(This is a transcript for episode 101 of the Horrible Writing Podcast, which you can find wherever you listen to podcasts.)
So there's no great secret to any of this. There's a way you can do it. There's a way you can prevent writer's block. Let's talk about that: this episode of Horrible Writing.
Welcome to Horrible Writing. The rawest, most candid, in your face writing show on the interwebs, because none of us have time to suck. Let's do this.
Hey everyone, Paul Sating - your host. Happy 101 episode. Let's start this second century of podcast episodes off right by focusing on what we can do, not why we can't do something.
For the longest time, since I've been around writers, one thing I've always heard over and over and over again was complaints - or were complaints - about writer's block. Here's the thing. I don't believe in it. There is no such thing as writer's block. That's a hell of a claim to make; I realize that. And it probably doesn't help some of you who feel like you do struggle with it. But I'm going to ask you to stick with me.
There are people who will say they do have writer's block; that they suffer from it. It's a fact to them. I can't argue with them. It's not worth their time. It's not worth my time if they're convinced that they have writer's block. They sit down to write something, and nothing comes out. No ideas. Nowhere to go. Searching in the darkness.
But that, I feel, is starting at the wrong point. If you start from the premise that there is a thing such as writer's block, then you open yourself up to believing that. And as I've said routinely on this show, in 2019 especially, don't buy the lie.
The things we believe are the things we make come true. I don't believe in writer's block. One of you listening, many of you listening maybe, think it's a real thing because you've experienced it. I hope - my plan is with this 101st episode is to help you flip that paradigm to change your mindset. Your mindset drives your actions. What you believe is what you do.
So how do we do that? We can't just all of a sudden believe that there's no such thing as writer's block because Paul says so. That's not how reality works. I hope to give you some things to think about. But ultimately, like with everything in life, it's up to you. You decide what you want to do with it.
If you want to remain in the mindset that you have that there is writer's block and it does impede your ability to do things, I can't change that. But if you are one of those people who is open to trying new things and you want to improve your writing habits, your writing output, whatever it may be to help you reach your writing goals, but you also do feel that you struggle with writer's block, let's take a journey.
So there is no such thing as writer's block. That's my starting point. And I'm going to ask you to at least try to entertain that thought. You don't have to believe it yet, but I want you to be open to envisioning a future where you don't have writer's block anymore.
Now, I know this may sound a little whoo-whoo, and I promise it's not. It's all about behaviors. There is no secret formula. There's no vast, vat of ideas from which to draw constantly. I mean, I, like many writers, have too many story ideas to the point where I will never be able to tell all of them in my lifetime. It's just not going to happen. I don't have that much time on this planet.
But that's not what writer's block is about. And here's where I believe writer's block originates. In self-perception: what you think about yourself. And buying the lie. Because you hear things from other people, and maybe you feel in self-reflection that you don't measure up. It's a horrible thing to do to yourself. Especially because this isn't a competition. I don't go to my writer's group meetings and compete against the other writer's there for sales, for the eloquence of prose, for originality, nothing. I have stories I want to tell, and I'm going to tell them my way. That's why I do this. Because that's where the passion comes from.
There are secondary, tertiary, and on reasons why I write, but the main reason is I'm doing it is for love. That frees me from a lot of garbage and toxic thoughts that other people may struggle with. Starting with mindset. Always, always, always starting with mindset.
So with that in mind, starting there, believing there's no such thing as writer's block. Believing that I'm not here to compete with anything or anyone. I'm just here to tell the stories that I want to tell the best way I can tell them. If you start there, then there are mechanical things that you can do for yourself to help you prevent those moments where the hands freeze at the keyboard - otherwise sometimes, by some people, known as writer's block.
The first thing that people can do to help themselves is to outline. Now don't shut this down. Don't shut your mind off because you're a pure pantser. Great. But jotting down even a sticky note's worth of bullet points of things you want to hit in that book is something that will help guide you is a step. It's a mechanism; it's a tip, tool, and tactic to help you reach your goal. If your goal is to finish that draft of a novel, you need to do things to get you there.
