My fear of the blank page stopped me writing for years. The need for perfection in first draft paralysed me, because it’s so darned impossible!
I wanted to write as long as I can remember. I used to cut up paper to make little stapled books to write and illustrate as a kid. In my teens, I started writing an epic fantasy novel. In my twenties and thirties, I started writing romances. The problem was, I never went beyond starting. I permanently stuck on chapter one, locked in a losing battle to get that first line and that first page and that first chapter just right before I went any further.
What didn’t help was early teaching from my family that talented people got it right first time, and not getting it right first time was a sure sign on lack of talent, so give up now. That little matter of constant practice and work and learning their craft and all the failed attempts nobody saw, that doesn’t make any difference. Anybody who’s worth a rat’s dropping of doing anything gets it right first go.
Now my response is “Yeah, sure they do!”
Unfortunately, that early learning got reinforced in the creative writing classes I took at university. Our lovely teacher put a lot of emphasis on flash fiction. She encouraged us to write, and write a lot, but editing was never mentioned once in the two year course. All the aborted beginnings of stories in my writing portfolio (we had to hand in every single creative word we wrote during the semester- emphasis on quantity not quality) were never commented on.
After that, every time I had a story idea and started to write, I’d get to the end of chapter one, read it back, and give up until the next story idea struck, hoping that would magically be better.
*shakes head at poor misguided younger me, and considers weeping over all the lost years of writing time*
It took until I was the ridiculous age of 48 to actually finish a first draft, through doing a Jan No (like Nanowrimo, but January), where the need to keep getting words down and keep moving forward stopped me going back to despair over my first pages and stop writing any further when I couldn’t get them right straight off.
Okay, that first completed draft was almost all rubbish. I’d read an insane number of stories, but I had no idea how to structure a story. I had no idea about character arc. The plot was episodic and nonsensical. But I did it. I wrote The End. I had something I could work with and edit.
All needing to “get it right” creates is fear, and fear creates resistance, and resistance creates writer’s block.
I’ve managed to get past the fear of the blank page more than a few times now, but I always have that resistance to starting a new story. While it’s in my mind, it’s still perfect. As soon as I start to write, the perfection evaporates. I need to choose, holding on to the perfect story no-one else but me can ever know, or writing it down though, so even though it will inevitably be flawed, it can be shared.
Back then, I used to write, but abandon the story after one page or one chapter because it wasn’t “good enough” in first draft. Now, I have more sophisticated tools at my disposal, usually over-preparation before I feel ready to start writing. I love my charts and my plans and my fill-in-the-box forms! And research, the ideal procrastination method. My next story will be a historical. I have pages and pages of things I want to research, make sure I get right, thousands of words of notes on the characters and their back stories and their conflicts. But in the end, I just need to start writing.
So I’m glad today to see this fun and free mini-workshop available from Holly Lisle, the Five Minute Fix – Cure for the Blinking Cursor, for today only. It’s a taster excercise for a new updated paid-for course she’s offering from tomorrow, How to Think Sideways Ultra, offering writers tools for kick starting creativity and getting the first draft done.
I’ve learned from Holly for a while. Her online workshops and tutorials were the first how-to-write-fiction stuff I discovered when I decided to get serious about writing and finally do something about my abandoned dream. I’m slowly working her way through her original How to Think Sideways course. The volume of material in that course is tremendous. Just the course downloads are 1.3 GB, so I feel like I’ve had way better value for money than a lot of other online writing courses I’ve done. Holly is a gifted teacher, someone who loves teaching and supporting other writers. She shows how she does it, but isn’t prescriptive. And she does write, not just teach!
Here’s the blurb for the writer’s block exercise-
If you’ve ever sat staring at the blinking cursor, trying to find the right, the perfect, the one and only way to start your story (or your chapter, or your day’s writing), trying to will words onto the page…
…Discover the PERMANENT five-minute fix for this problem—the technique Holly uses to get words quickly on days when SHE’S having a hard time getting started.
Okay, now I have to go do it myself instead of blogging as a way to procrastinate!
(Full disclosure- the links to the mini-workshop are affiliate links- so if you decide to sign up for the full course after clicking through, I’ll earn a fee. But I only recommend things I use myself. I paid full price for the older version HTTS workshop, and I believe it’s a hugely useful training for writers.)