At some point in life, most people entertain the idea of writing a book. It is said that 80% of people dream of doing so but only 1-2% actually follow through with that dream and finish writing. There’s plenty of reasons for this. One of the most common I hear when talking to people is, ‘I don’t know where to start’.
Then, those same people proceed to tell me all about what they want to write, in detail! In fact, they could talk for hours on the subject or story. However, as soon as they sit down with the intention to write a book, they shut down.
It is essentially writer’s block (even though they haven’t actually started writing!)
“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”― Erica Jong, The New Writer’s Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career
There are many reasons for this block or paralysis. They could range from fear and exhaustion to perfectionism, impostor syndrome (which is really fear), lack of time (or is it an excuse caused by fear?) and even lack of structure.
I have previously written my five top tips for beating writer’s block. What I’ve learnt since then, working with authors and on my own writing journey has led me to write this post today. What has been truly interesting in my own experiences and seeing it in others, is the apparent disconnect between our mind-voice, our thoughts – and the words we put down on paper or screen.
Suddenly, we’ve made it mean so much more, we’ve put layers upon layers of pressure on ourselves and find ourselves paralysed in fear. Agonising over word choices or phrasing. Asking ourselves, does this sound stupid? Who wants to read this anyway? Who am I to write this? These are all common thoughts writer’s experience at the beginning of the journey. But what about that voice that says, this writing doesn’t even sound or feel like me? What do you do then?
Why we lose our writing flow
So many of us are on a quest to find and be our authentic selves. We want to speak our truth. And it’s a valid, honourable quest but it can feel elusive. One of the main reasons we suddenly find that we’re unable to articulate ourselves accurately is that we’ve made it mean something. It means too much, in fact.
Think about it like this. Imagine telling a friend about a defining moment in your life. Maybe they’ve heard it told before but you start anyway. You set up the scene and introduce the characters, give some background and context. Maybe you remember a detail from earlier in the timeline or make a joke. Perhaps you go off on a tangent for a while or elaborate it to a new level of craziness for humour. In this instance, you’re relaxed and having fun with it. There’s no pressure to tell it perfectly or get everything in the right order. It all flows naturally.
Then your friend tells you that you should turn it into a book. Cue panic and paralysis. Suddenly, every word choice is torment and you find yourself spend hours agonising over describing the exact shade of pink top you wore that day. The essence and flow have been lost to you and so is the fun. Why? Because you’re thinking about all the people who will eventually read it and possibly judge you in some way. You’re thinking about all the publishers who might read and reject it or the -heaven forbid- one star review on Amazon.
In that moment, you’ve forgotten that you have the ability to go back and edit. That you can add in that pivotal detail that you’ve only just remembered. You’ve forgotten that you can redraft and edit this story to within an inch of its life… later. But you can’t do any of that without getting the story out first.
Often, and this happens a lot with memoirs, the first draft is a bit like word vomit (and I mean that in the nicest possible way!) That first draft is when you relive your life or your story and by the end, it’s a relief. This, in my opinion, is a crucial, cathartic part of healing because by writing the story, you slow your mind and really process it. If there’s been a fair amount of time since the events passed, it can be great for reflections too. But the truth is, you will find that first draft messy. It will be long and winding. Not bad, but with some tidying up, it would truly shine.
Remember, writing is an art you can refine with practice. Very few authors are perfect from their first-ever manuscript. But if telling yourself that the first draft is okay not being perfect isn’t enough and you’re still stuck in your head, what else can you do?
There’s two things you can do:
Diary writing is a perfect place for your innermost thoughts to flow unfiltered. You can handwrite, type in MS Word or even get yourself a private online blog. Knowing that it is a safe space that no one will see, automatically gives your mind permission to relax… and that is when the words start to flow.
If you’ve been keeping a diary already and want to pull stories from your own life experience – go back to your diary/blog and take them from there! It will no doubt be in a much more raw format than you may want to share but it’s a good basis to refine and will capture much more of the essence and detail than you can remember because it was so new.
2. Dictate or record
This option is great for saying a lot in a short space of time so works well if you don’t feel confident writing and can’t get your thoughts onto paper. Imagine you are telling a friend. If you’re an accomplished speaker, tell your story as you would on stage at an event. You can dictate straight into MS Word or you could even record audio and upload it to a service like Otter or Rev and get it transcribed afterwards.
For example, if you find that going for a walk really grounds and relaxes you, why not try recording your story on your phone while you go for a walk? Cast your mind over all the spaces and activities that you love and leave you feeling calm – can you bring your writing into that space? Coupling writing with an activity you enjoy can help keep the writing process fun, enabling the words to get flowing again.
By recording or dictating you are once again, tapping into your relaxed and unfiltered state of mind which will get the words flowing again, leaving you with a solid base to edit at a later date.
I’ve recently been trying dictation myself to great effect. There’s something about it that mentally frees you up and bypasses the fears of being judged or seen. I highly recommend that you try it and develop your own journaling practice (plus it’s great for your mental health as I wrote on this blog post). Let us know if you give it a try in the comments and how you get on.
Will you be trying dictation for writing your book?
Camilla – CEO of Tecassia