David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—Suffering from Career Block
Over the years, authors have often asked how to avoid “writer’s block.”
Many professional authors of course point out that the whole idea of writer’s block is rather absurd. We don’t have pharmacists complaining of pharmacy block. We don’t have carpenters whining about building blocks. So isn’t “writer’s block” really just another name for laziness? Isn’t it an excuse for indolence?
No, I don’t think so. I believe that there are a number of reasons that writers may feel blocked. For example, the author may try to write at 2:30 in the afternoon and find that he just can’t get in touch with his muse. Why? Because his muse is asleep. Your muse is really the right side of your brain, the creative side, and in most people it just happens to take a nap in the afternoon. So the author sits and sits and can’t get into the flow.
More often, the writer is excited by the idea of writing a novel, but then sits down and realizes that he hasn’t thought about it enough. He doesn’t know anything about his antagonist, and can’t figure out where to start the book, since he hasn’t really pre-imagined a good opening.
In both cases, the answer to the problem is to wait—to get into a writing schedule on a book and stick to it. You need to train your mind to think about your novel even when you’re sleeping, so that when you sit down to write, it just seems to flow.
But enough about writer’s block. I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about “career block.”
Lately I’ve been speaking to a lot of writers who have the same problem. The question they ask is, “What should I write next?” My glib comeback is “What do you want to write?”
But the question deserves more than a glib answer. You see, if you spend months and months of your time struggling to write a substantial novel, most of us want to know in advance whether the time will have been well spent.
Many of us don’t write just for self-fulfillment, we have families to feed. We’re worried about whether writing a particular novel will be a good career move. You see, when you write a novel, any novel, you’re potentially making an entire career move. I’ve known authors who wrote a middle-grade novel on a lark, only to find that they are “stuck” in a writing career that they didn’t want, writing one sequel after another.
So choosing a novel project, a potential career path, is a serious consideration, especially right now, when the markets are a bit crazy.
So, what do you write next? That’s a question that comes up every few months, even if you’ve been writing for years. I’ve made my living as a writer for twenty-five years. Currently I’m finishing up the ninth and last book in my Runelords series, and for a couple of years now, I’ve been wondering what I should write next. Another big fantasy series? That little animal fantasy that I’ve been wanting to write for ten years? My Hollywood thrillers? A science fiction novel?
In fact, I’ve worried about it so much that in the past three years I’ve actually written three and one-half books outside of my fantasy series, and I realized the other day that in a sense, I’m suffering from “career block,” just like so many other writers that I know.
I’ve been worrying far too much about what to write. Instead, I should be looking for ways to maximize my productivity so that I can write all the things that I think would be fun to write. I get three or four new novel ideas every day, so as soon as I get some of these books out of my system, I’ll have time to jump onto the next projects.
I know what to write next. There seems to be only two viable options:
1) Write what you love most, regardless of money. If you do, I believe that you’ll write something more beautiful and profound than you would if you write out of greed.
2) Write to the biggest market possible. If you want to write Westerns in the style of Zane Grey, but you’re also interested a thriller about a hit man who is hired to kill the Pope, you’ve got two markets—one that is miniscule and one that is huge. Take the huge one.
But there’s a third choice—my choice. The big problem with writers is that we suffer from the illusion that we have to make a choice. We don’t. We can probably write both. In fact, if you jump right into it, and you’re willing to devote a huge amount of your free time to the task, you can probably write both of these novels—the love project and the money project—within six months.
Write one book for love, and one for money—just to keep yourself sane.
In the long term, you don’t know which of the two novels will be most worthwhile, which will warm the cockles of your heart the most, which will win awards, which might win fan approval or change people’s lives. I’ve written commercial novels that turned out so good, they surprised me.
So set a goal of writing at least two novels per year, the one that you think will earn you the most money, and the one you most want to write.
As soon as you get them finished—whether it takes you three months or six—repeat that process. Write two more books. I know some prolific authors who might write six or eight novels a year this way.
Whatever you choose to write, don’t waste another minute suffering from career block!
Don't forget about my Writers Death Camp this November. It's a great way to kick off National Novel Writing Month. Get the details here.