16 May 2007

The pressure of writing

We were at writing group today, and one of the writers said that she had been thinking of writing something but had been unable to pick up the pen, that she thought she might be afraid of the pen. It's funny how things come together by happenstance, but one of my students had just blogged on our student blog about how much harder it was to write when he knew he was writing something for school.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I will always come back to the value of free writing, where one of the rules is that you are free to write the worst crap in the world. I know about free writing, but it doesn't mean that I haven't been subject to this particular kind of fear. It might be a particularly nasty crit, or sometimes even something that wasn't meant to be nasty. I can remember being put off for a whole year because a well-known writer told me one of my stories was nicely written but that it obviously wasn't a story. Wasn't a story? That was news to me. And it shook my confidence in my own writing because I decided that I didn't know what a story was. I should have asked why it wasn't, but I was too stunned by the comment at the time.

I've seen it in writers who have had early work published to great acclaim. In published novelists, it's often called second-book syndrome. It's that pressure to write something even better, when you're not sure you can write something that's even as good.

I'd like to think we all develop thicker skins with experience, but I'm not sure it's true. I've heard one famous, best-selling and best-loved YA writers say he wasn't sure he had another book in him.

In the end, I think the best way around this is to just to write what you love. Write it for yourself. Write it because you love doing it. Allow yourself to write it badly because, after all, you can fix a badly written page, but you cannot fix a blank one.


Snail said...

I've discovered a cure for my blank-page syndrome: reading the first page of a badly-written but published work. I get so annoyed that I spur myself into writing.

A bestselling author actually started a recent book with "The night was quiet. Almost too quiet."

Now that has to get you typing ...

Tracey said...

lol. Mmm, I suppose there is a sense of drama in that opening, but it does beg the question about how quiet a night should be!

I know Sherryl had a great example though -- and I had an opening chapter that was put out on a flyer by one of the big book stores that put me off a book I might otherwise have bought.

I must say having a writing contract helps!

Miche said...


This Ted talk has helped me release the anxiety and pressure of writing.