How to Overcome Writer's Block in a Unique New Way

Have you found yourself dreading your writing time of late? Maybe sitting down diligently but watching the clock and feeling secretly relieved when it's over? Lying awake at night, doubting your abilities as a writer and wondering if this is a sign you should just give up on your creative dreams?

Not so fast, creative soul. Before you take one step further in that direction, I need to tell you a story.

I was working on a new version of a rough draft and struggling, as usual, with motivation and writer's block. I was overthinking everything. Did this plot twist make sense? Was this conversation dramatic enough? Were these characters getting along too well?

My mind swirled with negativity. And so, in true nerdy form, I decided it was time for an experiment.

What would happen if I consistently shared my writing for a period of time with someone I trusted? Not only that, but what if the only feedback they could provide was positive?

Positive feedback was key. I love and appreciate constructive criticism, but nine times out of ten, a rough draft isn't the time for it. A rough draft is about exploration, tossing ideas on the page, getting to know characters, auditioning different settings and themes.

What did I hope to get out of this? A way off the haggard path I'd worn in the creative road thus far. Momentum and inspiration to propel me closer to the conclusion of a rough draft so I had something complete to work with.

For this experiment, I asked my mum to be my reader. She's a writer herself, a huge supporter of my dreams, and one of my ideal readers for the kind of novel I was working on. When she accepted, I printed out the chapters I'd written so far, passed them along, and carried on with the next piece, interested and not a little nervous about how this would turn out.

Dear writer, I couldn't have imagined how wonderful this experience would be!

The first time she shared her reactions and feedback with me, it was like getting the world's coolest fan letter, and my excitement only grew as I started passing along a new chapter or scene every few days.

It was a feeling akin to the one I get when cooking for people besides myself. Seeing their delighted reactions as they take the first mouthful, watching them go back for seconds, and fielding their requests for the recipe fills me with a warm glow and makes me want to cook and bake even more, despite all the work that's involved.

Mum and I carried on with this experiment for a few weeks, until I needed to shift priorities to a different project for a while. While it was underway, however, this is what resulted.

  • I wrote more in those few weeks than I had in months.
  • Writing sessions flew by.
  • What I wrote was more out of the box, more dynamic, more fun.
  • I took note of where the things I loved overlapped with what Mum, being one of my ideal readers, also enjoyed, and built on those.

In the future, any time my writing process feels lacklustre and I have a willing ideal reader to join in, I can't wait to try this again. It's one of the coolest things I've ever done for my writing. Who doesn't want to feel like a creative whiz at times?

If you have a project you'd like to try this with, this could be the perfect time. We thrive on praise at work or in school, so why should writing a novel be any different?

Let's break down how to brainstorm and plan your own positive feedback experiment. Also, here's a worksheet that you can use to follow along!

Which project am I ready to share?

This obviously needs to be a project that you want to work on right now. It also needs to be ready for this experiment.

I did this with the rough draft of a novel that was a little further along than a flimsy first draft, so there was already some consistency to what I was writing. This made for a more cohesive, less daunting experience for my reader. Also, while it doesn't need to be highly polished, I would recommend a quick grammar and spellcheck before handing any story instalments over to your reader.

How long do I want to do this?

A positive feedback experiment doesn't need to and shouldn't necessarily be a long term endeavour – it's important that we're able to motivate ourselves sometimes, without depending on outside praise to keep us going – but this is a lovely way to push the reset button on any negative thought patterns that hold us back.

Consider how often you'd ideally like to get feedback, as well. If you're doing this over a longer period of time, say a few months, the feedback could be more frequent at first and taper off when you start to have steady momentum. Any time your confidence is flagging, it could rev up again.

However, this sort of variation in timing requires a lot of communication between you and your ideal reader, and it may be easier for them to know exactly how often they'll be getting a new installment. Once you know who your ideal reader is going to be, have a chat and find a schedule that works for both of you.

Who could be my reader?

Brainstorm a few people who would be a good choice for this sort of creative experiment.

The ideal readers would be ones who ...

Have the time. If you're constantly waiting a few weeks for feedback while you're producing new work every few days, this experiment will struggle to thrive. It requires commitment from both of you so that, for this condensed period of time, there's a consistent stream of positivity beating back any surges of writer's block.

Can be counted on to provide 100% positive feedback. This can be tricky, especially if your reader has experience in being a beta reader or providing constructive criticism in other circumstances, but it can be done. They just need to be willing to put those urges on hold and have examples of the kind of feedback that's right for this endeavour.

