What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write

This week, I’m taking a break from The Psych Writer to discuss writing.

Writing is my bread and butter. I have some posts I’ve written about writer’s block, and facing the terror of the blank page. In fact, I’ve written about the blank page twice, at least. But writer’s block still seems to be one of the biggest complaints I’ve seen among young writers or writers who are just starting out.

Recently, I got this in the form of a question. “What am I supposed to write when I don’t know what to write?”

Since I am trained as a therapist, I tend to want to pick apart problems and either reframe them or otherwise deconstruct them in order to help.

So when you don’t know what to write, it could be for a variety of reasons.

  • You may be afraid of failing and not completing a project.
  • You may be afraid of succeeding and not knowing what to do next.
  • You may think your writing will never be good enough, so part of you feels it’s not even worth starting.

There are obviously many more reasons for keeping that page blank, but for this post, let’s just focus on these three. If you have one or two you’d like me to address, please shoot me a message on Facebook if you’d like, and I’ll address them in future posts.

  1. You’re afraid of failing and not completing a project.
    It happens. I have a few manuscripts I’ve abandoned about 3/4 of the way through because the idea wasn’t panning out, I couldn’t write the characters in a way that satisfied me, or a variety of other reasons. It happens to everyone. Think of your favorite writer, living or dead, and I could almost guarantee you they have abandoned and unfinished work.

    The best way to get around this is the “fuck it” philosophy. Say to yourself that you’re going to start a project and if it doesn’t pan out, fuck it. Start over, change direction, whatever. You can also just keep going even if you know it sucks, because the first draft of everything sucks. So go until you’re finished. Write until there’s no story left. You can revise it later.

  2. You may be afraid of succeeding and not knowing what to do next.
    This is one I’ve heard a few times now, so it’s not terribly uncommon. In this case, you’re fortune-telling. Can you really see the future and know you’ll be devoid of further ideas? Well, so what? One book that’s finished beats the hell out of one half-finished story that never got off the ground. Preventing yourself from succeeding because of what might be next cheats you out of the satisfaction of a finished project.
  3. You may think your writing will never be good enough, so part of you feels it’s not even worth starting.
    There’s one thing I’ve learned, and I’ve said it above–the first draft of everything is a steaming pile of crap. Some of it has potential, but every first draft needs to be reworked. You will learn to kill your darling manuscript with a hatchet at first, then come back with fine, surgical editing tools to improve it. Tell the part of you that tells you it’s not worth starting to shut up,  because that part of you cannot know what it feels like to finish a project. You have to get to the end to know what that’s like.

When you sit down to the keyboard, or sit with a pen and paper, block out the future. Block out expectations. Block out everything but you and that page, and tell it your passions, your fears, your world.

Get writing.

I am Anne Hogue-Boucher, and I write books. You can read them here.


Still Have a Blank Page?

Emily Harstone advises this Writing Prompt: The 3 Minute Warm Up to help boost your writing muscles. You’ll need a timer and a blank page or screen, and the ability to type or a writing utensil. That’s it.

This is one I’ve tried personally, just for fun, and I find it useful. It gave me exactly what I needed to start a new short story for Camp NaNoWriMo. By the way, that’s going really well for me this month. Hopefully it’ll start a whole new series of short stories!

Give this one a try if you need to get the blank page to go away. Who knows? You might wind up creating a whole new world for yourself and your readers, in just three minutes.

Keep writing. Don’t give up.

This short post was brought to you by Anne Hogue-Boucher, writer and editor, and Leader of Primates Against Pants. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

How’s That Novel Comin’?

In October of 2015, I shared Left In The Cold – A Short Story with my faithful and wonderful readers and followers, who are, as I’ve said, faithful and wonderful.

Right now, I have included this short story in a novel I’m working on, which describes what happened to Jane and Livingston after their incident with this strange creature.

I’m almost 57,000 words in, and it’s not one of my typical horror stories. Oh, rest assured it’s weird fiction, all right, but it’s more character-driven than plot-driven. I thought for sure it would be plot-driven throughout, but Jane’s voice is too strong for that.

So yes, this novel is coming along, and I’m in the final third of the tale.

As for Silver Hollow, the editing process hit a technical hiccup today, but I’m working on fixing that. I hope to be on track soon, because I’d like to have it published in time for Halloween. I’m almost finished editing chapter two now, and it’s fun. I look forward to having people read it and (fingers crossed) enjoy it.

Silver Hollow takes place in my own private universe, as do all of my stories. In my universe, the world is just a tad different. I’m hopeful the differences will serve as a reminder that you, dear reader, are no longer home, and the world you’re visiting is not one of sunshine and rainbows. And in the rare times the sun shines, it scorches the visitor’s neck and the rainbows are solid and capable of strangling him or her. Ha ha.

Actually, the sun shines a lot in my universe, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something sinister slithering just beneath the surface, ready to break through any minute and leave the world in ruins.

I discovered the same thing is happening with the novel, Left in the Cold. There are good things that happen in it, but when I reread the work, I notice an underpinning of dread that seems to just lie there in wait. It’s like a metaphor for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Everything is going well but the person is just waiting for that moment where everything goes wrong.

And in my stories, it will. Just give it time.

I am a writer. You can get some cheap entertainment by reading one of my short stories for under a buck. I also hang around Twitter and Facebook sometimes. Come follow me and we’ll be weird together. Or not. I respect your non-weirdness.