Do you have “stopper’s block”? You can’t stop writing and say, “Done,” or type “The End.” So you continue writing, writing, and writing some more.
Many writers experience writer’s block—a difficulty coming up with something to write. As I wrote in my previous piece on writing your introduction, often the thing that holds you back from diving into your work is fear, anxiety, or insecurity about writing. What if my ideas aren’t smart enough? What will my friends and colleagues think about what I’ve written? What if everyone decides my writing style is terrible? These and other kinds of negative self-talk are, in my experience, the leading causes of writers’ block or procrastination on writing.
I Can’t Stop Writing!
What my work as an editor has shown me, though, is that these same psychological blocks prevent writers from completing their work as much as they prevent them from starting. I call this condition “stopper’s block.”
If you are held back not from starting your work but from finishing it, you have stoppers block.
Let me describe main ways in which stopper’s block might strike, and how you can push through to stop writing and move on to whatever comes next.
#1: But There’s More!
You worry there might be more out there for you to include. I just need to visit one more archive! I just need to interview five more people! I just need to read one more book!
One of the main things I hear from authors who have missed their deadline—a chronic issue in my line of work—is that they just need more time to make sure they have adequately covered all sides of their topic and mined all potential resources. This desire to thoroughly research and explore is a good impulse to have as a writer, and it’s probably what led you to become a writer in the first place. However, all good things are best with moderation.
You could continue incorporating more into your writing until the end of time. But is fitting one more new bit into your piece worth holding up the completion of your work? Will the manuscript be significantly improved by the added information? If you don’t feel in your gut that it will, then it’s time to wrap things up and move on.
#2: I’ve Got Writer’s Envy!
Ever read something so good that you wished you would have thought of it? Or you read an excellent book (article or essay) and think, I need to radically rethink how mine is written or structured. We’ve all been there before and experienced this kind of writer’s envy.
Maybe an exquisitely done piece of writing inspires you to write in new ways. That’s great! What it shouldn’t do, though, is inspire you to entirely scrap a completed (or mostly completed) piece of work in hopes of attaining the kind of technique you just saw and admired.
Just because the piece of writing you’re working on doesn’t employ the great new writing style you’ve found doesn’t mean it is terrible in comparison to the other writer’s work. There are a lot of great writers out there, and someone is always going to be doing it better than you. (Sorry to break it to you!)
If you’re always motivated to try new things, that’s a net positive and something you can strive for with the next thing you write. In the meantime, wrap up the work you’re doing now, and then get ready to tackle that new piece with your new ideas in mind.
There’s only one situation in which I’ll endorse scrapping your work entirely after reading something else that’s great: the other piece is identical to the one you’re writing. But such incidents are rare.
#3: More Feedback, Please!
I need to get more feedback. I need my friend with a book deal to read this before I can finish it. I need a scholar who’s studied this topic to read it over one more time. I can’t submit a manuscript until I’ve had my own trusted editor go over the text. I’ve heard every one of these excuses for not turning in a manuscript.
Getting feedback is always a good thing. Have a trusted friend or members in your writing group look over your work as you write. But, don’t let their reviews become an endless read/revise circle.
Someone is always going to dislike what you write or think you could do it differently. If you have enough people look at something you’re writing, you’ll find you get a lot of unhelpfully divided opinions.
You can’t make everyone happy. Make yourself happy, and be prepared to stand by what you’ve written. If you genuinely are writing what you want to write, it will come easily.
#4: It Just Isn’t Ready...
A lot of writers sit with their work way too long, trying to shape it into the perfect piece that’s perfectly “ready.” In literary history, there are countless stories of famed writers polishing draft after draft before finally creating the masterpiece we all know and love.
I bet if you could ask any of your favorite literary figures, though, you’d find that there was always something (maybe even multiple somethings) that they wished they had done differently. Feeling incomplete after completion of a project is a universal experience for all writers, I’ve found.
Your final piece will never feel perfect. There might be an odd phrase or a typo; maybe a statement you could have made differently or a side of the argument you could have covered more extensively. The reality is that you will have one of these issues with whatever you write. And if you do, it won’t be the end of the world.
You can fix typos. And you can remedy uneven coverage with a follow-up piece. A weird phrase will likely be forgotten. But most importantly, you won’t write just one manuscript in your life. Wrap up this one—it’s good enough—and get on to the next.
As an editor I know often says: the best books are finished books. For any writing, the work’s impact in the world can’t start until a writer chooses to release it. Aim for your work to be good enough—and most importantly, finished. You will always get another chance to write—as long as what you’re writing gets the chance to be read.
Do you suffer from stopper’s block? If so, tell me in a comment below how you get to “done.”
About the Author
C.K. Bush is a nonfiction editor and writer. She lives in New York City.