As soon as I finished reading On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner I felt like shit. Not because the book was bad (although I’ve definitely read better books on writing), but because I realized that instead of spending time writing I had spent time reading about writing, which is something I do to put off doing actual work. This needs to stop, so I’m writing this post as an open letter to myself to stop being such a baby and get started already.
So what’s my problem? Well, Gardner broke it down quite nicely in this passage:
“…nothing is harder for the developing writer than overcoming his anxiety that he is fooling himself and cheating or embarrassing his family and friends. To most people, even those who don’t read much, there is something special and vaguely magical about writing, and it is not easy for them to believe that someone they know–someone quite ordinary in many respects– can really do it.”
Every time I’m about to sit down and try to do some writing, I hear this tiny little voice in the back of my head laughing maniacally, whispering: “Who do you think you are? You can’t write a book.” It’s a tough voice to ignore.
Gardner also had this to say towards the end of the last chapter, and I think it was actually my favourite paragraph in the entire book:
“The best way of all for dealing with writer’s block is never to get it. Some writers never do. Theoretically there’s no reason one should get it, if one understands that writing, after all, is only writing, neither something one ought to feel deeply guilty about nor something one ought to be inordinately proud of. If children can build sand castles without getting sand-castle block, and if ministers can pray over the sick without getting holiness block, the writer who enjoys his work and takes measured pride in it should never be troubled by writer’s block. But alas, nothing’s simple. The very qualities that make one a writer in the first place contribute to block: hypersensitivity, stubbornness, insatiability, and so on. Given the general oddity of writers, no wonder there are no such cures.”
Even though I don’t think I have writer’s block, since I have an idea of what I want to write about and some outlines for scenes, I’ve definitely hit an annoying roadblock. I think I’m doing too much research about the time period my story is set in (it’s historical fiction), mostly because I find the topic so interesting, but also because I’m obsessed with getting every detail right. My goal is to put the research aside for now, or at least find some way to write while researching instead of letting one overshadow the other.
So, there you have it. I’m stuck but I want to move forward. The best advice I can give myself is to stop reading about becoming a novelist and just become one already.