Is this why you think you can’t write?

Writing books is about the art of writing. But it’s also about problem solving.

This aspect of writing is often glossed over. But it trips up countless aspiring authors. They often confuse problems with lack of talent. When they hit a stumbling block, they assume it’s because they can’t write.

Not so.

They probably just need to do knuckle down and solve some problems, nut out the logistics of their story.

Figuring stuff out. Truly Tan: Spooked. Illustration, Claire Robertson.

It helps to look at writing and problem solving as two different things. It can be calming. It can help you keep the faith. Stop you sliding down the slippery slope of self-doubt.

Patience, Grasshopper. We are simply solving problems. As Confucius say, ‘No biggie’.

I have a private Facebook group for my online course, Scribbles. I’ve been sharing a bit more of my creative process with the group. It’s a sort of unofficial ‘bonus’ for Scribbles participants. To ensure I have something worth saying, I’ve been watching myself in action.

I’ve been noticing what I do, how I spend my time, what actually goes on as I’m preparing to write a book.

I’m currently preparing to write the seventh Truly Tan book. (These books are 45,000 words.)

Book Six was released this month. May 2017.

I’ve been lost for about three weeks. Walking into walls. Getting crabby and exasperated. Waking up with palpitations. (I’ve spent the advance.)

Why do I feel so challenged?

Not because I think I can’t write. It’s because I haven’t been able to solve the myriad problems the new book is throwing at me.

Before I even begin writing, there are countless ‘curlies’ to get my head around. This takes mental energy, imagination (you have to push it!) and a lot of time and patience.

Here’s a snapshot from the first round of problems:

What month/season is it? This will affect all the action. It will affect what’s going on at school and at home. It will affect the daylight hours (kids can’t do much at night) and of course the weather (which brings its own gifts and limitations).

What is the crime? This is always tough. This is where the restrictions on kid lit really hit home.  The book must be scary. But not too scary! There must be danger. But not too much danger! The story needs to be believable, entertaining and quietly kooky. That’s what my readers expect. That’s the world I’ve set up and I must be true to that world in every book. No deviating. No breaking the unbreakable vow. Readers expect, demand, more of the same. Only different.

Who is the criminal and what’s their motive? I have to know this before I start. Otherwise I’ll waste too much time writing myself into dead ends. While I don’t plot heavily, I do PLAN. There’s a huge difference.

Where will the crime take place? In town or out whoop whoop in the country? Tan lives on an isolated property. Crimes and mysteries set in the remote Aussie countryside (that don’t end up like Wolf Creek or The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith) are tricky to come up with.

If I set the crime in town, how will Tan go about investigating (given that she lives miles away)? She has access issues. She doesn’t drive, she’s a school kid with limited resources and zero influence or credibility. It can be a logistical nightmare, ferrying her back and forth into town, inventing opportunities for her to investigate, spy and convince cagey suspects and bored witnesses to cough up.

All this is the tip of the iceberg.

But can you see that it’s all about problem solving? It’s not about the art of writing per se. I guess you could say it’s about crafting the story.

Never confuse the art with the craft.

Don’t give up because you’ve hit problems.

Writers solve problems, all day, every day. It’s what we sign up for when we say yes to a story. 

Forgive us if we walk into walls.

We have a lot on our minds.

Jen xo


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See Me Jump, my creative writing book,  available in paperback, here.


One Reply to “Is this why you think you can’t write?”

  1. Excellent points. Self doubt so easy to give in to. Writing about so much more than the actual time writing the words – all the thinking requires head space and as soon as we stress our brains close their creative doors! I think the other fear is that if we write something down it is set in stone – rather than something that can be flexible edited and changed.

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