This is a guest article by Abraham Adekunle. If you want to submit a guest article of your own be sure to read the guest article guidelines.
Writing can seem liberating at first. You sit down at your computer, smuggle your coffee beside your writing materials, and begin the session with an enthusiastic mind.
You are charged. You can pump out a thousand words in 30 minutes. You’re thinking about how those words will change the world, how your readers will be engulfed in the emotion you want them to be in, and how they’ll swiftly take to the internet to write you an email.
But suddenly, the thoughts are all gone. Your fingers type words but delete them almost as fast as they came. Writing that scene in your novel now becomes something only a genius can do. Where did all that enthusiasm go? Where did the thoughts go?
And the worst part, you are sure it’s not writer’s block, because not that you only write, it’s not just coming from your heart.
“Oh God. I know what to say, but not how.”
The Depiction of an Expressionless Writer
Being expressionless is what every writer has to face. It teaches how to realize that they have something to say and how to choose what to say.
Now, I strongly believe this feeling is not that of writer’s block and that of writer’s block at the same time. Why? Because it falls into one of the categories of the types of writer’s block there is.
- I don’t want to write now.
- I don’t know what to write.
- I know what to write, but not how.
Whine about all other gazillion types of writer’s block, it all boils down to the three above. It’s either you don’t want to write, you don’t know what to write, or you don’t know how to say what you want to say. But that’s not the focus of this article.
Why I strongly believe it’s, at the same time, not a feeling due to writer’s block is that the beginner we’re talking about still gets something done. He still writes. But in reality, he’s just blabbing on the page.
Basically, he lacks the ability to express himself with clarity.
The Feeling is Strange But It’s Also Familiar
It has once been happening to me. I would write a sentence over and over again, just because I know that what I’ve written isn’t what I wanted to write. So, I wrote a lot of articles and short stories that were verbosity galore.
It wasn’t until recently that I looked back and saw how I’ve overcome it. I don’t know it all, but maybe a little knowledge won’t hurt either.
Let’s look at the possible causes and solutions to this problem.
#1: You Don’t Have Enough Vocabulary
This is especially true if English isn’t your native language. In order to write economical and engaging prose in English, you have to acquire a fair amount of words that you can use at your disposal. You don’t have to eat a whole dictionary (although, knowing every word will help), a fair share of it will be great.
One way to know that this is the cause of your expressive problem is when you use lots of fillers in your writing, ones that even an amateur writer will catch at first glance. Imagine a writing full of the same set of words without a slight tinge of synonyms. It will show in your writing.
When I started writing, words like stare, glare, gaze, crouch, sigh, sprint, etc., were absent in my dictionary. What resulted was that I found myself stuttering on the page, much like I did in real life at that particular time. I used the word look, bend, exhale loudly, etc. in place of those succinct ones I would have used had I known them.
It’s not that using the latter group of words is wrong but take for example, “bend” wouldn’t do in place of “crouch,” and vice-versa. Bend is when you lower your body from waist up while crouch is sitting on your heels. Can you see how out-of-place that’d be?
But how did I solve this self-imposing problem?
There’s no magic formula to anybody’s writing problem. And sorry if this is going to shock you, it’s hard work. A lot of hard work. Are you still up for it?
- Consume English materials. Sorry, I don’t mean literally eating them, but soaking your brain in them (oops, that was another pun!). Read books, magazines, etc. The human brain functions in a way that it gets accustomed to things it interacts with every time. If you give it a heavy dose of English, I’m sure it will store everything in your dictionary and render them to you whenever you need them.
- Use words you have learned in your writing. Have you come across ten words you’re not familiar with in a book and you marked them, checked the meaning in the dictionary, and even pronounced it out loud so that you can remember? Yes, go another extra mile. Use that word in your writing. You can solely write with the word in mind, finding every opportunity to use. Do this for ten words a day and you’ll increase your vocabulary in no time.
- Get a good dictionary. As much as you read, you will do yourself a great service if you have a dictionary in handy as you read your books. If you know the methods that help you learn fast, then consider channeling your dictionary with it. Do you learn faster visually? Get a dictionary that has lots of pictures. Do you learn faster auditorily? No problem. Can you get an audio dictionary? It won’t only help you learn the words for writing, but help you in pronouncing them, too.
#2: You Are Not Familiar With What You Are Saying
Beginning writers came into the writing craft for the love of it. Little did they know that you can’t just pull up a pen and paper and start writing anything. Well, at least, if getting published and known is in view.
Curious, their mind willed them into trying different things. They’re thinking whether they should write fiction or nonfiction. Or whether they should base on military fiction. Or whether they should just muster every ounce of courage in them and proceed to write nonfiction books.
From subject matter to terminology discrepancies to inability to describe a setting vividly, unfamiliarity totally ruins it for not just the ones starting out, but also for those who’s been in the writing business for long.
Like the other causes of the expressive problem, unfamiliarity with a subject also has a solution.
