Victoria Butler is a writer from Barrie, ON with three published poetry collections. She is a few months away from completing her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Toronto, and is well versed in the ups and downs of pursuing a career in writing.
This week we are thrilled that Victoria answered some questions from our community about writing, publishing, self-publishing, pursuing a degree in Creative Writing, professional writing, or anything about writing in general!
What do you do when you get writer’s block?
There was some quote I saw in one of my creative writing classes once that said writer’s block doesn’t exist, which is hilarious and very wrong! A myriad of things can come between you and your writing: stress, rumination, burn out, exhaustion, sickness, etc etc. I think, however, that there are different types of writer’s block. Sometimes I go through phases where I don’t feel inspired to write much outside of my job or any other paying writing gigs. I used to feel guilty about these periods, like the lack of desire to write meant I wasn’t a real writer or something melodramatic like that. But sometimes that just happens. We live in a very busy world and it isn’t possible to be inspired at all moments of the day. During times like these I do my best to read as much as possible. Even if I’m not writing, I can use this lull to absorb as much as I can from other writers until I get wind of the desire to open my notebook again.
The other type of writer’s block is a bit trickier. When you have a deadline for something that needs to be met, you can’t really afford to not be inspired. Usually to counteract this, I try a variety of things:
-Running (not always possible or enjoyable for everyone, but I find the intense burst in energy shakes the dust off of my mind and helps me refocus. You don’t have to commit to a full 5k, sometimes I do a series of jumping jacks in my room or run up and down my stairs a few times for the same effect)
-Free writing. Just put your pen to the paper and write as much as you can, don’t worry about anything “sounding good” and do your absolute best to turn off your inner editor as you do this, lest you get trapped in edit mode instead of writing mode (this is why I suggest using pen and paper and not doing this on the computer. Seeing the little red squiggles under my words annoys me and takes my focus away from the act of writing).
-Don’t be afraid of bad writing. I’ve always said, you need to write out all the bad stuff first in order to get to the good. Sometimes what you ~actually want~ to say is hidden under a few layers of what you ~think~ you want to say. Once all of those thoughts and ideas are cleared out of the way it makes room for your final draft.
How do you have the confidence to put your personal writing out there?
I am a very big believer in the wise phrase, “Fake it until you make it.” I have crafted most of my life around this idea. I still experience a lot of anxiety and fear when I put personal writing into the hands of the public. There is a chance that this piece of work I've spent infinite hours on that contains some of my most intense emotions or difficult experiences may be met with hostility, disinterest, or cruel criticism. But still, I am going to put it out there. I am going to let go the attachment I have to the piece and allow my readers to form new meanings. I am going to pretend that it doesn’t frighten me at all. I am going to be relieved when I receive positive reviews and even when I receive negative ones, because the world will keep on going even if someone thinks my poetry sucks. After all, I think lots of people’s writing is terrible, and many of these people are best-selling authors! Your work is not going to resonate with everyone, but the most important thing is to be putting it out there for yourself, not for the approval of other people.
If putting your personal writing out there really worries you, try writing under a pseudonym. I personally know quite a few people who use different names to publish their work under, it’s not uncommon at all. Writers have been using pseudonyms for hundreds of years, for a myriad of reasons, but I think many of us are afraid to share so boldly but don’t want to let that fear win.
Where can I start when it comes to writing? I have so much going on in my head but pen to paper is another story.
Earlier I suggested free writing, which is a great strategy of just getting things down on paper to move past some of the overthinking that is standing in your way. You can also try writing prompts. Depending on what kind of writing you want to do, google “poetry writing prompts” or “short story writing prompts” “personal essay writing prompts” etc. You’ll find a ton of examples of ideas to get your mind going. I also suggest journaling, which I know can seem like a cop out of a suggestion, but it really does help. I know a lot of people who used “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron to help them get into the habit of effective journaling which led to a habit of writing!