3 Classic Mental Blocks of New Writers, and How to Crush ‘Em All

Pic by Rob (license: CC BY-NC 2.0)

Pic by Rob (license: CC BY-NC 2.0)

Once I met a professional writer. Having 20+ novels published, she must be quite famous in Indonesia’s fiction writing scene. Our rendezvous point was a book store. After we had sat down on cozy, tiny couches in the corner, she said, “Please don’t ask me how to write. I hate that question.”

I was stunned.

My intention coming to that meeting was not to ask, “How to write?” Instead I wanted to find out, “How to shift my mindset from factual journalistic writing into creative fiction writing?” Specifically, my problem was–and, frankly, is–resolving conflict. I’m not experienced in writing a lengthy novel; finishing any feels more challenging than starting it. I guess that’s the risk of being a journalist with hundreds of articles published on newspaper’s limited spaces, huh?

Nonetheless, her first line struck me hard. I’ve received many similar questions from my friends and readers asking me to teach them writing. And I–frankly–hate it, too!

“Why do you feel so?” I asked curiously.

“Well, it’s not about the question actually. I just can’t bear most people’s reactions to my answer. Writing is a skill acquired after practices and more practices. But then, these askers thought I had this magical spell that would turn them overnight into a famous writer with best-selling books. When I answered, ‘You can do it by writing,’ their expressions instantly changed. They didn’t believe me! They thought every writer with published books had a secret recipe. That I would hid it for myself forever. They just couldn’t accept the fact: Writing is simple, really. And then they would argue with me. They had these excuses. Silly excuses that had kept them from writing.”

She was quite emotional, but never a snob. Her feelings were understandable. When I said to someone, “Learn to write by writing,” but he/she seemed to refuse to even take that very first step, I thought, “Why did you bother asking if you would never do it?” And, trust me, after two dozens of people had asked me such question, it began to sound too boring. And I am not even famous! Can you now imagine how this writer felt?

But then, I have more time than famous writers. I can look at this phenomenon more closely. And the askers, those who wanted to write but never had the guts to start writing, actually shared similar patterns of excuses. Let’s call them mental blocks.

Here are 3 mental blocks I used to hear from these writer-wannabes new writers, and how to eliminate them.

No Idea? Think Again!

“How to write?”
“By writing.”
“But I don’t know what to write!”

That is called lacking of ideas. But ideas are abundant! As I mentioned in a previous article, you can catch ideas by opening up your 5 senses.

There. There is the magical recipe you want. Go out. Meet people. See. Listen. Smell. Taste. Touch. You will catch one (or more!) eventually, just be patient and keep trying.

No Time? Yeah Rite!

FYR (for your reminder), we have the same amount of time. I have 24 hours a day, those famous writers have 24 hours a day, and so do you.

They can find time to write. You can, too.


Make some.

Last week I told one of my co-workers to practice writing via e-mails.

“I want to learn to write, too.”
“Kay. Start writing.”
“It’s just… I have so many deadlines, so many meetings, so little time.”
“Wait. Meetings? Do you have to write MoMs?”
“Yes. Why?”
“There’s your answer. Practice writing great MoMs. Choose proper words. Keep the coherence between paragraphs. Show, don’t tell. Use first person view. Or third person view. Present characters. Protagonists. Or antagonists. When you need to write detailed MoMs, write the first paragraph so intriguingly that the other parties you send the MoMs to find them as addictive as Harry Potter. When you have the opportunity to keep the MoMs short, keep it really short. Challenge yourself to describe more in less. And, remember, your MoMs ought to be accurate and comprehensive despite all creativity you pour in them. Can you find time to do that?”
“I guess… yes.”
“Good. Start writing then.”

You don’t need to sit in a cozy cafe, typing on your iPad a remarkable sci-fi short story or an unforgettable historical romance novel. Just do it on daily basis, using what you currently have.

No Glory? Rly?!

“How to write?”
“By writing.”
“But… But… What if no one likes it?”

-_______-;; Oh dear. Such negativity takes you nowhere.

When you start writing, expect to meet harsh criticism and rejections immediately. Your first piece of article might suck big time. Your first short story might confuse your reader(s)–your mom, most likely. Your first blog post might have 0 like, 0 comment. So what? For the sake of kick-starting yourself, ignore your readers.

You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.
Stephen King, On Writing

Sure, other writers will tell you that  learning from constructive criticism is important. I am not saying they are wrong. But, let’s face it, who can be easily criticized, however well the critics present it? I was a game critics once, but when my published games were criticized by players for the first time, I felt rage stirring inside my veins.

For you, new writers, I say, “Do not let any negative review or comment kill your spirit. Your first step–which is, starting to write–is more important than your readers’ appreciation. Make mistakes, you are allowed to do so. Later on, when you have finally developed daily writing habit, when you begin to feel that you can’t spend one day without writing–as much as you can’t live without breathing–that is the right time to start listening to external criticism. For now? Just ignore it. Keep writing!”

Also, if you have experienced other fears that have kept you from writing, feel free to share them. I might come up with some ideas to crush ’em all. ^.^

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