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The Drug of Choice for Writer's Block: Speed

Many authors subscribe to the belief that writer's block doesn't exist.  I attended a workshop by author Candace Havens last year, and she said that writer's block is simply author fear.  It's not a true block.  Although sometimes the struggle does feel like and honest to goodness wall in my brain, I tend to agree that it is wrapped up in my own fear and insecurity.


Photo by xavi talleda (click pic for link)


In this month's edition of the Romance Writer's Report from RWA, career coach Hillary Rettig wrote an article about overcoming writer's block.  She purports that one of the main causes of writer's "block" is perfectionism.  We obsess about every little thing and end up writing in fits and starts and procrastinating the rest of the time.  Um, has she been spying on me?  This is so my issue.  I talked about my perfectionism here.

So what is her suggested solution?  Speed.

She said productive writers have this in common.  They treat their writing as something they "do"--not think about.  They sit down without distractions and write.  That means no checking email, blogs, etc. as soon as you hit a tough spot in your story.

The second part of speed is not expecting to achieve the ultimate or most perfect work.  Perfection cannot be achieved, sometimes good enough really is good enough--especially in a first draft.

And lastly, she says that fast writers do not hold onto their drafts like they're guarding the Hope diamond.  Perfectionists don't want to hand over their draft to those beta readers until they feel like the book is ready for prime time.  This means we end up obsessively revising and spending way too much time on the work only to be devastated later when it comes back from critting with some major issue that we couldn't see because we were too emotionally involved.  Early beta readers can help point out issues and problems that you can fix upfront.

So her advice is to sit down, write, and don't hesitate, just keep writing.

This article definitely hit home for me.  I am so not Zen about my writing.  This is why NaNoWriMo always intimidates me.  I don't know how to write without going back and revising and questioning every little thing.  But maybe I should give this method a try.  It may mean more revising on the back end, but that's easier than just having two perfect chapters and a pile of blank pages to show after months of work.

So how about you?  Are you Zen about your writing--just doing it without hesitation?  Or are you a perfectionist who questions everything as you go?  Do you hold onto your first draft forever or just throw the ugly thing to your betas for help?

*info from article "Speed as an Antidote to Writer's Block" by Hillary Rettig, Romance Writer's Report February 2010*


**Today's Theme Song**
"Perfect" - Alanis Morrissette
(player in sidebar--go ahead, take a listen)


Reader Comments (31)

I'm a horrible perfectionist about my novel WIP (and hence am stuck and can't even get the first draft out). I'm much more go-with-the-flow with my PBs. Because, hey, even if it stinks (and the first draft will), I can always go and rewrite it over and over and over. But there's a big difference between tackling a 650 word rewrite and a 65K word rewrite.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Hi Roni! I was terrified in November when I signed up for NaNowriMo. I've always been an anal-retentive writer, agonizing over one sentence at a time, reworking and revising before moving on to the next. For one blessed month in November, I tied up my internal editor and duct taped her mouth. I wrote over 50K words in three weeks. It was liberating and SO educational. But now I have a massive document with no structure (besides some chapter breaks), and the realization that much of what I wrote is crap. (*sigh*)

I believe this is the journey all writers take. The process gets easier with each project, in part because we learn there isn't really anything to be afraid of. We just gotta write....

...I just gotta write.

Your posts always inspire me -- thanks, hon!

((hugs)) Nicole

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole Ducleroir

I thought I was a perfectionist, but I just had 5 people read my WIP and I was fine making changes here and there. So I suppose I'm somewhere in between. I can't just write and leave that sentence sitting there looking and sounding awful. However, when I give it to others to read, I am fine changing stuff if they think it's off-- including chopping a favourite scene of mine in half. Shrugs.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie Murphy

I'm definitely a perfectionist. I have a big problem with the last two: expecting my stuff to be perfect (especially the first time) and coveting my writing like a miser, not showing it to anybody. But that's also because I'm panicky about plagiarism...

Thanks for the post. It helps a lot. Sometimes I just need to have OTHER PEOPLE tell me this stuff, instead of me harping on myself.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPostman

I think it's so nutty that this is your topic of choice today! I always focus on the perfection, and last night I realized that the reason they call it a first draft, or a rough draft, is because only your passion and energy is to go into the story, you're not supposed to worry about errors until the revisions come! Since then I have been able to non-stop write!!!

