Psychological Barriers

I teach a class for Gotham Writers called Novel First Draft, which is about helping writers power through a first draft. Over ten weeks, people will write anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 words, and it’s exhilarating. Nothing more inspiring then seeing writers in the flow. But invariably, around week five, (or sometimes week two), certain psychological barriers crop up that can slow things down. Here are a few of them.

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Carping Critic: You’re no good. Your writing’s no good. Have you ever read Charles Dickens? Do you think he’d write a sentence like that? There are so many writers out there so much better than you. Why do you think anyone would want to read what you have to say? Arghh. How are you supposed to deal with that? By reminding yourself that you have your own unique thing to say. And it doesn’t need to be perfect. This is just a first draft. You can do it!

The Betrayer: My family will hate me when they read this. My friends will hate me. How can I write something if it’s going to hurt the people I love. How to respond? This is a tough one because it can happen, but it’s not something to worry about in the first draft. Hopefully, as you go through further drafts, you will change characters and situations so you’re not drawing so much on actual details. Our job as writers is to transform anecdotes into stories.

The Guilt Trip: You should really make an appointment with the dentist. You haven’t called your mother in two days. The bathroom needs to be cleaned. There’s no milk in the house. How dare you take time to write? How to respond? Prioritize! Get up at 6 a.m. and write for half an hour. Then clean the bathroom. No one ever spent the last hour of their life saying, thank heavens I got that bathroom clean. Don’t let go of your dreams!

How about you? What barriers stop you from writing?


  1. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with ideas and freeze up. Right now toying with arc for next book, scribbling possibilities and letting them ruminate. Is that the right word? I’m too old to belt out 10,000 words and then figure out it’s going nowhere so I’ve become a confirmed plotter.

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