Thursday, July 15, 2010

When You Can't Write

Last night, I sat down at my laptop to pour my heart out. No, not into my novel, but into a deeply personal journal entry that would somehow give expression to the turmoil inside my soul. Does this sound dramatic? Perhaps so. But when you are a creative person, whether it be an artist or a writer or a photographer, you feel things deeply.

And when I do not write, I feel the pain - deeply.

All sorts of doubts and fears assaulted me last night. Actually, they've been hovering at the edge of my vision for the past few days. Why? I believe the answer is this: I am writing a thriller, something out of my comfort zone, something I've never really done before, and I am wondering if I bit off more than I can chew.

Until this point in my story (almost the 50K mark), I have done ok with the plot, putting the thrills in, the twists and turns, etc. But when I look back on it, I wonder if any of it is believable. And then I wonder, how can I make it better? And then I wonder, how can I make it more unique?And then I wonder, Am I plain nuts???

This is not the time to be doing that. Now is the time to just cover the canvas - i.e., get it down, cover the page, and edit later.


What if I'm not supposed to write a thriller? Even if I have a good idea, can I execute it successfully? There are times when I think it is just too darn hard - harder than any other novel I've written. Is this a sign that I should put it away? Concentrate on something else?

However...I love to read thrillers. Love, love, love them, and I always have these awesome ideas that I want to turn into novels. But the intricate plotting structure scares the ever-livin' crap out of me and I have yet to find a useful plotting method for them. Then I look at all the successful thriller writers like Daniel Silva, Ken Follett, Vince Flynn, etc., and I think, there is no way I can even compete.

All this thinking has gotten me to a terrible point: I'm frozen. I can't move forward and I can't move backward. I have avoided looking at the manuscript since Sunday. Each day that goes by, the fear increases. Thus, I haven't written anything since Sunday night.

This has created a dramatic shift in my world. If I cannot express my creativity on the page, I feel disoriented, unsettled, and profoundly disconcent. I am not sure what direction to go. I have another novel in the works that I haven't looked at in months, yet it is a good story - and decidedly very non-thriller. But I stopped working on that one because the thriller idea knocked my socks off and I wanted to get started on it right away.

I'm not burned out on writing. I want to write. I just feel paralyzed right now. Because let's face it: if I do finish writing this thriller, and an agent decides to represent me, and he/she sells my book, that means I will most likely have to produce another thriller for my second novel- and I am scared to death I won't be able to.

I'm trying to figure out some options on how to combat this paralyzing fear.
1) Sit down and make a detailed listing of my complex plot
2) Write angsty journal entries that no one will see - and give voice to my fears
3) Pray
4) Leave the thriller world for awhile and go back to the last novel
5) Say the heck with it, turn on the laptop, and just start writing

I'm thinking of trying #5 tonight and seeing how it goes.

The bottom line is this: I am a writer. And if I cannot write, it affects me in profound ways. I sometimes wish I wasn't a creative soul and didn't think and feel this deeply. But it's who I am, it's who God created me to be, so I need to embrace it in all its different facets.

What do you do when confronted by writing doubts and fears?


  1. when I do not write, I feel the pain - deeply.

    Amen to that.

  2. You're a very thoughtful person. It's interesting. You used 'think' six times and 'feel' five.

    I say stop thinking and feeling and just 'stick' with this thriller and 'run' with it. : )

  3. Can you bring a historical aspect into this thriller, combining the two genres so that you feel comfortable and that you're in your own writing territory? Or somehow take some of the thriller ms and bring it to the other manuscript you've been working on? Best wishes, and keep us posted!

  4. I hear you, sister. I gave up on my art for more than 10 years, due to the same fear and anxiety. I just got back into it, and those same feelings are still there. Giving up didn't do me any good.

    Stick with it and push through the turmoil. You're too good to let go of this story. You'll hate yourself for setting it aside.

  5. Question for you - if you want to write the thriller, but sometimes get stuck. And when you get stuck and can't write you feel off, why not alternate between the thriller and the non-thriller? That way you're always writing, and not feeling icky. I find sometimes when I'm stuck it's nice to write something else. It can unstick me. ;)

  6. I'm sorry you frozen right now. Sometimes the only way to remedy that is to get into the grind. You'll never be able to answer the what-ifs if you don't sit down and try.

  7. I think overanalyzing it is making your fear snowball. Don't worry about the future or whether or not you can "do it"....don't think, just write. :)

  8. Insecruites run rampant for me. It helps to remember that God did not give me a spirit of fear.

    "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That's all I need.

  9. Travis - Strange how NOT writing can make us feel so bad.

    Rebecca - You're right - I do think too much! :-) I analyze until I'm blue in the face sometimes. But I think you're right - just need to quit thinking and start doing.

    Joanne - It's actually a historical thriller (set in WW2) so I get to combine both of them. The plot line is a lot more complex and I think that's what I'm struggling with.

    Rick, I'm so glad you're getting back into your artwork. After looking at some of your stuff, I'm sad you let it go for 10 years. You're good. :-)

    Robin - I've thought of doing that - writing in each one. I just wonder if I could keep everything straight and jump into my characters' heads that easily. I suppose it's worth trying, though!

    T.Anne - I think you're right. I have to quit avoiding it and just "do."

    Gingerella - Oh boy, you're SO right. I overanalyze everything sometimes. I wish I knew a way to get over it - guess it's just part of my personality!

    Tamika - I needed to hear that. Thank you. :-)

  10. I think you should go with #5 and see what happens!

  11. I've been exactly where you are and it's a terrible place to be. Can't go forward, can't go back, longing to write but fears putting up a wall. So, so painful.

    I went through something similar last year and what I discovered was that I have to write where my heart is. I had a good story idea that I liked, that I even got excited about, but it didn't grab my heart. I finally realized that if, as a reader, I'd come across the book I was writing in a bookstore, I wouldn't read it. That was a huge lesson learned. I put that book aside and am working on something now that I HAVE to finish, even when the going gets hard--it's grabbed me, heart and soul.

    If the thriller grabs you, then ignore the fears and write. Don't compare yourself to others (remember, those books have been edited within an inch of their lives, and yours is still in a first draft--no fair comparing! Remember, too, that all those writers started exactly where you are now.) Give yourself permission to tell the story. Fixing flaws is what 2nd drafts are for. Give yourself permission to write where your heart is.

  12. Debbie - I did just that yesterday and I *think* I got my bearings back. Keep your fingers crossed!

    Christine - Sound, amazing advice, as always. :-) After reading through my manuscript over the weekend, I realized I am overthinking things waaaaay too much and that it is actually a GOOD story that I LOVE. Sometimes I think I get out of touch with my characters and then I get into a tizzy. Then the doubts start creeping in.

    I feel much better about the situation now. Thanks to all of you for your amazing, thoughtful advice. :-)


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