Category Archives: writer’s block

The Writer’s worst enemy – self-doubt.

I have noticed that since I started writing almost 2 years ago, I am a more susceptible to extreme mood swings about my work. I can be on cloud nine one day about finally finishing that first draft, and absolutely hate is the next day because I’m certain that it’s just a load of crap and I just want to press DELETE and set my computer on fire.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but this must be a problem common to all creative people. I think it’s largely due to the fact that writing a book, creating a painting, or composing a beautiful song often takes a lot of time. Most of that time is spent toiling in our own corner, alone with our muse (if we’re lucky and that sucker actually deigned to grace us with his presence), our thoughts and our doubts.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

It’s hard work and there is no instant gratification. You might get praise and admiration once that book is published, that painting is showcased or that song is played. Or you might get critiqued and ridiculed. Either way, there is no way to know until it’s done and out there for the world to see. Until that day, we simply have no way to know if what we create is any good or not.


It can be especially daunting when writing a novel, because it takes a LONG time. From the moment this plot bunny on crack happily hopped into your brain and wreaked havoc in it until the moment the finished novel is published, months if not years can pass. You spend time researching, creating your world, getting to know your characters, outlining the story to discover where it’s going. Then you sit down and write that horrible first draft with your own tears and blood. Then you have to edit it to resemble an actual novel that other people might want to read. Then you send it to beta readers who shred it to pieces. Then you get it back and edit it again. Then you send it to the editor who shreds it to pieces. Then you rewrite it yet again. That’s why you really need to be in love with our story when you start writing, because you will be spending  A LOT of time with it.


In any case, that’s a lot of work and a lot of time for insidious seeds of self-doubt to start creeping in and growing roots. And soon we start hearing that little voice in our head telling us that nobody will read what we write anyway, because it’s worthless, so we might as well give up now and spare us time and future humiliation. You know the sad part about it? Eight out of ten people who started writing a book will listen to this voice and give up before they even finish their first draft. And an overwhelming majority of those who actually finish it will be to scared by the prospect of dreaded revisions to pick it up again…

revision angst

Self-doubt is the slayer of dreams and the murderer of books. It’s an insidious monster that is very hard to fight against.


I must admit that it caught up with me about 3 weeks ago. I suddenly noticed that I wasn’t really motivated to write or edit anymore. I knew I needed to do it, but there always seemed to be an excuse NOT to do it. Dinner needs to be cooked, the day job is hard and demanding, the next episode of my favorite series is out… And when I would sit down to edit Mists, my thoughts would turn down the dangerous path of self-doubt.


The following thoughts would start crowding in my head. I’ve been writing non-stop for almost 2 years, but what do I have to show for that? One short story published in an anthology. I have three finished first drafts, but none of the novels is fully edited and nowhere near ready to be released. It feels like I have achieved nothing. And that feeling was dragging me down.


So what is the best weapon against self-doubt? First of all, find someone who will cheer you up. Even though writing is a solitary profession, we are never completely alone, especially with the internet at our fingertips. Talk to your family if they support your dreams, or your friends, or that special beta reader whom you share all your ideas with. Get on Twitter or Facebook and shout out to other writers – you will be amazed at the level of support and understanding you will get.


But most importantly, try to look at the situation in a positive light. In my case, instead of thinking about what I haven’t achieved in two years, I looked at what I managed to accomplish. I had a short story published. I wrote 3 more short stories in the same series. I actually managed to finish 3 full-size novels. I have at least 3 more novels in various stages of planning. I am so close to finishing my rewrite of Mists that I can almost see the publication date… If you look at it this way, I actually managed to accomplish quite a lot in those 2 years. And what do you know? I am motivated to finish editing that novel now!


I am interested in your opinions as well. Do you experience self-doubt? What do you do to fight it off?

The fear of the blank page.

I had to go back to the drawing board and re-outline my novella Mists of the Crossworlds, because I have realized that there was more to the story than I first thought… like at least 10k words more. This novella is slowly turning into a novel.

But this post is not about yet another transformation this ever-changing story is putting me through. Now that I’m forced to continue this story, I am faced with of the banes of a writer’s existence – the fear of the blank page.

When I first started writing, I thought this was a disease plaguing only new writers, but a year and a half and several finished projects later, I still get paralyzed by the sight of a blank page. The first 200 words of so of each daily session are the hardest to write. Sometimes they feel like pulling teeth. I have a detailed outline. I know where my story is supposed to go. And usually, once I get going, I can put up to 1k words on paper in one session without problems, but those first 200… they are always hard.