- Write what you know. Yes, I know you have something to say. But you have to know what you want to write like the back of your palm. For example, if you’re writing fiction, the setting should be where you know vividly. That’s why many writers travel to gather inspiration for the settings of their works. That doesn’t mean you should travel by all means. In fact, you can use Google Street to view places that can serve as your story setting from your computer. It’s good if you don’t have the luxury to travel. So the tip goes that you should write what you’re familiar with.
- Study what you want to write about before writing it. I know some people write about things they’re new to, for example, freelancers. The best thing to do is to study the subject matter before you write anything on it. And you should have a reference note to fall back to if you need any information. Instead of staring at the blank screen, you’ll revert to your note for the exact phrase you’re looking for.
- Fill in the pieces later. Sometimes when I write fiction, and cannot describe something vividly at first, I leave a note in color that I have to come back to it. For example, you want to describe a sitting room with chandelier, but you don’t know what it’s called. At that moment, you can leave a note that’ll remind you that you have to research about what that beautiful material, hanging from the ceiling is called. This way, just one word or phrase won’t stop you from pumping out the otherwise interesting work you wouldn’t have written. You may think your work sucks when you’re doing it, but you’ll also be producing more work.
#3: You are Comparing Your First Draft with Another Writer’s Final Draft
You may fall into this trap if you’re challenging yourself to new heights every day and if, with every writer’s work you read, you work on improving just like him/her. But there’s a difference between challenge and setting unattainable standard.
Think about it this way. The other writer you’re aspiring to be like has to take his/her work through many drafts before you can see the final product. When you compare your first draft with another writer’s final draft, you’re practically telling yourself that you don’t need editing. That is, you want perfect words to flow through your fingers the first time around.
That’s impossible. Even famous writers know that they can’t write perfect words at the first draft stage and editors hire other professional editors to help them with heir work, too.
Worse still, you’re competing in a league where no one’s issued a golden cup and plenty of money. What you should aim for instead are the areas your work needs improvement. And even at that, you’ve gone past the first drafting stage, so you literally need to avoid this while writing.
There’s no other solution than to stop yourself from comparing your work to other people’s work. Don’t read other writer’s works before writing your book. Don’t form the image of your favorite author writing that beloved book.
You have work to do in silencing your inner critic. Your writing career depends on it.
#4: You Are Trying the Advanced Technique First
Can you imagine? A writer who started out yesterday wants to write a novella in the point of view of five characters, lace it up with a second person perspective throughout, and then scatter a handful of first-person scenes in every chapter. Are you kidding me?
It’s obvious that many beginner writers start with the advanced technique they read on writing blogs or books or heard in podcasts. That’s the most terrible step to take first for a beginner.
Think of it. A casual guy, thin and short, who’s on cotton trousers and flexible top, complete with a sandal who wants to climb Mount Everest in an hour. Did I hear you giggle? Yet, that’s the perfect illustration a writer is giving if he stubbornly sticks with the advanced methods of writing at first. It’s possible to write your novel in any way, but keep the following in mind.
- Always start from the easiest method. For a to-be mountain climber, he has to go through proper training and learn the use of certain tools. For example, if you’re just starting out writing stories, try writing short stories first. Or, if are up to the task, write in first person or 3rd person limited point of view.
- Learn and master the basics first. While starting out, what a writer should be sourcing for is the basics of the profession he has chosen so that he can build more advanced techniques on it as he keeps learning.
#5: That is Not Your Style
Everybody knows that there’s no problem in branching out of your comfort zone. But it can be disastrous if you haven’t found your style. Writing style (or writing voice, as it is commonly called) is your own unique way of communicating through written words. It’s like a DNA. That means no other person can write as you do; they’ll only succeed in finding their own voice.
In today’s world of technology, so many things are fighting for your readers’ attention. But if you have found a unique voice and you use it to the fullest, you have a chance at keeping your reader.
The solution to this is to find your own style, first, before branching out into another writing style. I would’ve very, very, very much love to write this article in 3rd person omniscient point of view, but as they would say, “That ain’t my style.”
Matter of fact, I tried writing this very article that way but couldn’t write further than the introduction. But here I am with a unique article because I’m writing it in my style.
#6: You Have Health Issues
Sometimes, it’s not the mumbo-jumbo of the writing world that works against you. Maybe you feel tired the moment you hit the first letter on your keyboard. Or you can sit at your desk for five minutes straight, concentrated on writing. It’s possible that you may have health issues of which one of it may be depression. I’m not an expert but I can say that almost every writer has his or her downtime. But it’s out of hand if it stays longer and longer than normal.
See a qualified health persona. Go for a checkup so that you can know what happened to you. You may well be surprised at how much energized you’ll feel after seeing your doctor.
Start Expressing Yourself
One of the things you know for sure when you write that story, article, or whatever you want to write, is the satisfaction that you’ll derive from it.
And maybe those words will help someone else.
So start today.
Sit on your chair and start typing sentence by sentence.
Go, my friend, the world needs your words.
Have you tried to express yourself one way or another without success? How did the battle go? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comment section.
Abraham Adekunle is an 18-year-old writer who’s on a mission to teach young writers like himself how to write and self-publish a book without a dime, and making money in the process. You can subscribe to his Young Writers’ Craft newsletter where he shares helpful tips on writing, editing, and self-publishing.