Writer's Block? Self-Doubt? Here's What I Do…

by sbh on Tuesday - 29 January 2008

in Uncategorized

Iron Bite

It’s a bit of a frustrating time for me. Superficially, some of this has to do with my n00b “Ruby on Rails”:http://www.rubyonrails.org skills and having very little knowledge of “AJAX”:http://www.ajax.org (you might notice an increase in Rails-related bookmarks in my ma.rked on “ma.gnolia”:http://ma.gnolia.com/people/sbhebert posts). OK, we’ll get over that for the time being. Breathe deep–let’s move on to something writing related…

h3. Blocked? Self-Doubt…

I don’t really know what to call what I’ve been experiencing. “Blocked” is one possible word; although, that sounds like I’m having bowel issues. In a future post I will be discussing how I use an “OmniOutliner Pro”:http://www.omnigroup.com document to organize and plan my writing process. I’m staring at that document right now. It is full of semi-fresh looking ideas. At the moment, I’m working on an idea that was captured in this document several weeks ago by this one-liner: “What if the TV simply ceased to work?”

The idea was/is to have a kid come to terms with a TV-less world. I hoped to create some humorous scenes in which he eats dinner at an actual “family” table for the first time in recent memory. He vaguely recalls doing this in the past–but he can’t remember when.

Is it a great idea? Probably not. And there’s the rub! Right there! Did you feel it?

I am my own worst critic. To me, being “blocked” is prejudging an idea to death. In the hands of a capable writer, this particular idea could be interesting. But, I begin to doubt myself. When self-doubt creeps in, you might as well hang up the towel! Now it’s difficult for me to even sit at the computer in front of this story because I feel like I’m managing manure. It’s difficult to sink into the fleece robe, put on my blues and a pot of green tea. Why? Self-Doubt.

Jeff Tweedy of “Wilco”:http://www.wilcoworld.net seems to feel something similar in a song titled “Woodgrain”:

I’m not a poet
And I know it
There is no deep secret
Tossing inside me

I have no timing
I can’t form my feelings
Sometimes I rhyme
Sometimes I don’t

So go ahead, take a look at my kitchen
Take a look at the woodgrain there
What’s it for? That hardwood floor
Is where I’m walkin’ and thinkin’

Walkin’ and thinkin’

About you

p>. lyrics courtesy of “a sea black with ink”:http://www.bemydemon.org/

I could whip out my guitar right now and sing that tune while staring at my story. I could do it. Right now.

h3. The Advice

So, what do you do? You’re stuck because you’ve beat yourself up from all kinds of angles on this story. You’ve looked at it and said: “Nope, you don’t gots the chops, brotha…” You took a day off; you ate a good meal. Heck, you even lit up the pipe (tobacco only!) in hopes of feeling “scholarly,” or “literary,” or “just plain cool.” Yet, when you sit down and open up your “Scrivener”:http://www.literatureandlatte.com document, your mind fills with self-loathing. What do you do?

First and foremost, I want to make this nice and clear: I don’t really know. I’m taking suggestions on the matter. If you’ve got one, post it below. Perhaps a lot of us have been through the same thing.

OK, second, let me tell you what I’m going to do about it:

**Move on.**

Is the story dead? No. Am I throwing it away? No. I don’t throw anything away. Ask my wife, she’ll confirm. Am I condemning it to an eternal slush pile?

Maybe. But, that’s not my intention! (I’m sorry, story…)

**Move on.**

So, as of today, I’m moving to the next idea on my little list. I’ve got about a dozen beginnings of stories waiting for me. Why am I killing myself over this one? Here are the advantages I see to moving on:

1. **Increased Productivity** – Face it. Right now, you’re not getting a lot accomplished. Might as well move on and get something else done.

2. **Increased Happiness** – Why do I write? Because it makes me happy. If something is stopping me from writing, then I should eliminate it–even if it is a writing project! Cut the dead weight (at least for now), and move on to something new.

3. **Increased Sense of Self-Worth** – Just as writing makes me happy, it also makes me feel like __somebody__. Why not forget about this particular idea (for now!), and move on? Move on!

Honestly, look at those three things I listed. An increase in those three areas is bound to be a good thing. Right?

Don’t feel guilty. Your story (or other writing project) will be waiting for you when you’re ready. In the meantime, get to work on a different project.

h3. A Day-Job Analogy

Finally, I’d like to give a day-job analogy.

Currently, I am developing a little web application for my company to use internally for tracking purposes (I don’t want to go into the ugliness of this, so I’m going to keep it on a pretty simple level). I am developing this application in Ruby on Rails and was quite excited to jump into AJAX for the first time.

After some moderate success getting in-place editing to work, I hit a massive roadblock called @in_place_collection_editor@. Again, I don’t want to dip into the minutiae here. Let me just say that this was a royal pain in the arse for a n00b like me. I vented my frustration to “my brother”:http://www.slaptijack.com, who said: “Is there some other facet of the project you could work on?”

Yeah–there sure was. I whipped up a quick “good enough” solution to the problem, simply because it was necessary to have this functionality, and moved on (← our theme!) to other aspects of the project. I achieved some success, simply by saying to the ridiculously difficult problem: “Hey–I’ll come back to you later!”

This salvaged my work day.

Likewise, I have decided to recycle this advice and move on to a new story idea. Here’s to gettin’ somethin’ done!

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