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Speed writing would kill me...utterly kill me. I prefer to write as it comes to me, even if it takes nearly two years, as did my first full MS :)

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

I was zenlike on my first novel and did a lot of revising on the back end. My current WIP I've obsessed about and it's taking much longer to get a first draft.
I think I should follow this speed method and see where it takes me. :)

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Amanda Hooper

So far, I have been a fast writer and nothing else, so maybe I'm not the best person to discuss the other end. . . But I know that if I take too long to get the story down, then I loose the feel for it. The excitement. The novels I have written are like memories by month. October I remember because I was writing ____ character.

So I can see the benefit of speed. On the other hand it took J.K Rowling quite a while to write the Harry Potter books so maybe it just depends?

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Very helpful post. I just wrote about writer's block in my blog yesterday, and I completely agree. I think it is just a state of mind.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRacquel Henry

This is EXACTLY what I needed today, Roni. Check out my post and you'll see why. Thank you! Thank you! :-)

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon O'Donnell

I'm one of those writer's who doesn't believe in writer's block. I definitely believe in the rest, though, particularly procrastination and perfectionism.

Usually when I'm stuck I just have to make myself write no matter what comes out. Usually what gets me stuck in the first place is not writing everyday and getting out of my groove. No matter what comes forth, something is on paper and I usually find that free flow liberating and there's almost always something good that comes from it.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

I lean more towards Zen. Better to get it all out as fast as possible.
Also, i enjoy revising and editing, so that's another bonus if i do the zen method

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFalen

I've definitely learned to let go of perfectionism for the sake of getting a first draft finished.

I used to start reading from the beginning almost every time I sat down to write, hence it took me forever to finish a first draft. Save the polishing until you have a draft completed.

Glad to be home? ;)

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTere Kirkland

I like this a lot, and I didn't realize I was guarding the Hope Diamond until I read this.

Thanks--I'll try to let go.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSierra Godfrey

Writer's arch nemesis. I try not to be too much of a perfectionist when it comes to my writing--I know I can just edit it later--but sometimes I slip up. I find myself going back and rereading chapters of my book, editing and revising much too soon. I need to break myself of that nasty little habit. As far as my first draft goes, I'm always willing to look to my betas for help. I like getting critiques and feedback...even if it isn't good.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayKay

I'm not a perfectionist on my first draft. I just let it all flow onto the paper and worry about problems later. Finally... Something I'm actually good at :)

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEva

Wow! Your post described me perfectly, especially for the last two months. I started my WIP in September and wrote like crazy until December, when I hit the middle part. Since then I've fretted over everything. I've written exactly two chapters since then. I'm trying real hard to just forget about all of the crap I know I'm going to have to fix, but it's soooo hard.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Think I might have to give speed writing a go. I usually just go with the flow and write as it comes (which is why it took me so long to finish my first novel), but I'm happy to hand it off to betas to get someone else's opinions on it.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCheree

I'm a perfectionist, and it blows to be that way. It's the biggest reason I haven't finished my ms.

I know I have to get over it, and just write and see where the words take me.

It's so much easier said that done, though. I think speeed writing takes practice and bravery.

I am trying to be brave.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Tidd Murphy

Wow great advice. I think I mentioned before I am not a writer, I just write papers for school. When I get frustrated the first thing I do is go look at my emails and bloggs, Twitter, what ever. So that is great advice to follow even for writing those dreaded psychology papers!

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristiejolu

Honestly? I have writer's block all the time. Its like a habit, a given. But I made a promise to myself that I would write at least a sentence of my book everyday so I could at least keep the ball rolling. It worked! :)

I could never be Zen about my writing, but writing without distractions from something beyond my computer is a given. I can't entirely say I don't check my e-mail or something when I'm stuck though.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

I am usually pretty Zen about my writing... when I can block out the fear voices in my head and the need to perfect things. When I remember to play in the words I am fine :)

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTabitha Bird

For a second, I really did think you were going to recommend the drug speed to us!! :)

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey Himmler

I was a speed demon on my first MS and forever stalled on others. I think the thought of being completely shut down in a story I'm way invested in really affects me. So, I think I hit a total mental block. Hopefully, I'll find the cure soon. Speed may not ever be the answer for me. Alcohol possibly:}

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTina Lynn

Great post! I'm suprised the pharmaceutical industry hasn't come up with a drug for that. ;) (psst. I used to be a drug rep!)

I go through several drafts before I sent my mss off to my beta readers.

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStina Lindenblatt

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