How writer’s block finally caught up with me and how I (hopefully) overcame it
Let me start by saying that I’ve written seventeen novels in under four years.
I’m a full-time author with no other source of income so that shouldn’t really be a surprise. Writing is my job. And, like so many other jobs, I do it every single day. Accountants don’t hope to file some corporate accounts, hit the big time, and retire. Tree surgeons don’t expect to fell an enormous diseased oak and then buy a yacht and soak up rays in the costa del somewhere. Neither should authors.
Because the publishing industry is shrouded in secrecy and filled with gatekeepers, many people don’t really know how publishing and writing works. There are stereotypes of authors locked away in a dark room for years at a time; working on one amazing novel. They release it to the world and then… well, it depends on what you believe. They either have extraordinary success, both literary and financial, or they continue living their impoverished lifestyle.
Some studies will tell you that the average authors make approximately a bean and a piece of fluff a year. Some people will remind you of a certain Scottish author who attained untold riches. But the enormous middle ground is rarely mentioned. Presumably because, in the first instance Indie authors aren’t included in many studies, and in the second instance our lifestyle isn’t as fascinating as some.
Most full-time authors, and there are many of us making a living from writing, write every day and think of writing as a job.
I’m one of these people. I make a comfortable living, but I do need to continuously write. I sometimes take a few days off in between books, but I’m pretty much onto the next one straight away. At any one time I hope to have a book I’m currently writing, a book in editing, and a book either about to be or recently released.
I’m not currently in that situation for the first time in my writing career and the reason for that is something I used to scoff at: writer’s block.
I’m quite a practical writer, and person in general. I don’t think I have a muse, I don’t listen for a character’s voice in my head, I don’t need my bestest soft blankie in order to write, I don’t need the sound of rainfall on a tin roof. I just… write. Always have. Anywhere I am. My first novel was written almost exclusively on a busy train (over the course of many weeks, I didn’t write it on one journey!). I write at my desk, of course. But I also write in coffee shops, in waiting rooms, at airports, on holiday, in the car. Wherever. Because I treat writing like a job and a few hundred words here and there is part of that job.
And so, in seventeen novels, I’ve never suffered from writer’s block. I just write.
Or should I say, until COVID-19.
At first I was afraid, I was petri… no, wait, that’s a song.
At first… I was fine. No, really, I was fine.
I saw COVID coming over the hills and realised that we were in for a very rough time. Lockdown restrictions, breaking news alerts about death tolls, financial strife. I could see what was on the way but I just kept my head down and got on with work. As the world began to panic and buy and read fewer books, I just kept writing, hoping it would eventually bounce back.
The way I looked at it; I was extraordinarily lucky. I could work from home and so I didn’t have to go out and put myself and others at risk. Staying home was relatively easy because it wasn’t like I went out every day anyway. I don’t have children so I didn’t have to suddenly cope with having to homeschool them. In fact, life was very similar. It was just that instead of it being my choice to stay in, I was being asked politely by my Government to stay in.
And so, for the first few weeks… nothing really changed for me.
I mean, everything changed. I went to bed early, I doomscrolled my way through social media for hours at a time, I worried about my family and friends, I wanted to go out but knew I couldn’t, the only two things I did from week to week were grocery shopping and putting the bin out.
But as far as work, nothing changed. I woke up. I wrote throughout the day. I did some marketing and other associated author stuff. I went to bed.
It wasn’t until I finished that book, my seventeenth novel, and sent it off to the editor that I started to suffer. I didn’t notice at first. The in-between book time is always different for me. Sometimes I dive into the next book, sometimes I take a few days, sometimes a week passes before I get stuck into the next manuscript. But the gap between book seventeen and book eighteen grew and grew.
I started a manuscript and didn’t like it. I get this sometimes, but I always push through it. Being an author means sometimes you hate your own work and a little voice tells you that it’s bad. Usually, for me, if I push through and continue to write… I grow to like it. Which means I always want to push through because otherwise I might stop and start over which means wasted time and wasted words. And, in my opinion, when you start doubting yourself… you could well continue to do so in the future.
So, I didn’t like what I was writing, but I didn’t want to change the project either.
And so, eventually, I stopped.
I didn’t write for… I don’t even know how long. Days, definitely. Weeks, absolutely. Exactly how long… I don’t know. But I stopped writing for the first time in years. After a while, I actually thought I couldn’t write anymore at all and I considered quitting writing altogether. I’d even drawn up some wording to introduce my seventeenth novel as my last to take the pressure off of me and to give people an answer to the growing question of what I was working on next.
Eventually, I did decide to drop the project I was working on and pick up something else. But that didn’t work either. I just couldn’t sit down and write. I didn’t want to, didn’t feel I could.
And that was when I realised that I was suffering from the emotional stress of what was happening in the world. It had taken me a while, longer than most. But it had caught up to me in the end. Realising that was what was happening to me was an eye-opener. That’s when I let myself rest. I didn’t think about work, about writing, about anything like that. I read, listened to music, watched television and movies, and generally allowed myself to accept it had happened and step off of my treadmill a little. It’s times like that when I’m really grateful for the support of my Patrons.
After a while, I started to think about a story I’d like to tell. I didn’t write it. Just thought about it. A while longer passed and I felt I had to make some notes. Then five hundred words came. Then a thousand. Now I’m back to writing every day. I’m up to 22,000 words.
My key has been taking away my daily writing target and trying to become as invested in the characters as possible. Pushing aside other marketing tasks, no talking as much on social media, and looking after my mental health. It’s going to take me a while to get back to my normal patterns, and that’s okay. That’s normal in these extraordinary times.
So, my upcoming novel, Fitting In is being released without me having a book in editing and another bring written. This is the first time I’ve been in this situation and I don’t like it. But it’s better than the writer’s block I’ve been suffering from.
I’m back to writing every day and what’s even better is… I’m enjoying it again.