Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Break-up Letter to Writer's Block

My whole life, I've been a writer. I had a short story (very short) published in the newspaper in a children's competition when I was in elementary school. I've won essay contests. I've always loved to write in some form, even if it was just in my journal at times.

But for most of my adult life, my writing has been professional--when I was in school it was academic papers for classes, and then it transitioned into journal articles, book chapters and finally a book (albeit a short one) as a research psychologist. Even during those times of purely non-fiction, professional writing, I had personal blogs and other creative outlets on the side.

I've always wanted to write a fiction novel, and I had an idea for one come to me a couple of years ago. I wrote a tiny bit here and there, but the life of a professor is a busy one, and a novel is no small undertaking, so it remained mostly a 'someday' sort of dream for a long time, until I discovered National Novel Writing Month in 2012. I committed to doing my best that year, knowing I probably wasn't going to make the full 50,000 words, but determined to use it as a tool to get as far as I could. I ended up just a few words shy of 25,000 words, and ended the month without my 'winner' certificate, but with a new-found confidence that I could and would write my novel.

My work responsibilities continued until I left my then-job in August of last year, which allowed me to put a lot of negative forces in my life behind me; interestingly, I'm more busy now with my new responsibilities than I was then, but I seem to have so much more time and energy for writing, because the toxic aspects of that situation are no longer a weight on my soul (those sorts of things shouldn't have such an impact, but they do, don't they? Ah, well, that's a story for another time and place). The point is, as I transitioned into the groove of my new responsibilities, I made sure from the start to carve out an area in my life for writing. That set the scene for NaNoWriMo 2013, where I was able to write my 50,000 words, and more--at the end of the month, my novel was nearly 90,000 words long. I cannot recommend NaNoWriMo highly enough--it's a blessing for people like me who need to a way to shut off their 'internal editors' and just get words down on paper.

I've continued on strong since then, and have finished my first draft, which I've been advised I should set aside for a few weeks before I start my revision process. In the meantime, I've also been advised to keep writing every day. As part of this daily writing, I've started a series of writing exercises with a writing buddy, to help me work out those fiction muscles that have been in the background of my non-fiction professional writing for so long.

The first of those exercises, a part of Writer's Digest's Writing Prompt Boot Camp.  In this exercise, you're supposed to write a letter breaking up with writer's block that starts with the prompt "Dear Writer's Block, it's not you, it's me...". The exercise put into words the lessons that NaNoWriMo helped me learn, advice that I've found echoed in the advice of a number of successful writers since.

Here, for your general amusement, is my official break-up with Writer's Block.


Dear Writer's Block,
                It's not you, it's me. For a long time now, I've done things your way. I'll sit in front of my computer screen, and second-guess myself until I'm frozen like the arctic in winter. (Wait, are there seasons at the north and south pole? I don't think so...dammit, I knew I should have paid attention in my college geography class). See, there I go again. I'll start to write, but before I finish a sentence, I'm already going back and second-guessing every word I wrote. I hear the voices in my head telling me that what I'm writing is stupid, and that I'm choosing the wrong words, and really, do I want to write it like that, and OMG, how ridiculous was that last phrase? So I delete. And then I start again, and before I'm halfway done, the voices start up again. So I delete again. Until I sit, frozen. Tapping my finger on the keyboard, but not pressing any keys.
                Then I decide that the problem is my idea--it sucks. Nobody would ever want to read anything on that topic, so why am I wasting my time? What is the point of sitting here writing about crap that nobody will ever read? No point, none at all. Why not just go play Candy Crush until I get a real idea, for heaven's sake?
                Or, I have a decent idea, or at least I think I do, and I sit down to write, and then I realize: how am I supposed to write without having everything plotted out? I don't know how this is going to end. Or, I know how it's going to end, but I don't know how to start! Or I know how to start, but I'm not sure how to get to the end from there. No, what I need to do is, plot it out in my head. And while I'm plotting, probably the best thing to do is...play Candy Crush.
                But see, I've come to realize, I'm better than that. I don't mean I'm a better writer than that. What I mean is, I might be the worst writer in the world--but I'm not going to let that stop me.  I read a quote today from an famous writer who says, in essence, that in order to be a writer, you have to be brave enough to write badly. I take that to mean that if you aren't brave enough to just sit down and let yourself write without being afraid that your word choice or you sentence structure or your idea is horrible, you'll never write anything. If you aren't brave enough to start writing out what plot you do have because you're too worried you'll never figure out the rest, you'll never get any sort of plot put down on paper at all. I've got to be brave enough to just write what I write, and take the chance that it will suck. Because if I do that and I end up with a bunch of pages that suck--I can fix them.  But If I write nothing at all...well, I'll have nothing, and nothing gives you very little to work with.
                So I get now that it isn't you that's getting in my way--there is no writer's block. There is only my fear that what I put down onto paper won't be good enough. And once I strip that away, the words will start to flow. And then I'll have something to work with.



© Michelle M. Chouinard 2014 All rights reserved.


  1. well written. I think everyone needs to do this. :)

    Good luck with your writing

    1. Aw, thank you!!! You are so sweet!!!! :)

    2. I admit it, I had a cookie from the Cookie-jar.

      I think that's why I am so sweet.

    3. Oh noes! I hope it didn't have Nano-bots in it!!

    4. It must have been.
      I didn't get them ...
      *looks around*


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