I decided I wanted to be a writer almost as soon as I could read. I was an introverted kid and found my outlet in writing. My first case of writer’s block happened in the third grade. Our teacher gave us an assignment to write a short story. I wrote about 10 pages and my teacher was furious. She gave me a D on the assignment because I had written too much. It destroyed my self-confidence because I thought she would be impressed. I was too young to realize that she probably got bored with reading 30 short stories and having to wade through mine was more than she could bear.
In high school, writing saved me. Studying bored me, but when I got essay assignments, I usually got A’s. That got me into college, where essays also saved me. I wanted to be a creative writer, though, so one weekend I went to a friend’s cabin in the woods to get started on my Great American Novel. I came back with nothing. Everything I wrote seemed so amateurish compared to the great novels I had read. I gave up on writing because I didn’t think I was good enough. What I didn’t get was that writing takes practice and you have to do a lot of editing after you’ve written a first draft.
Overcoming Writer’s Block
I wrote a novel about thirty years later and shelved it after I finished it, but learned a valuable lesson. Instead of agonizing about being an amateur, I just wrote whatever popped into my head. The novel never saw the light of day because I wasn’t satisfied with the second half, which I only wrote because the original was just a novella. It doesn’t matter. I got the bug and some confidence and have been making money writing for the past 20 years. It’s been a full-time career for the past eight years. Writing short articles isn’t as stimulating as creative writing, so I’ve also been writing a memoir. I finished a first draft, edited it and shared it with friends. Then I decided I’d left some things out, so I wrote three chapters, but left them out of the draft. I shared the chapters with members of my writing group and they didn’t think they fit into the book.
I took another look at the chapters and realized they were right. As I had written the chapters, they didn’t fit, but after a few days of rewriting, I found the threads that made two of the chapters fit. A bit of rewriting later and I found where they belonged in the book.
I haven’t shared the revisions with my friends. I appreciated their feedback, but if I had listened to them, I would have thrown out the chapters. I’m also annoyed with one member of our group. Instead of commenting on my writing, she interjected her opinions about a couple of issues. It’s my book and my opinions matter more than hers. I let her get to me for a few days, but realized my job was to express my opinions in a different way. My mistake was to spell out my opinions. I should have shown them in the dialog and action.
All writers want their words to be accepted and understood. The few people I shared my chapters with had done neither, but they did help me understand why my writing had missed the mark. My revisions are better, but I’m still hesitating to share them with my little writing group. We’ve been together for two years and I’ve contributed more to the group than the others. Since we only share a chapter a week, they’ve also forgotten what came before these chapters. They don’t make sense out of the context of the whole book.
Since I can’t afford to hire an editor, I rely on the input of others. My next step will be to share my memoir with a couple of friends who haven’t read it yet. One runs writing workshops in exotic locations. The other is the most well-read person I know. Their fresh perspective will help me improve my book.
Fear is the Source of Writer’s Block
I’m now 68 years old. If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that fear is a killer. Keep moving forward and don’t let fear stop you. That’s the only way to improve. Don’t wait until you’re my age to figure that out. A acquaintance of mine who is about my age, William Finnegan, started writing in his twenties. He just won a Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography, Barbarian Days. I don’t expect to win a Pulitzer Prize any time soon, but I can have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve completed a writing project to the best of my ability. If no one likes it, it won’t be the end of the world. It will be the impetus I need to try again and keep improving my work.