One of the ways you can do that is by outlining. Outlining doesn't mean that it has to be x-number of pages. Some people do 10,000-word outlines. Some people do a thousand bullets. Some people do ten bullets. Everybody's process is different.
But, if you truly, truly believe you suffer from writer's block - and you are a pure pantster where you don't write anything down you just discovery write; you go wherever the story takes you - then I challenge you. Because if you're experiencing writer's block, in part, it's due to the fact that you don't have a road map. You have not written down anything - in your head, you might have an idea where you want to go - but that's the problem. It's all tucked away in your head. It takes you off course and puts you into corners. And when your writing gets put into a corner, you don't know how to get out of it because you can't see where you are going.
An outline helps you prevent that. A physical product of an outline. Something you've written down. A piece of paper you've got taped to the back wall of your computer monitor where you can see - I don't know. A visual representation of your road map for that story will keep it fresh; keep the idea percolating in your head. You will be thinking about them while you're cooking dinner, taking that walk, in the shower, brushing your teeth before you go to bed - you can't wait to get up in the morning and write because you know where you want to get to.
Another tactic that will help you avoid writer's block is to stop stopping. And I mean this. Don't stop when you are writing. Just freaking write. So what do I mean by that?
This morning was a good example. I'm writing the second book in a contemporary fantasy series that I hope to start publishing in 2020. The first book is already done. I wrote it in 3 and a half weeks. Fastest I've ever written a draft. 61,000 words. It's called Bitter Aries. If you're a patron of the show, you now have the first two chapters - drafts - of that novel already. So definitely check it out.
But I'm already working on the second book in that series. And this morning, I had to describe in my writing session. I had to describe the door of an old bookshop in an old town section of hell where a lot of the story takes place. And for the longest time, I could have sat there and researched and read up on what process turns metal to green. Those of you who live in Europe, or been to Europe or anywhere where there are older structures - not so modern like America. We don't have much of a history here to have really old structures. We have them someplace, but they're harder to find than they may be in more historic places.
But if you've ever seen an old building, an old door, anything old, metallic, regardless of what the metal is that is actually corroding, there is a process - and I still don't know because I literally just finished my writing session for this morning - that will turn certain types of metal to a lighter green sheen haze color. I don't know what that is. But I wanted to make sure that I described that door in the story this morning with that kind of handle.
So in the middle of my writing - I use dictation. I don't type. I get a lot more done. In an hour and some change, I got 3,000 words this morning because I dictate. Again, I'm going to always push folks to dictate. It is a learned skill. Everyone can do it if they believe they can and stop saying why they can't. They may prefer to not, but everyone can do it. It's all about mindset, right?
So I didn't stop. Basically, I showed - I was writing the character viewing the door and noticing that door handle as he was about to touch it. And I didn't know what turns metal green, but I will find out. So in my writing, I basically just told my dictation software to, "Open brackets. Find out how metal turns green. Close brackets. Period. End of sentence." And I kept going to the next sentence.
There are a lot of people who would have stopped and looked that up. Right there in the middle of the session. Don't do that. Don't go look up cool names. There are a lot of demons and angels in this series that I'm doing. I want names that will help enhance that picture that my readers will have in their minds as they're reading about these characters. So I'm not going to call anyone Bob.
But I'm not going to stop and look those names up while I'm writing. I will put 'Bob' as a placeholder name in that day's writing. And then at night, or on a break from work, I'll scour the internets for inspiration for a demon or an angel name. And then I will go do a find and replace in that document. The tip, tool, or tactic I have, the second one I have to offer is to not stop when you're writing. Get off the internet, and just freakin' write. Just write.
Now associated with that third tip - kind of; 2.1 maybe - is editing. I've been in a local writer's group here in Olympia, Washington for over two years now. And in that time, I have written Chasing the Demon, RIP, Twelve Deaths of Christmas, Novel Idea to Podcast, The Scales, Bitter Aries, and I'm 10,000 words into the next book in that series. I've written six novels. I've written Who Killed Julie? One season of Subject Found. Edited an entire season of Diary of a Mad Man. Four scripts of Crown of Thieves. You get my point.
