Overcoming Writer’s Block

Post by Reem Khaleel

I have seen so many writers on Twitter lately only talking about their publishing triumphs and while I’m so very excited for them and all their successes, I can’t help but wonder why all of us aren’t as transparent about our struggles. No matter what stage of the publishing process you might be at, all writers go through their own struggles, whether it’s while writing, querying, editing, on submission..etc. It’s very important to remember that setbacks and feeling anxious or discouraged at any point during the writing process is perfectly normal. I’m writing this blog post to admit that I recently let imposter syndrome, writer’s block, and anxiety get the best of me and share what I did to overcome it.

My writer’s block began right before the end of NaNoWriMo 2021. I had 30K of a new Young Adult romantic comedy finished, but the storyline and characters felt too familiar. I stopped writing to figure out what was going wrong with this new book and I realized I had created an odd mashup of my first three books. I took a step back to figure out how to rework the plot in December, which is when my writer’s block got even worse. I couldn’t figure out why I was stuck on this book and it was incredibly frustrating. At the same time, rejections kept on piling in for the book I was querying and despite trying to convince myself I was used to the rejection, they were starting to get to me. After writing and polishing three different books and querying them in a little over a year, the growing stacks of rejections were messing with my head and I felt burnt out. I thought maybe I would never have a good creative idea for my writing again. Maybe three books was all I had in me and I had failed to get any of them past the full request stage. The idea that I might never write again was the lowest point I got to, especially as someone who used to write every day and genuinely looked forward to it.

I had done my best to stay positive in the query trenches and not be crippled with imposter syndrome and anxiety, but both started creeping in without me realizing it. So, I decided to take a self-imposed writing and querying break for a month to figure things out. I finished my last book from first draft to polished manuscript in only two months. But I had been trying to solidify the concept of this book for nearly eight months and nothing seemed to be working. I had never thought of myself as a super anxious person. Sure, I got stressed from time to time before, but this was so different. This felt like a real problem because I started to notice that over the year I have been querying, I developed a lot of writing related anxiety.

I kept seeing people I graduated from my MFA with get agents and book deals. I thought maybe my writing really wasn’t good enough after three books and plenty of full requests, but no offers. Everyday the imposter syndrome started getting worse and I went through a period of time I thought I would never write again. Until I realized that the reason I was having writer’s block was because I started to overthink the concept of this new book based on how my first three books did in the query trenches. I had become overly conscious of the market and started second-guessing my ideas. I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write, instead I was writing some version of what I thought I should be writing. With that in mind, I extended my self-imposed break for another month, but this time I did active work to try and feed my well of creativity that I thought had run dry.

I might not have been writing, but I read as much as I could, ARC’s, newly published books in my genre and age category, craft books, books that I could use as comps, and books in my genre outside my age category. I listened to my WIP playlist and I created mood boards to inspire a rework of my project. I started doing yoga to try and get my anxiety under control and it actually has helped a lot because I learned there’s yoga for writers, which is pretty helpful considering most of my anxiety stemmed from writing. I talked to my writing group about their projects which started to inspire me to continue piecing together a rework of mine. I watched movies and TV shows that could work as comps for my book. I mostly stayed off writing related social media unless it was to chat with my writer’s group or other writing friends in my DM’s. I did all this cleanse myself of all the negative energy I had held onto for months and to reconnect with why I loved writing in the first place. When I finally did that, then one day the idea for a fresh spin on my book just came to me, along with the push I needed to get back to writing.

I had paused querying, during my writing break, but I still had full requests out for my last book. One day I got a really long email from an agent who had been reading my full for quite a while. It was a rejection and yes it was disappointing, but mostly it gave me hope. The agent had a hard time deciding whether or not to offer because she loved my writing style, loved my voice, and even loved the book. She just wasn’t sure if she would be able to sell the book because she had similar ones on her list that she was having a hard time breaking out into the market. As strange as it sounds, this rejection gave me back confidence in my writing. Now that I had confirmation that there wasn’t something seriously wrong with my writing and it was more than good enough, I felt some of that imposter syndrome fade away. As far as rejections go, it was very uplifting because it praised my writing and then the agent urged me to keep writing, which I started to do. I had the urge to write again and more importantly, I also had an idea I was excited about writing. The rejection made me more confident that I need the right book at the right time with the right agent. Now I know it’s okay that I haven’t found that perfect combination yet. All I needed was a reminder that even if I haven’t found the success I’m looking for yet, it doesn’t mean that I won’t eventually.

After that rejection and close to three months of minimal to no writing, I started to eagerly rework the 3OK I wrote for NaNoWriMo with a fresh spin. This idea required me to just write what I wanted to, instead of focusing so much on the market and second-guessing my ideas. I started rediscovering my love for writing. It’s been two months since I started writing every day again and now I have a full draft of this new version of my book. I feel that spark of writer’s magic that tells you this is now a real book and there’s no going back until it’s a polished masterpiece. More importantly, I’m enjoying writing again after spending months dreading even opening up my Scrivener document. I’m certainly glad that my worries about never writing again were totally unfounded. This was my toughest battle with imposter syndrome, writer’s block, and anxiety and I can’t guarantee that it will be my last, but I can make myself a promise to keep writing. As a writer, your creativity can’t die unless you let it. If you’re struggling with your writing, take a break, reconnect with your creativity and love for writing, and then start writing again when you’re ready. Maybe your next masterpiece will be even more magical than the last one. You will never know if you stop writing, so even if it might be hard, don’t give up on your writing, but more importantly don’t give up on yourself.

How do you deal with writer’s block, writing related anxiety, or imposter syndrome?

Reem is a young adult contemporary/romantic comedy author from the Maldives. She has lived in various corners of the world, including New York, Tokyo, California, and Kuala Lumpur throughout her life. She loves writing heartfelt stories filled with love and friendship. She is a 2021 graduate from the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at The New School.

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10 thoughts on “Overcoming Writer’s Block

  1. I don’t know if this stems from making things fun, but I challenge myself to write as badly as I can, adjective and cliches and all. That often gives me SOMETHING to work with, and we all know that it’s much easier to edit rubbish than a blank page. Anyway, thanks for this lovely post!

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    1. Thank you for sharing. That definitely is a wonderful idea! The perfectionist in me has never allowed myself to do that before but, I’ll try it sometime. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

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    2. I think taking a writing break is sometimes what’s needed. Problems get worked out while we’re on a break without us necessarily even consciously thinking about it. I’m on a break from the novel I’m writing because I need to work a few things out about its direction.

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  2. Very helpful post! I have definitely felt this way as well. One big challenge I’ve had lately is that what I am most passionate about writing doesn’t seem to be what agents are looking for at the moment, so I’ve received rejections saying they enjoyed my voice and/or characters but that the book just isn’t quite the right fit for them. Like you mentioned with yours, these rejections still make me oddly hopeful. Publishing is so tough, but we just keep writing. 🙂 I’m glad you were able to find ways to keep going.

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  3. Writer’s block is a tough battle to fight! I have discovered I like writing silly things, like satire or celebrity-gossip magazine-style stories. I do not judge myself or beat myself up for it; I just enjoy it and slowly my zeal for writing comes back! ❤

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  4. Writer’s block can be so tricky. I go through dry spells and then one day I start having day dreams of great ideas. It always works its self out. Thanks for sharing.

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