Love the sort of things you write. Even if they haven't read any of your writing before, do your best to pick someone who enjoys the genre of your story. They'll be able to engage in it more easily from an excited reader's perspective and won't be trying to keep up with unfamiliar genre conventions as they go.

Stand up to you. It's very possible your inner editor may rear up and poke around, even beg for constructive criticism in the midst of this process. Both you and your reader need to be prepared for this: them so they can stand strong and focus on the positive, you so you can dismiss it until you're ready to hear what it has to say. As much as your reader needs to be able to provide positive feedback, you need to open your heart and mind to receiving it, without looking for the caveats and footnotes in what they say.

Won't exaggerate feedback. It may sound counter intuitive, but this process isn't about empty praise. This is about your reader sharing the moments they forgot they were reading a story, the scene that made them want to dash to the kitchen for a snack, the argument that incensed them on your character's behalf.

Also, don't rule a potential reader out simply because you can't chat face to face. While Mum and I were able to converse about her feedback and reactions in person, you could totally do this via video conferencing or email, so don't let distance or other restrictions hold you back!

Whoever you hope to be your ideal reader, it's fun to think of ways you could return the favour, either by being their positive feedback buddy in return or doing something else to lift their creative spirits.

What guidance can I give my reader?

To set things off on the best footing, you'll want to be clear and open from the get go about what you're hoping to accomplish with this experiment. You could lay it out something like this:

Hey [READER'S NAME]! I'm still thinking about our debate from the other day. Scones are clearly the superior choice to have with tea, but those cinnamon muffins you sent home with me nearly tipped the scales!

Anyway, I have something I wanted to run by you. I've been feeling kind of stuck with my writing lately, so I thought I'd try an experiment I read about online. The idea is to share your writing consistently with someone for a short period of time (I was thinking [PERIOD OF TIME]), and that person provides feedback on the writing – but only the good stuff! This is less about trying to actively improve my writing and more about helping to develop a habit, and knowing someone is (hopefully!) eagerly anticipating the next instalment is supposed to be a really fun way to stay motivated.

So all that being said, would you possibly be interested in being my reader? The novel I'm working on right now is a [GENRE] novel about [SHORT SUMMARY]. I'm getting through about [NUMBER OF PAGES/WORDS] [FREQUENCY] at the moment, so that amount of time, or a little longer, would be ideal for a turnaround on feedback, but I'm flexible if you want to suggest something else!

The kind of feedback I'd be looking for would be things like:

[EXAMPLE 1]

[EXAMPLE 2]

[EXAMPLE 3]

Basically, for [PERIOD OF TIME] it would be like I have a super-fan who can't wait to devour every morsel I write, haha!

I can share more details if you think this is something you'd be interested in, and of course I'd be happy to [RETURN THE FAVOUR/OTHER SUGGESTION OF HOW TO REPAY]!

Some of that template is a little tongue in cheek, naturally, but you're welcome to use as much of it as you like when writing to a potential ideal reader!

You'll notice I suggested providing examples of the kind of feedback that would help. The best sort of feedback in a situation like this is the kind that doesn't focus on you and your talent: "You're such a good writer!" Though there's a place for that, the most helpful remarks in a positive feedback experiment hone in on specific aspects of the story and writing itself. It can be simple and doesn't have to be any sort of elaborate analysis.

To get your wheels turning, look at positive reviews of books you love. What sort of comments in those reviews make you shiver and think, "Someone saying that about my book would be a dream come true"? Adapt and draw on these for examples you can give to your ideal reader!

In Closing

Now that you have a plan, you're well on your way to embarking on your own positive feedback experiment! If it's anything like mine, you'll see a grand uptick in joy and productivity in your writing sessions.

If I could offer one final piece of advice, it would be this: keep it in perspective.

Not everything that garners a superb reaction from your reader needs to stay in subsequent drafts. While you can always weigh their feedback in the balance when revising, particularly if it syncs up with your own goals for the story, the driving force behind this experiment is to give you the motivation and excitement to finish a rough draft. Knowing an eager reader waits in the wings for your next instalment is some serious rocket fuel, especially with their last delightful comments ringing in your ears!

If you haven't already downloaded the accompanying worksheet for this blog post, you can do so here. It's a quick, easy way to get the ball rolling, so snag a pen and hop to it! Your adoring readers await.

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