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Five steps to banishing ‘writer's block’

BY Lisa O'Donnell
8th Jan 2019

If you're struggling to get your novel out of your head and onto the page, check out these great tips from Commonwealth-Book-prize-winning author Lisa O'Donnell.

Lisa is also a regular tutor of our novel-writing courses, she is the co-tutor of our online Writing Your Novel – Six Months course. Course begins 5 Sept, applications close 31 Jul.

Writer's block – I don’t believe in it!

I believe writers are afraid to write, and that they have confidence issues - a more dangerous problem than the imagined 'block'. In my experience, many developing novelists don’t believe they’re writers. They feel shy about 'coming out', and even when their work is out there (and often even when they’re published), many writers still suffer from impostor syndrome, waiting to be 'exposed'. Here are five steps to break out of this cycle in the new year and get those novels written.

Step 1 – Self-belief

The late John McGrath was my mentor, and without his generous guidance and confidence-building, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Some years ago he told me if I wanted to be a writer, I had to believe I was a writer. It’s the first hurdle, really.

Make it your mantra as you proceed: I am a writer. I am a writer. I. Am. A. Writer.

Step 2 – Get words on a page

The first thing any developing novelist needs to confront is that writing takes time and focus. Obviously, you need a strong story or idea - but if you are committed to your craft and intend to tell your story and actually get words on the page, you also need discipline. Your book won't write itself.

Step 3 – Read, read, read!

Reading is vital. As a writer you need to be reading all the time and not just to understand what's out there in bookshops, but to consider the craft of other writers - to wonder over their style, to marvel over their language and how they use it to write unforgettable stories. It can inspire you, and act as a jumping-off point for your own writing too.

Step 4 – Dispel the myths

Writers can sometimes be unrealistic about the profession and tend to romanticize it, but this will not help you write a novel. In reality, few people get to write beside a lake or under a Tuscan sun. Writing is usually done at a messy desk with coffee cups strewn across it or with your laptop in an unmade bed, and probably in yesterday’s pants. You need to find your discipline because finding your discipline will lead you to your process as an author. The truth is, sitting with your computer and getting on with writing, whether you feel like it or not, is what creates prose.

There won't be a perfect moment and writing is not an idyllic escape - your words are very unlikely to appear as precious pearls on the page ... Much of what I do as a teacher is to dispel those myths, because they won't help you. You'll need to get used to producing words that are far from perfect, and then work hard to knock them into shape. When I hear a writer talking about writer’s block, I know that the writer is afraid - I know they're in crisis and I worry that the writer isn’t being real about what they need to do to get their book written.

Step 5 – Set deadlines

Something I've noticed on the many writing courses I've taught is that no one ever gets writer's block while the course is in progress, because deadlines have a knack of generating the kind of discipline I’m talking about. The writer has to produce and so the writer does produce, and this is how you should always be thinking. There's nothing like a deadline to focus the mind.

So, if you are committed to your craft, you WILL make the investment and find the discipline it requires. That’s when you know you’re a writer, not an impostor.

Want to learn more from Lisa? Apply for our online Writing Your Novel – Six Months course. Course begins 5 Sept, applications close 31 Jul.