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.

4 Responses to Writer’s Block? Maybe it’s “Writer’s Avoidance” Behavior
  1. Ann Marie

    One big turning point for me was that beyond the classes, exercises, and how-tos, how I figured out what worked for me and what I had trouble with was by writing–I couldn’t just read a lot about creating characters, for example, but I had to put pen to paper and create a bunch of characters. The writing may not appear in any manuscript, but I advance in my ability to get what’s in my brain on paper in some form.

  2. Jay Swartzfeger

    The last month or so I’ve been working double shifts and I’ve never been more productive. I’ve heard this from writers who are also parents — kids are a cure for writer’s block. You simply don’t have the luxury of time to muse about your apparent lack of ability to get things done. You just do it.

    • Monica Valentinelli

      Thanks for taking the time to comment about your experiences. I find the same thing to be true on my end as well, though admittedly I’m trying to get the non-fiction work done prior to the fiction. 🙂

  3. Jim Johnson

    Great article, Monica. It’s very easy to talk “about” writing rather than actually sitting down and writing. I suspect that’s why there are so many writer forums on the internet–lots of us like to talk to each other and trade insights and do just about everything except write.

    One of the things I’ve done to force myself to write is to get a writing tool that has no distractions on it. I use a simple Alphasmart Neo rather than a laptop to compose my first drafts. No internet, no games, no software other than a basic word processor. That and my ipod are all I need to write.

    I also try very hard to limit my time on writing blogs and websites. It’s so easy to get sucked into discussion after discussion.

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

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