Writer’s Block? Maybe it’s “Writer’s Avoidance” Behavior

I was fortunate to attend a presentation given by author Kathy Steffen, who talked about ways to overcome writer’s block. One of the things she talked about was how writer’s block isn’t always a “block” of creativity, but you’re actually engaging in something she called “writer’s avoidance behavior.”

I feel that this is especially true for writers in today’s challenging market, because there are a lot of discussions that distract an author (or a potential author) from staying on the keyboard and writing. From conventions to a metric ton of posts about how often you should blog to developing a writer’s platform, there are often more discussions about how to market yourself than how to actually write. For a new author, that can be very confusing. After all, they don’t see what all the other published authors go through before they get online and start marketing themselves. They don’t see how many hours it takes to write a novel, then revise it and go through the editing, submission, approval, proofreading, etc. process. Of course, even though the experiences are different, the distractions are still the same and for authors that need to stick to a deadline, it can be very easy to lose yourself in a sea of babble.

Often, I receive a lot of questions about how I balance full-time job, part-time writing, and my marketing efforts. First and foremost, I spent a number of years focusing on “how to write” not “how to market.” When I was younger, I focused a lot on the mechanics of writing so the business portion of it wasn’t as prevalent and — as a result — the opportunities just weren’t there. As I got older, I entered the gaming industry and was able to transfer a lot of my experiences to a number of opportunities, but I was so heavily focused on learning how to fit my writing into another world (or game system) that I didn’t really care about the marketing aspect of this. Was I writing all the time? No, but I feel that I was writing more often. When I didn’t write, it was because there were other challenges that came up like dealing with contracts, rejection or issues with scheduling and payment. In a way, those challenges became roadblocks to writing and affected my creativity, but not for lack of trying.

This year, I’ve taken a hard look at why it’s been so difficult for me to get my third round of revisions done for my novel. I realized that I was avoiding the revisions because I felt I needed to keep active, to have a vibrant persona that allows me to attract and retain people interested in my work. Well, sure…that may (or may not be) important…but when it comes down to it — all the followers, friends, devotees, etc. in the world don’t matter unless you have something to show for it. Even with a platform, you can’t “sell” a blank page.

After jury-rigging my schedule and figuring out what was important, I realized that it is possible to be active, to use your existing platforms, etc. provided I schedule my time better. Sure, I might not be as “active” as I was, but if I get online at night…I’m probably engaging in some form of “writer’s avoidance” behavior.

I understand that other authors have the same challenges that I do. Sometimes, an interruption that takes the form of two loads of laundry can lead to an evening of a poor word count. However, I also feel that scheduling challenges isn’t the only reason why an author engages in “writer’s avoidance” behavior. Often, an author’s insecurities can manifest in any number of different ways and there are a lot of “writer’s avoidance” behaviors that can result from that. One trend that I’m seeing, are a number of “new” authors that really, really want to write…but spend most of their time following other authors online or talking “about” writing. In my mind, someone can talk about the state-of-publishing and how to be a writer all they want — but if they never actually sit down and do it…then they’ll never “be” a writer. In many ways, it’s easier to talk about something you want to do from a theoretical or a hopeful perspective, because you’re trying to boost yourself up. Sometimes, though, you just have to disappear for a while and ignore all the naysayers and/or the cheerleaders. Sometimes, you just gotta focus on YOUR work and forget about everything else.

Be sure to check out Kathy’s article about battling writer’s block. If you have any insight or additional thoughts to share, I invite you to comment below.

Wannabe Writer vs Professional Author

I’ve been writing for a long time, but throughout my experiences I haven’t always been a “pro.” There are a lot of differences between a “wannabe” writer and a professional, that sometimes can be hard for passionate wordsmiths to admit. But the reality is, being a writer isn’t some romantic “get-away” job, where you magically have tons of cash that allows you to whisk yourself away to an undisclosed location for months on end–where of course you work on your masterpiece.

