We’ve all had ‘helpful’ advice about becoming a writer like, ‘Just write’, ‘If it’s important to you, you’ll make time,’ or even ‘Inspiration shows up when you’re working’. I put helpful in quotations because, when you’re staring at a blank page, they’re no help at all.
The thing about a blank page is, it leaves you with nothing to look at but yourself. And that can be pretty scary when every part of you wants to write something brilliant, or at least something good. My advice? Forget that – write something rubbish. Don’t try to measure up to your expectations. Don’t even let yourself judge what you’re writing. In fact, expect it to be terrible.
From my conversations with other writers, the biggest thing that stops them finishing – or even starting – is fear. Call it what you will – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being laughed at, of being told you’re not good enough, or worse, finding out you’re not good enough – it all has the same effect. It stops you writing.
This happened to me in my mid-teens, when I started reading Camus and Nabokov and Chekov. I decided I would never be as good as them, so what was the point of trying? I stopped writing for two whole years. Then one day I discovered some stories I’d written in my early teens and they were absolutely awful – I felt so embarrassed reading them but I also remembered how much fun I had writing them, and how miserable I was from shutting that part of myself away. So I started writing again, not caring whether I was good or not, but to experience the joy that writing gives me.
So next time you’re stuck, tell your inner critic to shove off. Decide that your first draft will be awful and be okay with that. Tell yourself you’ll never let anyone see it, if that helps. It’s completely freeing. It makes the process fun again because you can get completely carried away with the story and the characters, and who cares if you’re over-telling or using the same descriptive terms repeatedly or there’s whole paragraphs of gag-worthy cliches? All that matters is getting the story down, the characters worked out, the words – any words – on the page.
Just keep going and one day you’ll have a whole draft completed and you can say to yourself with pride, ‘I’ve done it. I’ve written a whole draft and it’s terrible, but I did it!’
And guess what? It won’t be completely terrible – at the very least, there will also be some great moments that will survive future edits, and a whole story that’s completely your own, with characters you know and love. And it might not even be as terrible as you think, though it’s okay if it is. You’ve got plenty more drafts to craft those sentences into shape and make your work into something you’re proud of.