Do you ever have those days when you don't know what to write about?
And worse, do those days turn into weeks and months, even years?
You're not alone.
I know this for a fact because people email me about it all the time.
According to most surveys, 80% of people feel they have a writer inside, someone who could - and thinks they should - write a book at some point in their lives.
80% is a huge statistic.
So huge that it's the kind of percentage that would have marketers foaming at the mouth!
But real life shows that only around 5% actually get around to any kind of serious writing in their lifetimes - and only around 1% of that 5% end up getting paid to do it.
That's why, in marketing terms, writing remains a niche - one of those nebulous terms that means 'so specialized' as to be largely irrelevant to modern demographics.
Clearly that doesn't quash the urge to write for you and me.
(And yes, “me” is grammatically correct here.)
But this issue of "I want to write but I can't think what to write about" remains for many a point of frustration for much of their lives.
The feeling is usually caused by having too high expectations of ourselves.
We tend to think that our words and sentences should be good and wonderful the moment we put them down on paper.
The beginner can feel immense distress after writing a paragraph and then realizing it's either awful, or nothing like the thoughts they wanted to transfer.
We should take comfort in the fact that this phenomenon is as true for seasoned writers as it is for the beginner!
Removing the barrier between our thoughts and their expression is something a writer may take a lifetime to learn – and, even then, never quite thoroughly master.
I think it was Evelyn Waugh who said that he found writing in his old age much harder than in his youth because the more he tried to get down precisely what he meant, the more laborious the process seemed to become.
A few throw away lines that may have sufficed as a younger man became pages of exposition that delved further and deeper into delicate nuances that seemed almost impossible for him to capture.
Churchill expressed the same concerns as he aged - and his later works became longer and denser.
One of my intentions with The Writing Academy is to short circuit this dilemma.
Because I believe that our subconscious minds have a much better grasp on writing, story, theme, structure and style than our conscious, rational minds.
This is one of the reasons why thinking too much doesn't seem to help us write.
Thinking is thinking.
But writing is writing.
And the only way to solve a writing problem - a block or a lack of ideas - is to write.
I've noticed this over and again.
That if you switch off your inner critic somehow - ignore it, or deliberately suppress it - and just write the first thing that comes into your head, then the subconscious somehow kicks in and takes over.
I've also noticed that if you write every day, the subconscious can actually guide you through an entire novel.
I used to wonder how I could hold an entire 150,000 word opus in my mind - until I realized it can't, and doesn't.
It's the subconscious that does this job. It holds the novel in a hidden databank. And if you're true to yourself - and have an objective moral compass - then your storylines will surface naturally.
Writing professors will often tell you about their favorite novelists. Those who've managed to weave profound themes into their work - and still created superb prose to house them.
But this is to misunderstand the process a writer uses.
I've yet to see a writer interviewed who will say they had all their themes - even subject matter - worked out before they started writing.
This is not how it works.
Themes, indeed stories, characters, and plots are subconscious manifestations of the writer's mindset and attitudes that come through the work, rather than being deliberately planned and executed to any formula.
Writing is not a mysterious process that defies explanation.
It just happens if we trust the process, and don’t overthink it.
This is good.
It means that all of us can do it - if we let go of preconceptions or expectations of our abilities.
Let go, and write.
Don't think, write.
That is, to me, what my Writing Academy is all about.
Thanks for reading.
(c) Rob Parnell
The Writing Academy
Articles on Writing