Yeah, there’s a reason why that’s “only in the movies.” The reality of being a writer is that it sucks. Sometimes, it really, really sucks. It’s harder to make friends, because you spend a lot of time behind a computer; and you have a lot of competition. You often put more hours of work into an assignment than what you get out of it; obsessing over phrases, characters, and things you “could have done better.” People proclaim themselves to be writers all the time, but it doesn’t mean that they are. Even when you are officially “a writer,” there is no “insta-reward” where the sound of a thousand trumpets heralds your success. Oh, if only that were true, right?

Unfortunately, because everyone is a writer, it means that people who write for a living-full or part-time-have to work twice as hard at gaining credibility. Or does it?

I say, “No, that’s not true.” Here’s why. Those of us who want to call ourselves writers do so to make money. Period. We are entertainers, bloggers, marketers, information specialists, wordsmiths, and a host of other roles to use our talents to put food on the table. No credibility is necessary because if you’re earning income from putting words on the page, then you’re making it, regardless of what anyone says or thinks.

Here’s the sad part about this: It takes a lot of time and effort to get there. I’ve written for free, for newspapers, as part of other jobs, and pretty much anywhere I could (pending a wicked case of self-defeatism and writer’s block) until I got into a position that I love. Ramen noodles and tuna fish? Don’t like them so much now, but they are quite handy when you have a strict budget because you’re working a job you don’t like, along with a job you don’t get paid for, so you can get the job you want.

Wannabe writers are the folk that tell me, “Oh yes, you’re a writer? Did you know I used to write in h.s.? I’m sure I can write, too.” Or better, “Can you teach me how to write?” Or worse, “I have unpublished work that I’ll never submit, based on Harry Potter, but you know you have to protect yourself so I buy copyrights like crazy.” As a rule, I try to be nice to everyone, because you never know where someone might end up. But wannabe writers get on my nerves every once in a while because I literally eat, sleep and breathe words. I’ve visited forums all over the web, and the last thing that I want to be is an arrogant writer who is so condescending toward everyone else they couldn’t get a fan-base if they’re life depended on it. Believe you me, there are a lot of people who “claim to know,” but…if they aren’t making money doing what they’re doing, then it’s probably not someone you want to get advice from.

So if you sit on your laurels, don’t make money writing, whine and moan about how “talented” and “undiscovered” you are, and never submit, then you probably are a “wannabe.” That for me, is the difference between a wannabe author and a professional writer. A wannabe may write, however frequently or infrequently, but doesn’t know the market and doesn’t submit. Even if he (or she) submits occasionally, writer’s guidelines are more like “suggestions,” and rejection letters turn into bouts of major depression where each one requires a trip to the therapist, a jar of chocolate ice cream, and a crab session for six months to five years.

A professional writer keeps their head, knowing that sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that cause rejections, and keeps submitting. A pro writer might flinch at the rejection letter, but she certainly won’t stop writing as a result. Rejected work are excellent opportunities to look, see, and feel if there are improvements to be made or other markets to submit to. Period. A pro writer also knows that he is not a machine; there will be highs and lows, there will be times when you write 20,000 words and times when you can’t put one sentence together. Above all, a pro writer never stops thinking about their career because she knows that the minute she stops? She misses out on potential opportunities. Writing truly is a lifestyle–not just a job.

I’ve found that “wannabe writers” are very sensitive, so much so that any criticism-no matter how diplomatic it is-sends them crying or in a tizzy. Decide for yourself if you want to associate with those types of people; it’s up to you to build your own network. On the other hand, the ones that enjoy learning, the ones that work hard to be a professional writer and know the business, are the authors you do want to connect with-because we were all there one day.

Other writers are great for networking, but don’t take it personally if they make assessments about you and don’t return the friendliness. Every author has their own set of criteria who they want to network with, no matter how nice you are.

So next time someone tells you, “I’m a writer,”smile. So are you. Right?

Monica Valentinelli >

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