Writers Block Versus Readers Block

I feel like I’ve become Chicken Little shouting “The sky is falling!” or, in my case, “Down Salem Way is coming!” I can hear fans of the Loving Husband Trilogy thinking, seriously, lady, how long does it take to write a novel based on characters and ideas you already know?

It’s true that I’ve had other things going on in my life, as we all have. Some of those other things have taken a lot of time, but even that isn’t really an excuse. I’ve always believed that if you want to write badly enough you’ll make the time. It’s true I had other books that were poking at me with pointed sticks until I wrote them down and set them free, but When It Rained at Hembry Castle was published over a year ago, and then there were no more excuses. What else was going on?

I’ve been stalled. I mean really, really stalled. For a while, I thought it was writers block that was stopping me. If you’ve spent any amount of time writing, you know about writers block. It’s where writers are so stuck for ideas that we spend hours or even weeks staring at a blank screen. It’s where writers think they will never have an idea again, the well is dry, and there’s nowhere to find the water you need to survive. That sounds dramatic, I know, but that’s what writing struggles feel like—like you’re searching for that one big idea that will help everything else fall into place, a figurative glass of water to soothe your thirst. To a degree, it’s correct to call my struggles with Down Salem Way writers block. The three books in the Loving Husband Trilogy came so easily. Once I settled on the historical periods for each book (the Salem Witch Trials, the Trail of Tears, and the Japanese-American internment camps, respectively), the plots took care of themselves. When I finished writing the last book in the trilogy, Her Loving Husband’s Return, I felt that the story was neatly wrapped up—all the odds and ends of the plot had been seen to—and in my mind the story was done. When so many readers asked for more James and Sarah stories, I thought, sure, I can do that. I love these characters and I love their story. I can write more.

It’s a different feeling writing a book in a series that is loved by readers than it is to write a book to entertain yourself. That’s what I did when I wrote the Loving Husband Trilogy—I wrote the stories for myself because I was eager to see what happened next. Suddenly, I was worried about the new story in a way I hadn’t been before. What will fans of the series think? Will they like the direction in which James and Sarah have gone? Will they like the twists and turns? I’m wondering if it has been readers block that slowed down my writing process; of course, readers block is simply an extension of writers block. Readers block is where the writer is so worried about what readers are going to think that it stops the writing process altogether. Writers block is where I’m unable to write because of what I think about my writing; readers block is where I’m unable to write because of what I think readers will think about my writing. It may be a minor distinction—both types of blocks leave me banging my head against the wall—but it was important for me to realize that I was worried about disappointing readers. I had to recognize that I was nervous about not recreating the magic of the first three Loving Husband books. I had to shine a light on my writing struggles and acknowledge them because otherwise I was full of excuses: I have other books that I had to write first; I had to take a break from the Loving Husband stories because I worked on them four years straight without a break; I have other life obligations that were taking too much time. You know the drill. When we’re in the midst of excuses it’s too easy to turn away from the truth that’s staring us in the face. I was afraid to write because I was afraid to fail.

So there’s my rationale behind my decision to write Down Salem Way on Wattpad. I’ve always believed that in order to overcome a fear, you have to face it head on. Rather than not write the story, which is how I had been handling the fear, or rather than writing the story while I was hidden away in the dark with all my worries making my monkey mind spin uncontrollably, I decided to write in the light of day so anyone who wants to can see. What you’re seeing on Wattpad right now is what you get because I’m posting an early draft as I write it, but I think this writing out loud is just what I need to help myself get past my readers block, or my writers block, or whatever this lack of progress is, so that I can get back to what I do best–writing.