However, I have a day job. Fiction is not my main source of income, but it’s easy for me to see tweets from people saying they have three books coming out next month (or whatever) and feel a panicky sense of pressure that is death to my creative impulse.
I tried hard to de-couple from that pressure (see also point 3 below: ‘Sod social media’). If those authors who put out six books a year have found a business model that works for them, then good on them. But that’s not for me. And, in fact, that was never my dream or my goal. I want to write great books, yes, but one a year feels about right to me. Or maybe one every two years. So now I make an effort to ignore that pressure to write more, more, more, faster, faster, faster. It’s just not how I’m made. I’m slow. I like to think about things, to ponder them, to sit with them. And that’s OK.
Sod social media: I know, I know. Everyone says how important it is for authors to maintain an active social media presence. It’s social media that helped me sell my last book. But I find social media incredibly draining, especially when I’m not writing and everyone else seems to be.
And it’s not just the comparisonitis. On social media, people are always angry, always hurting, always pointing out injustices or how awful things are. It’s not that I disagree with them – it’s almost that I agree too much. The longer I spend there, the more overwhelmed with misery I get and the less I can write. So, I’ve mostly ditched social media. Writing comes first. Perhaps one day I’ll find the strength and energy to do both, but for now I accept my limitations.
Consider creating a pen-name: One of my blocks was the fear I would write a book that people would find unacceptable. It would come out too dark, too twisted, too morally grey, the characters too flawed, the situations too vile. I would release it and everyone would hate me.
Then a wise author pointed out that if I did write a book that wasn’t ‘on brand’ for Lee Welch, I could release it under a different name. Sure, I’d have to do a bit of work to create a new pen-name, but my aim here was to break the block, not take strides forward in my writing career. I’d always thought of multiple pen-names as a dull administrative nightmare, but actually the idea was freeing because it essentially meant I could write whatever the hell I liked.
The weird flip-side to this is that I don’t actually *want* to write anything especially dark and twisted – but simply the knowledge that if I did, by mistake, I could still release it, was somehow a breath of fresh air.
Forget publication: When I wrote my previous books, I had to know my plan for publication. I picked the publishers before I started writing. It was the goal that got me through.
But the idea of publication seems a lot less attractive these days. In fact, it feels like a chore. There’s deciding whether to self-publish or go via a publisher, there’s the stress of wondering what sort of editor I’ll get, there’s admin and marketing and the worry of not knowing how the book will be received. None of that makes me feel creative. So I’ve put it all to one side. I’m just writing my book. Publication plans can come later.
Write in a different genre/tone: Shake it up a bit, do something you wouldn’t usually do.
The first time I tried this, it didn’t work, but people kept suggesting it so I tried it again.
I usually write romance, but I finished a horror short story. It wasn’t very good, but it was a piece of writing and I finished it and at the time it gave me a small amount of hope.
I got started on my current book by attempting to write a light-hearted joke-fantasy piece – in other words, a change of tone. Again, it was pretty bad, but there were some things I liked about it and the point was it got me started. Now I’m rewriting it to get rid of the jokey tone because I don’t feel it works. So, it may have been a convoluted route, but at least I’m on the road.
Abandon your novel: I feel as though I ought to write a separate blog post about toxic positivity and ‘never ever give up’ culture – because I think sometimes giving up is the best thing you can do. I tried to make a book work for well over a year. I re-wrote the first chapter 17 times. I did weeks of research. But no matter what I did, a hundred plot holes opened up. I started to hate it and I got to feeling that the book hated me. So, I abandoned it to work on something new. Oh, the relief! Best feeling ever.
Take regular breaks: This may seem like a no-brainer, but the temptation for me when I’m not writing is to feel I should be struggling to write all the time. Or if not writing then doing research. Or at least thinking about plots and characters and so on.
So, I started taking Sundays and Thursday evenings off entirely – no writing, no research, just reading whatever I wanted, watching Netflix, walking the dog, etc. And I can’t tell you what a relief it was on Thursdays and Sundays to know that I didn’t have to think about writing or do anything associated with it. I could just relax and do whatever I liked.
Look after yourself: Again, sounds obvious, but I’d taken to drinking most evenings and eating junk food because it felt as if beer and crisps were the only things I had to look forward to in the day. But then I felt lardy and hungover and worse. So I made a big effort to go walking every day, to eat better and to drink less. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, life is hard. You need looking after – so look after yourself.
There they are – my top tips. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing magic, but I hope they might help.
All I’m really telling you is: keep trying, keep writing, keep aiming for joy. Keep resting, keep looking after yourself. If what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s fine to stop and try something new.
One day, you’ll be writing and something will take wing inside you and then it’ll all be worth it.
Questions? Comments? Feel free to drop me a line below. I may not respond immediately but I love to hear from you.