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How do I resolve the conflict between:

  • Being interested in what I write about
  • Ignoring my inner critic, pushing past writer's block, starting writing, maintaining a writing habit, etc.

When I find an idea interesting, I usually hit a roadblock like discovering that someone else has done it well already or that the concept isn't enough to sustain a plot.

I hear that I should try to push past this and keep developing what I have. However, after I hit the roadblock, I lose interest in the idea. I wonder whether I had the wrong idea to begin with, and should keep searching for a better one.

Any advice on finding a happy medium? Or maybe I'm missing something larger?

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Not all advice is equally helpful to all writers. Some pieces of advice aren't even equally helpful to the same writer during different stages of the writing process. Like using a satnav, always exercise judgment before blindly yanking the wheel and driving into the nearest lake because a disembodied voice told you to.

That said, I think both bullet points are useful. Complementary, even. While writing the first draft of my current WIP, at no point did I dwell long on whether my specific ideas had been done before, whether my plot dragged in places, what various people I know would think of my book, etcetera, etcetera.

Did I have doubts while writing? Constantly. From the antagonist's vague motivation and inconsistent behavior to major worldbuilding issues and the flatness of my prose, every problem seemed like a monster and I was armed with a stubby pencil and an eraser. But I did not let my doubts hold me back. I scribbled a circle around the scariest monsters for later review and moved on.

A couple of months later, I finished the first draft and was left with a story spread across three notebooks. Many scenes were confusing, cliché, or plain boring, but other scenes were surprisingly salvageable. If you squinted you could see a real story hiding behind the bad parts. The story I wanted to tell all along.

For my second draft I rewrote my entire story from scratch, using the events of the ten to fifteen or so scenes from my first draft I liked as a skeleton. I filled in the gaps with a newly made outline and paid special attention to avoid the traps in the first draft.

My advice, for you to ignore or accept as you see fit, is to write that first draft. You'll end up with half or maybe even a quarter of a story, but you can build on that foundation.

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  • If someone else did it well, I shouldn't write it

This statement is very easily disproven - by looking at pretty much any mainstream genre. For example, the fantasy genre contains many different good books - LOTR, Mistborn, etc. Some people might begin writing a fantasy novel and then say "Tolkien and Sanderson did it well - what's the point?" I think that as long as the book is not a copy - there are differences in the plot and the setting - then the story is different.

So just because someone else did it well doesn't mean that you shouldn't write about it - just make it different enough that it is a new story. Many people have claimed that there are very few actual different storylines - but the way they are presented creates a story.


  • I feel disinterested after a roadblock...think I had the wrong idea

This is called writer's block - the feeling that what you are doing isn't good enough so why write. There are two main methods to stop this.

  1. New set of eyes - put away the manuscript for a month. Write all the ideas you have, seal it in an envelope, and open it in a month. Don't think about it for a month - start a new story. Then when your reminder goes off - open the envelope and look at the ideas you have - what do they feel like now. Are they still terrible plots that should be binned? So bin them. Are they terrible plots, that can be improved - improve them.
  2. Write, write write, and then when your finished - write another hour. If you are having a block, force yourself to write a set amount of words a day - but see if you can change the story to make it interesting - even 100 words a day is 3000 a month. If after a week (or more) of this, you cannot write at all then look at your reasons why. Is it because the plot is terrible and can't be changed - so find a new idea. Or is it because you have lost inspiration - take advice from this question and see if it helps.

In short - your problem is a common one, and although inevitable, does stop even the most prolific authors. In the words of Orson Scott Card:

Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on. Writer’s block is never solved by forcing oneself to “write through it,” because you haven’t solved the problem that caused your unconscious mind to rebel against the story, so it still won’t work – for you or for the reader.

And in the words of Brandon Sanderson:

My general advice is to turn off your internal editor. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or even using the right words. Pre-write and outline. Pre-writing is something that you do soon before writing to get you in the mode. Outlining helps you to organize your overall thoughts, even if the whole thing changes in the process Another thing I’ve learned recently is that writer’s block often comes when you’re trying to force your way through a part of the story that just isn’t working: trying to make a person do something out of character, making an event happen because that’s what the outline says even though it doesn’t make sense. Take a second look at what you’re stuck on writing and see if your outline needs to change.

Also a good resource may be the podcast "Writing excuses" in this episode and this episode.

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