How I Learned to Beat Writer’s Block

Image Credit: Studio-Annika / http://www.istockphoto.com/user_view.php?id=773765My first year as a soon-to-be-published author was nothing less than a baptism of fire.

When I received my contract to write How To Do Everything with HTML, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.

Oh, I knew I was going to write a computer book.

What I didn’t know was that the whole process would be done at a pace that bordered on insane.

Because technology changes so quickly, computer books are produced on a much faster timetable than other books. Otherwise, they can be obsolete before they ever hit bookstore shelves. The ink on my contract had barely dried when my editor e-mailed me and asked me to develop a chapter delivery schedule.

I had 20 weeks to write a 600+ page book.

If that weren’t stressful enough, I discovered that the entire writing, editing, rewrite, and proofing process would take place simultaneously.

It went something like this: For week number one, I had to write my first chapter. That included more than just writing the text. I also had to develop the HTML code. And I had to design and create all my own illustrations. After I turned in chapter one, the next week I turned my attention to the second chapter.

Like chapter one, I had to write the text, code, and illustrations. But I also had an additional task.

I had to incorporate tech edits for chapter one.

The publisher had graciously hired a technical editor who went through my HTML code and found all the bugs. Then he kicked the file back to me so that I could fix it. Thus, in the second week I had to write a 20-30 page chapter, create the computer code, design and produce my own illustrations, and incorporate the tech edits from chapter one.

Then things got even more challenging.

By about the fifth week I began to receive copy edits. So now my weekly workload involved writing a new chapter, developing the HTML code, designing and creating my own illustrations, incorporating tech edits from previous chapters, and reviewing copy edits from previous chapters.

I didn’t think it could get any worse.

It did.

About three quarters of the way through the project, page proofs began to come in, chapter by chapter. So in the last month or so, every week I had to write a new chapter, develop code, design illustrations, fix bugs, review copy edits, and correct page proofs.

It was like running down a railroad track with a mountain on one side, a cliff on the other and a locomotive breathing down my neck.

By the time I reviewed my last page proof, I felt like I’d just finished the writer’s version of the Ironman triathlon. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I sent off that final file.

A sinking feeling followed that sigh of relief.

I was ready for a long rest, but that would have to wait. About halfway through the project I’d suggested an idea for a follow-up book on Cascading Style Sheets (a related language that works hand-in-hand with HTML). The publisher liked the idea, gave me a new contract, and told me to get started right away.

For another 20 weeks, I kept running down that railroad track.

It was an exhausting process, but I’m thankful that my first books were produced this way. The schedule was brutal, particularly for a brand new writer. But I learned a valuable lesson.

I learned that I never need to let writer’s block defeat me and that I can produce consistently every week. There were many days when I didn’t feel like writing. However, because of the breakneck pace and tight production schedule, I didn’t have time to wallow in self-pity or give in to writer’s block.

I had to produce.

If I gave in to writer’s block, then the next week I would have twice as much work.

And so I wrote.

For me, writing two computer books in the space of nine months was like boot camp. The publisher put me through the wringer.

But in the process, I learned how to deal with writer’s block.

I sit down and write.

Do you struggle with writer’s block? Or have you developed a way to deal with it?

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12 thoughts on “How I Learned to Beat Writer’s Block

  1. Oh my goodness, how true!!! The double duty (writing the next one and editing the first) was not a part of the dream. ha ha!! I’ll take each and every minute of it though. 😉

  2. Oh, you brought back memories! My son wrote a computer book for O’Reilly in his mid-20s, while working full time. It was SO stressful, just as you’ve described here, but he met every deadline. However, he has expressed no interest in writing another book!

  3. At least with non-fiction you don’t have to deal with emotions. (do you?)

    In fiction the characters get emotional, the writer gets emotional. Communication breaks down. Sigh.

    So you journal until you break through the wall.

    • Hey Sharon, I can’t speak for James, but some of us non-fiction writers get emotional attachments with our work too. Makes it more difficult to push through.

  4. Great post, James. Like yourself, I do better under pressure. It doesn’t allow for lethargic wastes of time. I seem to be an all or nothing gal, push hard and produce like a mad woman, or crash into a gelatinous heap, and despair over my failure. 😀

  5. James, I also have found my best cure for writer’s block is a deadline. 2nd best cure is a bag of peanut M&Ms. As for the breakneck schedule of getting a book into print, I now wish I had written all my books before I got the first one published, while I still had all the time I wanted to write. I just finished writing book #5 in a projected series of 12 books for a regional publisher while finishing book #2 for my series with WordServe, and I wonder how in the world I’m going to find the time to keep up the writing when the marketing is so time-consuming! Not to mention I’ve got a brand new book idea percolating in my head. There’s never a good time for writer’s block, is there?

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