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Writing Books/a too long idea incubation


Dear Catherine, I'm a published writer here in Indonesia. I'm currently on the making of my second novel, and I have a serious problem I can't solve alone. It's about the idea incubation.

So here I've incubate my idea for nearly 5 months. I think it's too long, really. I usually incubate my idea for 1 week or so. But this is a special case. I haven't got my final idea until now!

My criteria of "final idea", is something that could make me write non-stop, full with exploding enthusiasm, and hence, with that kind of spirit, usually the story will reach the finish line. So I usually choose not to start writing until I get the final idea.

Now, when I don't have that final idea, I can't write my second novel, and it's frustating. People told me that it's writer's block. But I have tried many ways to overcome writer's block--reading, watching TV/movies, talk to people, but still I failed to get the final idea.

I read a book that said, "Let the idea incubate itself. Don't push yourself to write until the idea reach the final form."

But it has been too long, don't you think? What should I do? Should I keep waiting, or should I write anything I have on my head, even those ideas couldn't give me the exploding enthusiasm?

Oh yes, and P.S, I just accepted a prestigious writing award recently in Indonesia, so you can tell that my name's kinda hot now, and my readers always plead me to release my second novel ASAP! I'm in deadline here! Thank you for the answer.

Dear Catherine,

Thank you for writing.

Yes, you definitely have writer's block. It's very common, as I'm sure you know; we all get it. There's nothing you can do to speed up the process at all -- you just have to let it come to you. It's an internal, personal, mental and emotional situation for everyone, and no one situation is the same.

Usually, if I'm blocked, I simply do what you've mentioned -- totally take my mind off the subject by doing something else that interests me, and I also allow myself this kind of time -- it's very easy to start beating yourself up about "deadlines" and "what the publisher's timeline is," and "what people expect," etc., but it does no good whatsoever, so I push it out of my mind.

When I'm relaxed enough, something (it could be anything) will "bring me back to life," and I'll get a germ of an idea, or even what I call and have experienced as "catching a line (of a poem, for example) in the air," and then I can't find a pen fast enough to go write it down.

You can also move away from your main subject and try to write things you enjoy but seem like "more fun" to you right now, such as answering questionnaires, writing poetry, writing essays about people you know and "out there" things like what animal they most resemble; or how they walk and hold themselves and what this tells you about their personalities; or describe your earliest memories from your childhood and the people you remember most from that time and what they looked like, how they smelled, smiled, what their 'quirks' were, on and on, etc. You get the idea.

Just pull yourself out of the tension of "I have to do this now!" and let yourself go -- when your mind is tangled up with worry, there's no room for creative energy to flow.

I hope this helps -- you'll get "unstuck" soon enough!

All Best,
Catherine Van Herrin  

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Catherine Van Herrin


I am an American-born, native English speaker with a BA in English and more than 26 years of professional editing, writing, and proofreading experience. I have edited several books and book-length manuscripts. References and titles available upon request.

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More than 26 years' U.S. publishing industry experience, editorial (print). I provide crystal-clear, clean grammar; strict attention to style, consistency, flow, logic, accuracy, and spelling, and I work quickly and efficiently.

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