Friday, October 17, 2014

Writer’s Block: The Truth About My Struggles and Fears

You know, I've been sitting down the last couple days trying to come up with something together and precise and profound to blog about the writing process. What I keep getting is a good idea and a good start, and a whole lot of rambling afterwards. It's not that I don't know what I want to write... its really that I just don't know how to get it written down in an organized manner.

Come to think of it, this is the same problem I have when I'm working on my novel. I have a good idea and a pretty decent beginning... and then it just starts to feel like I'm rambling and everything is being thrown down on the page in a jumbled mess. And often times because it is a jumbled mess and I feel like it needs to be organized and put in an understandable order, I get what many writers refer to as Writer's Block and can't get my story to move forward at all.

There are many many writers who will tell you that there is no such thing as Writer's Block; there is only procrastination. These writers will tell you that the only thing you really need to do is sit your butt down in a chair and just start writing. To a certain point this is true, but for anyone who has actually faced the dreaded Writer's Block, we know that it most certainly is real and very very daunting.

Another, description that I think is more accurate is, "Writer's Block is only fear." Like many before me, when I first read that saying I totally disagreed with it but now, after taking the time to really analyze what it is that mentally paralyzes me so thoroughly, I think Writer's Block may indeed (at least partially) consist of fear. And I think that each writer's fear is different, resulting in a different form of Writer's Block. Some writers may be afraid of judgment, others actually afraid of success, and some might be afraid of failing, but my fear is different. I don't mind the judgment so much, I certainly hope to succeed in writing, and I'm not really afraid of failing because everyone fails sometimes and if you pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and keep going, that's a type of success in itself. So what other kind of paralyzing fear is there?

I had to really think about that. I knew that I had a problem, and I suspected that it came from some deep innate fear that I couldn't overcome easily, but what was it? After mulling the problem over for several hours, I thought I had found the answer. I called it "The fear of going nowhere" and I started writing another blog post about it... but I never finished that post because halfway through it I changed the name of the fear to "The fear of not being sure how to get there" which was perhaps more accurate. This was because it wasn't that my stories were going nowhere: I knew they were going somewhere... I just didn't know how to get my stories from point A to point B.

But now thinking about it, I realize that getter from point A to point B isn't even the hard part. Sitting down and just typing will eventually fix that problem. And so I think that my Writer's Block consists of a different type of fear entirely. I call it "The fear of not making sense"... or maybe "The fear of rambling". Both of these fears, however, are part of something else, a much deeper, darker, and far more sinister force: "The fear of making a fool of yourself". This fear is NOT to be confused with "The fear of being judged" for though they are similar at first glance, they actually have some very different qualities. For example, people will judge you and your art whether you are smart or foolish, simple or complicated, classy or artistically unique. You can't escape the judgement of other people. Why, most of you have already judged me in some way or other after only reading the first couple paragraphs of this post! People can't help judging other people; it's our nature. But as we subconsciously judge everything around us, we put these judged things into mental categories.

And THAT is my fear.

I am not afraid of being judged. I expect you to judge me because I know you will anyway, even without realizing it. My TRUE fear is being judged as a fool or an incompetent despite my very best efforts to come across as the opposite.

Do you know how many times I've rewritten the beginning of my WIP, "Song of the Daystar"?

Neither do I.

I lost track somewhere around the 8th rewrite, when I decided to scrap everything in the original draft except for the character names and start completely over from scratch. I became what I like to refer to as "a bloody-penned perfectionist." I LOVE critiques, and do you know why? Because it gives me a chance to see what others think about my novels, and it gives me the opportunity to rip my literary works apart in order to make them better (or at least that's what I tell myself). I've done this so many times with the beginning of SOTD that I am extremely tired of working on it. But here is the kicker; I've sworn to myself that THIS draft really WILL be the last draft, and so I want it to be perfect. You've heard of perfectionist writers before, right? Well, I'm one of them, and at the core of this perfectionism is my need to not be judged as a fool in the literary world. I can't move forward if it's not perfect because that goes against my promise to myself, and I don't want this draft turning out anything like the original story which will never again see the light or day because then I truly WILL be making a fool of myself.

To some degree this perfectionism with my art is a good thing. It shows that I want it to be the very very best that it can be. However, because my perfectionism is driven by a need to not come across as a fool to my peers, it also terrifies and overwhelms me. And because I am terrified and overwhelmed by it, I procrastinate... which is actually extremely painful and mentally draining because I KNOW I should be writing, but I just can't face my own extremely high expectations for myself. You don't know how painful that can actually be unless you are a writer yourself and have faced the same thing. :P

Being a perfectionist has other unfortunate side effects too. It's not just that I can't move forward unless I feel the story is perfect… It's also that I can't move forward unless I feel like the story is making sense. You remember what I was talking about earlier? How I mentioned that I decided to call my fear "The Fear of Not Making Sense' or "The Fear of Rambling"? Well, this is where it comes into play. When I first started writing, I was a true Pantster. I wrote without any thought about what was really going to happen next and just let the words and the characters pull me forward on the adventure that was their lives and very existence. I allowed them to show me their worlds with no thought about how the big overall picture was supposed to look. I didn't know how the story was going to end back then, and frankly I didn't care. I was more interested in the pure unadulterated pleasure of discovery and exploration.

Now, however, I have had years of study in the art of writing. My art and ability has grown immensely and I understand the mechanics of the art much better than I did back when I only wrote for the feel of writing and the love of words. However, though I still retain a strong, unquenchable passion for wordsmithing, I have lost the free-spirited abandon with which I used to fling myself into the story. I have come to understand that there is actually more to writing a successful novel (in any genre) than just simply writing, and this is where I find myself taking pause. Where before I didn't mind the rambling nature of my story simply because I enjoyed the writing, NOW I see that same rambling nature as confusing and disorganized… a jumbled mess of storylines thrown together in no particular order and ultimately making a mess of the plot. Dialogue that used to seem witty and intelligent to me now feels stilted and choppy; prose and descriptions I once fell in love with for their rhythm and color now feel dull and lack-luster; characters I once felt were believable and emotionally deep now feel shallow and dim-witted.

You see my problem, right?

And yes, I admit that part of this has to do with the process of rewriting. Tearing into a first draft can be quite traumatizing and eye-opening. The emotional journey of a writer doing a rewrite is extreme and hard… like being continually pounded by a sledgehammer while fireworks go off in the background; the fireworks may be beautiful, true, but the constant loud booming of the explosions sets your wits completely on end making you a nervous wreck while the continual pounding of the sledgehammer bruises and beats you flatter and flatter onto the concrete.

Yes, rewriting a first draft is quite a terrifying experience. But what if this isn't the first draft of your book? Or even the second, third, or fourth drafts? What if this isn't even the eighth draft???

I want this story to move forward soooo bad. And not just this story either, but others I have in the making. However, I don't want these stories to end up with good ideas, decent beginnings… and horribly confusing, rambling middles with unsatisfactory endings. This is what I fear will happen, turning me into a total fool. This is what many of my stories consisted of in the past.

How do you fix something you know how to fix, but have almost no experience fixing for yourself???

Give me someone else's story, and I can find the plot holes, the rambling story lines, the shallow characters and stilted dialogue and tell you exactly how to fix it. No problem!

Now shove my own story in my face and watch me turn into a confused and nervous mess. :P

Do any of you have similar problems? Do any of you struggle internally with the need to feel that your story is – if not perfect – at least not rambling in every which direction? Do any of you struggle with the worry that your story is rambling anyway, despite your best efforts? Please don't feel afraid to comment about it down below. Sometimes it's just good to know that you aren't alone in your struggles.