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Writer’s Block & Trust

This week, I’m trusting the process.

The writing process, that is.

Doubt has been my white noise for a few years. Always there, even if I wasn’t cognizant of it. Grating. Grinding. Stopping me in my tracks before I had a chance to get started. And I’ve been dangling from the ledge for far too long. Something had to change.

On Sunday night as I flipped to a new week in my planner, I wrote words I needed to be reminded of.

Trust the process. All of it.

My goal this week was to just give in and follow where I was led.

When writing, or at least drafting, the only “tangible” measure of success is the number of words added at the end of the day. Getting those foundational words down so they can be read, understood, built upon, and turned into something much greater than the first draft is a necessity.

Somewhere along the way, I turned those word counts into a mountain, and because of it, most days in the last few years, my word count has been zero.

There were days I was able to write 1,500, but most days were between zero and 500. My goal is 3,000 words because I know I can consistently reach that . . . or I used to be able to.

For someone who quit teaching to write full-time, 250 words a day totally sucks. It sure doesn’t help replace my former salary.

And as often as I’ve used the word writer’s block to describe what was happening to me, it went deeper. At times, I didn’t know my characters well enough to truly get their motivations aside from the trite, or I’d run up against a plotting issue I didn’t know how to tackle or research that would take me off my path.

More importantly, I no longer had faith that I would ever have a 12K-word day that used to be a monthly thing, if not every weekly. Those 3K-word goals I regularly knocked out of the park we’re now a distant memory.

I’d lost faith in the process and myself.

  • I was afraid of wasting time writing words I’d later delete.
  • I was afraid of veering so far off my outline that I’d lose the plot, both literally and figuratively.
  • I was afraid of wasting words, as if I only had a finite number my muse would allow in a lifetime.

And to add chaos to all that, I piled on a huge helping of perfectionism as well. If I couldn’t do it well, what was the point in starting?

That is toxic thinking that needs to be shut down by challenging it.

So, I’ll share a few thoughts that have helped me. If you’re struggling with writer’s block or a plot block, maybe they can help you as well.

Drafts are supposed to be messy. I’ve known this for years, but for some reason, I started believing I could birth a fully formed novel on the first shot.

I’m not smart enough for that no matter what my subconscious has tired to convince me of over the years. And no matter how much outlining I do beforehand, the process still gets messy. Despite seeing wonderfully crafted stories hitting my editing inbox each week, that is not how those stories looked on the first draft, and I’ve needed to remind myself of that.

It’s okay that I no longer have those fantasy-worthy word days. Those 250- and 500-word days are just as valuable, and they get me that much closer to The End.

Each day matters, and discounting the low-word-count days only leads to disappointment and further defeatism. And who can write when their best attempts are deemed worthless? Not this lady!

Trusting the process allows my muse and me to explore areas that are begging for attention. They’re whispering for a reason.

I may not keep the ten-thousand-word tangent I just went on, but in the process (there’s that word again), I’ve discovered invaluable information about my characters. Perhaps I thought Charlie wanted to keep his secrets, but after sending Charlie on a plane, I discovered a wound I’d been too blind to see before. My focus was on the other side of the room until I saw how much he craved telling his story to someone he wouldn’t risk hurting. That’s valuable to me as a writer because if Leo knew that’s how Charlie felt, he’d feel horrid for not being open enough to Charlie.

Just writing that last little bit made my mind start spinning another yarn.

Writing must be practiced and made a part of every week for me to get better at it and for it to become second nature again. Not necessarily every day, but every week I need to write fiction.

I can dream of my perfect writing days, try to get my writing studio or my life just so, but if I never attempt to write, wtf does it matter? I’ve just ticked off another day on my failure calendar, and I’m damn sick of that thing having more Xs in it than I have words on the page.

In that same vein, there is no perfect time of the day to write. Just sit down and write, because in the end, that’s what matters. No matter where I am, if on the computer, sitting in the car typing on my phone, or soaking in the tub with a fountain pen in hand, I just need to write.

I ran across advice years ago about writing first thing in the morning. That’s a lovely notion, getting words down right away when I’m still too sleepy for doubt to fully take root. Bonus: if I have a rough start, I have the rest of the day to make up my word count. Plus, it puts me in the writing mindset for the rest of the day.

Except, I need to parent and run a business and walk the dog and take the car in for oil changes and go to doctor appointments. So if I’ve deemed morning as golden and I miss my writing slot, well hell! The whole damn day is shot.

But that’s a lie!

I have sweet spots in the day for writing, but they have changed over the years, and I can’t afford to wait for those moments of perfection. When I first started writing, my miracle time was evenings, and I’d write late into the night. In 2012, mornings seemed to work best. Now I’m back on an evening sweet spot again. Whatever works, I’m taking it and running with it, which brings me to . . .

Stickers really work! Especially when I put a beloved, saved, favorite one in my planner at the start of the day.

I can hear some of you sticker lovers gasping at my potential waste of a sticker, but I’d rather waste a sticker than a day of writing. I did this as a challenge to see if it would even work. I thought about that sticker all day until I managed to buckle down and write. So I’m going to buy more fab word-count stickers. I plan on using up everything I have very soon.

Editing is still writing. And it’s my favorite part, but I have to draft first!

Since my day job is now working as a freelance editor, I’m constantly fixing things. Those manuscripts are always near the end stage, and since I’ve not written anything new in ages, I sorta forgot how many words I used to add to a manuscript between drafting and sending it to my editor.

On Spark, I nearly doubled the word count. I get the bones down first. Then I spend weeks weaving threads here and there, filling in details, cutting others. It’s truly where a story comes to life for me.

I love the editing process. And now I’ve found a few tools to help me keep my feet to the fire when drafting, which is much less enjoyable for me.

What tricks have you used to get your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard? Do stickers work as well for anyone else? And how can sticky paper have so much influence?

If you have any favorite word-count stickers, leave a link in the comments. My fave sticker maker is no longer printing hers and has moved over to selling the files through her Etsy store instead. If I had a Cricut and a color printer, that would work, but alas, I do not. So I’m in the market for new awesome stickers.

Thoughts?

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