We are talking about the usual problems all the time. I myself have typed imposter syndrome so many times that it comes up in my predictive text and autocorrect. If you google writer’s block you get over 23 million results in a split second. Not to mention the tons of ideas to come up with tons of ideas, the exercises to finetune your writing voice and the productivity hacks to beat procrastination, to build a better writing routine, to get the fiction writing done before you start your day.
They are so typical and frequent that while we are solving the most significant problems in our writing lives we forget about some of the underrated issues that can stop us from thriving.
They are not a lesser form of hindering factors, they are there, but while the list of the above comes up on a daily basis, these occur only occasionally and therefore they seem less important. When you need to deal with putting out the fire of your burning house it is easy to ignore a splinter in your thumb — but you need to deal with that too eventually because it’s uncomfortable, painful and it can get nasty only too quickly.
Here are the few problems I find underrated and untackled — and here’s how to manage them.
The finished-project depression
When you struggle with starting something or finishing that draft you have been working at forever it seems very unreal that you would ever get depressed by having a finished product. But it happens. Especially if you work on something for a long time and it becomes a part of your routine, a part of your life, or if it is an exceptionally vulnerable piece that takes up a huge emotional space in your days.
You submit your draft, you hit publish — and then what? You are empty. Your hands feel idle, your brain feels vacant, your ideas are missing and now you have no idea what to do about it. You were looking forward to the moment when it’s finally done, but then it hits you with full force: what if I can’t replicate it ever again? What if I never do anything good again? What if?
This is the time to celebrate and recharge your batteries. Give yourself some credit and pat yourself on the back. Brag about what you have achieved and collect all the praise you can get — if your own validation feels insufficient. Take a conscious break from writing — decide on the time and stick to your decision. Give yourself 24 hours, a week or a month — without guilt and second thoughts. Distract yourself from the words and indulge in another hobby. If your writing became more than a hobby then you need a new hobby, you know that, right? Look for one and spend time with it. Spend time with your friends and family you ignored during the creation process. Move, exercise and relax. You deserve it. Don’t let your inner slave-master push you onto another project before you had your resting time.
The I-always-write-about-the-same-things distress
You have a look at your last articles, last drafts and there is a whole list of recurring themes and characters all the time. It’s not coincidental, you keep repeating yourself. First, it’s sort of cute, but then you start wondering whether others notice it too. Imposter syndrome hits: you are a fraud. Okay, you might be quite good at writing about yoga, but nothing else works. Okay, you might create a great male character, but he appears in each and every draft you write — it’s only that his eye colour of blue not brown this time. You duck, and brace for impact — they will find it out. You almost want to be found out.
Relax, it’s all okay. You have an audience who reads you for a very good reason: they are interested in your topic, they like your stories and characters and they like your writing voice. No one is that critical with you as you are with yourself. You have your niche for a reason, but to give you a bit of peace of mind you can do this: experiment and diversify. Exaggerate and turn it around.
If you always write in the same niche find another topic that can be important for the same target audience. Know them, learn about them, talk to them. Find out what else they are interested in.
If you find yourself writing the same character all the time, take one trait of him, exaggerate it to the extreme and watch how that alters his position in your plot. Or alternatively take your protagonist and twist him to become your villain. At the end of the process, you wouldn’t recognise the character anymore, let alone your readers.
The someone-took-my-idea-dammit rage
I am not talking about plagiarism, but the occasion when you have the most brilliant book idea and the most exceptional approach to an essay — and shock-horror-scandal it has been already written! Someone had the same idea and they had it before you!
First, there is literally nothing new under the sun — when it comes to ideas. Second, okay, this might hurt… if someone has the exact same idea as you, maybe you need to take up your ideation process a notch, you need to evaluate your own ideas better and kill the very first, very obvious ones at once. This way you can assure that you are not spending time with something that might occur to every other writer on earth. Third, just because the idea is the same it doesn’t mean that your approach or your execution needs to be the same.
According to a formula that I created based on my years of evaluating advertising ideas, the best ideas can be described by three variables: originality of the idea, novelty of the approach and uniqueness of the execution. You can read about it here:
You can check your ideation process, or you can work on your novel approach and unique execution (this is your writing voice).
The too-many-ideas anxiety
We are talking about writer’s block a lot. Staring at the empty page, not being able to start, being paralysed by our own inhibitions — it’s very common. But what happens, when you need to face the opposite? When you don’t get to do anything because you are working on too many things at the same time? When one idea leads to another and your draft folder is overflowing with half sentences, one-paragraph wonders and never finished pieces?
You need to have discipline — to get through this anxiety. It might sound easier said than done, but there is only one thing to do: pick a topic and work on it. If it doesn’t work out — throw it away. Give it your best but if it’s not really yours, then file it in a different folder and revisit it at a later point in life.
Take this advice from Neil Gaiman:
This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.
The I-want-my-comfort-zone-back jitters
We all have topics we are comfortable with. We might say it is a difficult topic, but we are even comfortable with the difficulty of it — it’s a calculated risk. And it still feels safe and it still feels to be your choice. But sometimes you wander outside your comfort zone. You might encounter someone who inspires you to try out a different form, to venture into a very personal vulnerable confession, to introduce an unusual item to your routine.
It can easily unbalance you and make you squirm. You get anxious and jittery — this is not what you have signed up for.
Maybe it’s not the time to leave your comfort zone if it makes you more anxious than it excites you, then stop it, get back in there and choose another time.
If you can feel that this is exciting and good and might be only slightly bigger than you expected you can try to conquer it. Go for it, attack it with what you have, experiment, go all-in. Remember — this is not a fight, you don’t have enemies here, the only one you can conquer is yourself. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone — but you.
Never forget, no matter what type of problem is thrown your way — writing is a way of self-expression and it contributes to your self-growth. Sure it might challenge you and sometimes even scare you, but if it’s nor scary, it’s probably not even worth the trouble.
Keep writing, it’s going to be okay.
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