The big thing - the big catch I wanted you to notice was the six novels that I've written in those two years. I literally write so fast that it's almost pointless for me to the group meetings. Because, by the time we get even halfway through one of my novels, I'm already sending it off to the editor.
In comparison, there are a number of people in that group, in fact, all of the novelists who - with exception of two people (and there's 80-something people in the group) all of the novelists are working on the same book they were working on when I started two years ago, and I've written six. And the only other two that I mentioned are working on their second in that two year period.
I don't have a magic formula. I'm a family person. I work full time. I've got other interests. Yet, 6-2 or 6-1, depending on how you look at the scoreboard, I'm doing something different than what other people are doing. And you know what it is? It's not because I've got all these ideas and I'm an amazing writer. It's because I don't edit in that first draft. Editing will happen. But I do not go back to a previous chapter and fix something. I will make notes, "Hey, make sure you go back and change the color of Ezekiel's hair," right? I will make that note myself in Scrivener - I love scrivener, it keeps me organized - but I keep pressing on. Ain't nobody got time to go back. Keep moving forward. Get the damn draft done. Then you can go back and fix. You'll be editing for a while anyways.
But many, many, many writers - and again, this is why I lead off on mindset and who you are as a person and how you view yourself - many writers will go back. And they will critique, and they will fix and tweak - and what are they really doing?
What they're really doing is trying to reach perfection. You're never going to write the perfect novel. Never. It's not going to happen. Why aim for that? Write the best novel you can and move on. Believe in yourself. And if you are doing things like constantly going back and critiquing your work via editing, what does that do to your psyche? What does that do to your confidence?
I have begged you from the beginning of this show to take your space. There is space there for you; take it. Don't wait for somebody to hand it to you - go get it. But if you're constantly going back and editing and critiquing - if you're thoughts are anything like mine, there's a little bit of imposter syndrome going on. There's a little bit of doubt that you could even do this; that anybody would even bother to read it. All of those kinds of things and those things don't help you. Don't edit your work until the entire draft is done.
And the last one I'll offer to you is daily writing. Now we had this conversation in the Horrible Writing Writer's Support Group on Facebook - if you're not there yet why aren't you there? And we talked about daily writing. It doesn't mean that you have to sit down at your keyboard and punch out a thousand words every single day. Sometimes, and those of you who have been with the show a long time you know this, word counts can be low.
For me, there are days where a hundred words is what's going to get done, and it's all that's going to get done because I've got other things to do. But to write every day is imperative. To be in that story, to keep your mind fresh in that moment, is imperative. You have to do it every day. Even if that's just outlining a character. Working on a character profile for 15 minutes.
Everybody has 15 minutes. If you don't have 15 minutes, you've got a problem task and time prioritizing. That's all there is to it. Empowerment through candor. I'm not going to lie to you on this show - ever. If you cannot find 15 minutes in your day, you're doing something wrong. Or writing isn't truly a priority.
So find those 15 minutes and outline a character. That's still daily writing. And that's what I mean when I say to write daily. Everyday. Something quick. Something to keep that touch on that story. To keep it intimate to you. Doing that will help you overcome any blockages that you have. Keeping that intimacy with the story keeps it fresh; keeps you in that world. Keeps you liking it. Enjoying it.
And when you don't go back and edit, you don't hate it - not yet. You'll hate it when it's time to edit. Don't worry; your self-loathing will come. It's all a part of the cycle. But when do you put it in your business cycle? In the middle of the process, or after the process? Because I'm not talking about publishing the book without editing for the world's ridicule. I'm talking about just getting that first draft done and then going back. There will be plenty of time to beat yourself up then if you're looking for that type of action. But don't do it now.
One bonus comment I'll make that I've made on here before, so it's nothing new for long-time listeners, but always stop at a high point. An exciting point, a thrilling point, a controversial point. Stop your daily session at a juicy spot. Whatever juicy is for you.
Don't do what I used to do back in the day when I thought I had writer's block - aha! Look at that; a revelation from Paul. He used to believe in this, so he's been where I am right now. And I don't say that to be smartass. I say that to share my life lessons with you all so that I hope I can help you avoid them in your own writing journey. But what I use to do was, if it fell out this way in my writing session when I ended a chapter, boom! Man, I've got another chapter done. How good is that? And then I would go on with my day.