Before I started panicking, I dived into the wast ocean of the Internet and discovered that I’m not alone in my plight! That was strangely reassuring, actually. I think all of us creative types (writers, artists, painters) have this moment of fear when we begin something new. We stare at this yet unmarred page (or canvas) and we get scared to waste it, to create something unworthy. We forget for a moment that this is just the first draft, that any mistakes we make now can be corrected later. And no matter how many books you wrote and sold, how much money or recognition we gained, this fear will always be there…

I think it’s important to recognize that and not let it paralyze you. So I decided to analyze what helps me get past this fear and write anyway.

Sometimes, just sitting down and putting pen to paper, no matter what mood you are in, helps, because after those first excruciating 200 words, the story finally starts flowing again.

But sometimes  summoning the enthusiasm to write isn’t as easy. I found that reading good books on writing helps me fall in love with the process all over again. I have two books that I always come back to whenever I am in need of a pep talk. I’m gonna post them here in the hope that they might help somebody else as well.

First of all, I need to mention this book, because without it I wouldn’t be writing today. On Writing by Stephen King gave me the courage necessary to start that very first story a couple years ago. It will probably never see the light of day again, but It nudged me into the right direction. It’s a wonderful view into the life of an author, and while it doesn’t have a lot of technical stuff about the whole writing process, it has a lot of motivational and heartwarming insights. I still come back to it whenever I am in need of inspiration.

Another wonderful book to have on your bedside table, or on your Kindle is Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt, Johnny B Truant and David Wright. It has a lot of nuts and bolts of how to write and publish books, but also funny stories and plenty of encouragement. I think this book is a must read even if you are not planning on self-publishing your stories. I find it extremely motivating.

Another wonderful motivator is going to other writers’ blogs and reading their stories or hopping on Twitter and talking to a few fellow writers about it. Writing a solitary process, yes, but it doesn’t mean we are alone in this struggle. We all have good and bad days. We all get paralyzed by the sight of a blank page from time to time. So reaching out and just talking about it with people who understand exactly what you are going through helps a lot.

So there you have it. My struggle with the blank page and my ways of coping with it. What about you? Do you get blocked by the fear to start something new? If so, how do you get past it? I want to hear from you!

NaNoWriMo – we are halfway done!


We have officially rounded the bend on this year’s NaNo challenge. It’s all downhill from now on. Some of you might be doing great and rushing through that word count with the finish line getting closer and closer at NASCAR speed. But for some, this is the most treacherous part of the journey, when the fatigue sets up and motivation flags down.

You have been plodding along, struggling to meet your word count for over two weeks now. Sometimes you were successful, sometimes not so much. And if you are behind on your word count for some reason, the realization that the number of days you have to catch up is limited can be extremely demotivating.

Or you could be experiencing another symptom: you suddenly feel like what you wrote is utter useless crap. Your writing is flat, your characters are not interesting, or worse, your story is not worth telling. I know that feeling. I’ve experienced it last year. I even wrote a panicked post about it.  It got so bad that I was about to toss everything into the trash and call it quits.


My NaNo novel and my writing career was saved by one of my writing buddies who told me that this feeling was totally normal, and that all writers experience it at one point or another of their first draft. She also send me the link to a pep talk Neil Gaiman wrote for NaNoWriMo back in 2007 and told me to read it before I did anything drastic like pressing DELETE on my computer and tossing my writing dreams out of the window.

I read Neil’s pep talk and I found it very motivating. The words that resonated with me the most were these:

That’s how novels get written.

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

So I gritted my teeth and kept on writing, no matter how much I hated my manuscript by that point. And you know what? It got better. I wrote a few scenes I thought were rather good; I got excited about my story; the characters started speaking to me again; and I managed to get to the finish line. The result  was the first draft Of Broken Things, which is far from being perfect and still needs a ton of editing, but at least it’s finished.


So I want to do the same thing my writing buddy did for me last year and motivate you today. If you feel like tossing your novel into the trash and giving up – don’t. Go read through the wonderful pep talks we have on the NaNoWriMo site. Talk to your writing buddies and ask for support. Stop by the forums and share your doubts. But more importantly, stick around for a day or two more, write a few more words, start that scene you had been looking forward to write, even if it doesn’t happen until several chapters later. Or introduce a brand new character, or lead your story in a completely different direction.

I am convinced that you will get your mojo back and actually looking forward to the few days we have left before the end of November and NaNoWriMo.

And finally, let me leave you with this post by Chuck Wendig called On the Detestation of your Manuscript: an Expedition into the Dark, Tumultuous Heart of Authorial Self-Hatred. Be warned that Chuck uses a lot of naughty language, but his stuff is usually very funny and motivating.

