Written by Chloe Higgins – Author and Writing Coach
If you’ve spent any time on the internet or in any writing workshop, you will have heard the term ‘writer’s block’. The idea is everywhere, and everyone seems to be suffering from it.
If I’m honest, I think it’s crap.
Many people have an unrealistic view of what ‘writing’ really is. Most people know it takes a lot of work, but Hollywood has set us up to believe it can all come together in a few sleepless nights of frantic writing. In this romanticised view of the process, it seems like all it takes is a bit of inspiration to create a fully-formed, ready-to-publish manuscript. So, when we sit down to write and the ink from our pen doesn’t flow quite as freely, it can feel like failure.
Anytime I hear people talking about writer’s block, what they’re usually talking about is self-doubt. This is often linked to perfectionism. The quickest way for me to get over so-called writers block is to lower my expectations.
I do this by writing without thinking. I let whatever wants to come out, come out. It isn’t pretty, or well-structured or even very ‘clean’. It’s word vomit on the page, but it’s something: a first draft.
Let’s be realistic and face the fact that all first drafts suck. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing your first manuscript or your 35th, your first draft will not be perfect. In fact, your final manuscript will almost definitely look wildly different from the first draft you get down on the page. So, just get it down. Just let it suck. And then worry about quality and editing later.
Your work will always need rigorous editing. Having a first draft just means that you now have something on the page to work with and that’s much better than letting the myth of writer’s block prevent you from getting anything down at all.
Writing and editing are two very different—and separate, in my opinion!—processes. They’re two completely different mindsets but many people try to conflate them and do them together in order to be more efficient. It’s easy to see why—deadlines loom, expectations are high, it’s tempting to try to create a polished result on your first go—but in my opinion, this approach produces shallow work.
Writing is about letting go of control, editing is about taking back control. Writing is where you let it all out, editing is where you start to think about craft and clarity. They’re two distinct processes and they should not be combined. Not if you want to do either of them well.
If you think you have a bad case of writer’s block, it’s worth checking in with yourself and seeing whether you’re trying to edit instead of write. They’re not the same thing.