Well, the problem is trying to pick up a fresh chapter a day, two days, three days later - very problematic. So when you do things like write every day to keep that intimacy with the story, and then you stop in a juice point, you are ready to hit the ground running the next writing session.
I like to end chapters with cliffhangers. I like to - as best as I can in the moment, and where the story will allow because you know there is an ebb and flow to every story - I try to leave every chapter with some sort of cliffhanger. For you, the reader, when you pick up one of my novels, to go to that next chapter.
But think about that as a writer. You do that as a reader when someone really leaves you dangling at an end of a chapter; you want to keep going. Well, that's what I do for myself. I take advantage of those cliffhangers at the end of chapters, for example, and I go straight into the next chapter. I don't stop.
And usually, your scene-setting at the early part of a chapter, you're letting us know people, place, time, things . . . Right? So I will get that laid out in that next chapter. And I will stop the first time I come across a plot point where the story is going to take a turn; where the character says something important. How do I know it's important? Because I've outlined - Oh! Callback! Nice technique there, Paul - I've outlined things I want to have happen in that book so that I know that that comment just made by that character ties into something that's going to happen 20 chapters from now. How do you know you're getting there if you don't know where you're going, right?
So I will stop on that. What if it's not a chapter? I can't get through an entire chapter in a writing session. Fair enough. I don't most of the time either. Whenever something happens. Whenever somebody makes that comment. For those who do westerns and sci-fi and a lot of spec-fic that has action-type stuff; thrillers, horror - and you've got that action scene, that fight, whatever it is that race them away from the creature. Stop. Right in the middle of that character's panic. Their fear. Their belief that, "Oh my gosh, they're going to get the best of me. I'm dead." Stop. Walk away.
You're going to feel the tug. You're going to feel that story calling you back. Deny it. Unless you can guarantee yourself that you're going to get to another juicy point - deny it.
Try this for a month of your writing straight. Hopefull daily, right? But try it for a month, always ending on something juicy. Every day for a month. That's how you change behaviors, by the way. So that's why I ask you to do it for a month. But try that, and then come back to me and tell me how you feel about that. What you think about that.
I think you'll find if you take all of these tips, tools, and tactics that I've offered in this episode, that you're not going to have an issue and you'll be a convert. You'll be the next convert. One of us annoying converts who like to tell people that there is no such thing as writer's block - and there isn't. And I hope I've helped you see the possibility that there isn't.
You have to set up a system of deliberate actions. And you have to have the right mindset. Those working jointly will help you see through your own behaviors that there is no such thing as writer's block.
So just go write that damn story.
Until Episode 102. I hope you're enjoying this show. If you'd like me to keep doing this, if you want exclusives, please go on over to patreon.com/paulsating (P-A-U-L-S-A-T-I-N-G) and donate to the show. You can do that on the website paulsating.com and hit the support tab.
Also, make sure you give a listen to The Stories We Tell. We have five episodes out. Episode 6 is coming at the end of August. Another massive episode and they're a whole lot of fun.
Leave a rating and review for the show, please. Those things are desperately needed and totally awesome when they come in. And thank you to everybody who does. Tell a friend, tell your writing group, tell your writing community about this show if you believe it will help somebody in that group.
And of course, if you are a writer, an aspiring author, audio dramatist, poet - it doesn't matter folks; we've got people who write comics and comedy in that group - come over the Horrible Writing Writer's Support Group on Facebook. Answer the questions, or we're not going to let you in. And come join us for camaraderie, support, commiseration, and celebration. Because we're all more epic together. Peace.
This has been Horrible Writing, and hopefully, after this episode, you suck less than you did at the beginning. I am Paul Sating; your host extraordinaire. You can find me over on the TwitterVerse @writinghorrible, and over at paulsating.com/horrible-writing. Until next time, suck less.
Transcription by Renzee Lee over at Renzee Lee Freelancing. For fast turn around times on content writing, transcription, and editing services, email Renzee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally Posted: August 2019