And with that, write on, wrimos!

Character-driven narrative

I admit that I am not a seasoned writer. Heck I started writing seriously only since mid-October, and all I have to show is one finished first draft of a novel and one short story. But I have already started planning my next novel, and I have ideas for several other short stories. So I guess the person who encouraged me to start writing was right – the more you write, the more ideas come to you.

But the point of today’s post is not about my writing experience or lack of thereof, well not entirely. I have read somewhere that writing is the never-ending path of self-discovery, and I agree with that statement. Even with my very limited experience, I have already discovered one fundamental thing about my writing – it is character-driven first and foremost.

As far as I can see all my stories, even the gazillion unfinished drafts, started with one or two characters. Usually, I see them in very vivid details, sometimes even with background stories, and then I have to try and build a story around them. One of my good friends once told me, “Think about where you want your characters to get, both physically and emotionally, and then build a story to accomplish that.” That’s the best piece of advice I have ever been given.

For example, Of Broken Things was born when one of the characters literally barged into my sleep, sat down and said “Listen, you are going to write this…” The initial idea was very simple: what would happen, if a super-soldier fell in love? And if the person he cared the most about was taken from him?

So in the beginning I only had one character with his set of problems and priorities. But then I had to think about what kind of woman would a man like that fall for? She would need to be truly exceptional… And that’s how Cassie came into the picture and took the spotlight. Then I started writing my outline, and all of a sudden private investigator Aiden Stappleton came out of nowhere and highjacked the whole of Act 1. But even with all that, ultimately the story was still about the super-soldier and the consequences of his actions.

Working on Of Broken Things showed me that I like writing about characters. I like putting them in difficult situation and watching them change in order to overcome obstacles. Story and setting are important, but only as a catalyst for character change.

This realization made me take a good look at the books, movies and TV shows I like. Just as I thought, they are all character-driven. The author could have created the most beautiful world with the most complex society, thought about how the magic works and what Gods his people worship, but if the characters walking this world fail to interest me, I will probably put the book down before I reach the end. Setting and world building doesn’t interest me if they don’t influence the protagonist and make him or her evolve in some way.

I think discovering this particularity about my writing is a big help against writer’s block, because now when I feel stuck in my writing, I know that it’s probably because I lost sight of my character’s development somewhere along the way and made them do something very out of character.

Help, I feel like I’m writing utter crap!

ImageThis is week three of NaNoWriMo and I feel like nothing I wrote in the past two days is worth keeping. Now I am on track, even about 4k words ahead with my word count, and up until a few days ago I have been happily writing my story. Then I finished Act 1 and switched to Act 2 and the torture started.

I think part of the problem is that I had to switch POVs between the parts. Also the story that my new MC is telling is essential in understanding everything that happened in Act 1 and will foreshadow a lot of things that happen in Act 3. So I really want to write it “just right”, so that the readers would understand him and his motives. Plus I care very deeply for the characters in this part and I want to do them justice.

As a result, I have been paralyzed with fear ever since I started this Act. I managed maybe 1000 words in two days and every single one of them feels like it’s been written with my own blood. And I’m still not sure I am happy with how they turned out! Am I over thinking it? Do I care too much and it’s bogging me down?

Has anyone else encountered this problem before? How did you work through it? I want to hear from you.

NaNoWrimo – second week blues

ImageSo remember how a few days ago I said that I had gagged and tied my inner editor in the basement? Well, she escaped and returned with a vengeance. Or maybe it’s just the dreaded second week of NaNo blues.

I woke up yesterday absolutely hating my novel. The plot was not progressing fast enough, the characters were wandering all over the place, but most of all I had the feeling that every single word I had written up until now was absolute tripe. I sad down in front of my screen, opened Scrivener and couldn’t force myself to write. I worked through it, forced myself to put in my usual daily 1700 words, but I hated every single one of them.

So I thought I would use today’s Writing Marathon to power through this block. I even signed up for twitter to participate at the sprints at #NaNoWordSprints… It worked. Well, kinda sorta in a sideways kinda way. I manged to write 2500 words, but instead of progressing with the plot, my Main Character decided that now was the time to sit down and bare his soul and tell his back-story to the enraptured audience of one aka yours truly. I tried to nudge him towards action and getting on with the case on hand, but he just ignored me.

So I now have 2500 words of back story that might or might not make it into the final draft. But on the plus side, I think I managed to lock my inner editor in the bathroom, so onward with the story!

How is everyone doing with their novels so far?