Writer’s Block Can Kill / How to Write a Novel

Writer typing on keyboard showing no Writer's Block

One of the biggest hurdles for any writer is being able to write. This may sound stupid, but it’s true. The best writers I know tend to agonize over every word. For them, writing is agonizing and wretched. They delete more words than they allow to stay and, at the end of the day, they’ll think themselves lucky if they achieve more than a few hundred words. They scream about ‘writer’s block’ as if it were a disease or an affliction caused by laser beams from Outer Space.

Successful writers don’t think like that. They write quickly and painlessly. Their objective is to get down as many words as possible. They know that nothing they write is perfect but they don’t care. Getting the words down is more important than aiming for perfection. Writer’s block? It’s as if it doesn’t exist.

Inside most writers — especially amateurs — is a little voice that tells them they are not very good. In fact, in most cases, the little voice is way harsher than that. It says things like, “Why are you even bothering? You are an absolutely terrible writer. Your lack of talent is embarrassing.” Sometimes, it even swears at them.

About Not Being Able to Write = Writer’s Block

Some authors listen to their little voice more than others. That’s where writer’s block comes from.

The vast majority of would-be writers, who might spend years and years trying to produce a single novel without success, almost always believe everything their little voice tells them. That’s why they fail and never manage to achieve anything worthwhile as writers. This is called writer’s block.

At the other end of the spectrum, less-than-average talents (I won’t name names here but you can probably guess who I’m talking about), ignore the little voice and go on to make millions from their ‘literary’ efforts.

Do you see a pattern emerging? The main difference between successful authors and failed writers is (a) self-criticism, and (b) and ability to get words down on paper. If a writer allows him or herself to be over-critical about their work, they fail. Simple as that. If they don’t worry about how good their stuff is, they are more likely to succeed. Sad, isn’t it?

Think about it. Forget about being a writer, imagine how the same attitude might work in other aspects of life. Can you imagine a professional athlete pulling themselves up after a few paces because they don’t think they’ll reach the finishing line? Of course not. No runner would ever do that, so why would you, as a writer? Wordsmiths seemingly regard writers’ block as a serious impediment to their livelihoods but whoever has heard of athlete’s block, banker’s block, chef’s block, or whatever? Can you imagine a cook giving up on a dish after frying the shallots because they doubted their ability to do it justice? No way.

I’ve always thought it possible that some writers don’t actually have the little voice. That would explain why many of the worst writers on the face of the earth are some of the most prodigious — and the richest. But, having spoken to a selection of them, I now know that this isn’t true. They hear the voice all right — they simply choose to ignore it. Take a look at the books on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble in the USA, Waterstone’s in the UK. There are thousands and thousands of books, in hundreds of categories, selling in spectacular numbers. Broadsheet newspapers regularly like to mourn the death of the novel but, in reality, the business of publishing has never been in better shape. Mostly, this is because of the phenomenon of self-publishing. It has become possible for almost anyone to become a bestselling author.

Tackling the Causes

I say almost anyone (in italics) because, to succeed as an author, you need to get books written and published. Take two authors. One of them is writing the best novel ever. It’s so well written, you wouldn’t believe it. In a single day, the author of this masterpiece might produce a couple of hundred words (if they’re lucky) — but what words they are. It really is brilliantly written. Every day the author finds the time to edit what he has already written, which takes time but it is producing spectacular results. This author suffers from writers’ block but on days when no writing is possible, there are always edits to be getting on with, so no loss there.

The other author is, and I hate to say this, pretty sloppy. Every day 8-12,000 words get written but, to be honest… the quality isn’t brilliant. There’s no editing at this stage, just a mountain of words ‘on paper’. A lot of it doesn’t make any sense. There are mistakes in grammar, spelling, and… quite honestly, the writing style is pretty average. Little more than ‘the cat sat on the mat’ stuff. This author will usually write a book in a couple of weeks, including rudimentary editing during the final few days. It’ll never be perfect but then, what’s the point of perfection? Within a week of finishing this work, the author has moved on to the next novel.

One of these authors earns thousands every month from their writing — and it increases month on month — the other earn absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zero.

Can you guess which is which? And which of them blames ‘writers’ block’ for their lack of income?

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