Several years ago, I was speaking at a school after the release of my second book, A Reunion to Die For. When it came time for questions, a student asked, “What do you do for writer’s block?” To this, I laughed and said, “I don’t know. I’ve never had writers block.”
Well, now I have had writers block. For a year, between 2008-2009, I stared at my laptop without knowing what to do. So, I packed up my laptop and announced to my family that I quit. I was no longer going to be a writer.
A month later, I was back at the laptop working away. Once again, I made an announcement to my family. “Okay, I’m going to write, but then I’ll publish my next book independently. If it sells, fine. If not, so what? From here on out, I’m writing for myself.” It’s Murder, My Son and subsequent books have been my most successful books and I have not had writer’s block since.
How did I get rid of my writer’s block? The secret is in this advice offered by American poet William Stafford: "There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough."
What? I'm supposed to write junk? Can you be serious?
In order to understand the meaning behind Stafford’s advice, let me explain the circumstances surrounding my writer’s block.
A Reunion to Die For was published by a commercial publisher. It was a $26 hardback. My thrill of being published in hardback was quickly extinguished when I discovered how hard it is to sell a $26 hardback when you’re an unknown.
My next book (It’s Murder, My Son) had to come out in paperback. My traditional publisher didn’t handle paperbacks. In October, 2008, I went to a mystery conference, where I discovered that the new word count that publishers were looking for was below 90,000. At this time It’s Murder, My Son was 94,000. So, I had to do a rewrite to trim what I considered a perfectly good book in order to find a new publisher. A few days after I arrived home from the conference, my father-in-law, for whom I was primary caregiver, passed away.
For a year I stared at the laptop not knowing what to do. Then, I decided to “lower my standards” and write for myself. Since I made the decision to stop writing for literary agents or publishers or anyone but me, I have never run into a problem of deciding what to write.
No, Stafford is not encouraging writers to produce garbage. He is suggesting, however, that it's easy to take yourself too seriously in trying to please agents or publishers or reviewers. As a result, you end up staring at your laptop, thinking how inadequate your writing is and cursing God for giving you the love of writing. Yes, I did a rewrite of It’s Murder, My Son, but I did it for myself. I quit sweating over a turn of phrase for fear that a literary agent would disapprove. I didn’t think about if this plot line is “hot right now” or not. I wrote with the intention of pleasing myself. If readers and reviewers happen to like what I have written—then that’s the icing on the cake.
Since I independently published It’s Murder, My Son and the other installments in the Mac Faraday Mysteries, (Old Loves Die Hard and Shades of Murder) I have been on a sugar high.
If you want to be a writer, you need to forget about the judgment of others. Write what you want to write, write what you love, write for yourself.
Besides being an author, Lauren is owner of Acorn Book Services, serving as publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for Indie authors. The ABS website is here. Also check out her Literary Wealth blog.