Today I read another blog entry that moved me deep: http://karlbimshas.blogspot.com/. The author, Karl Bimshas, wrote about the best cure for writer's block. Don't just sit there telling yourself "I need to write and I can't." Write something.
I used to be that obnoxious, needy, depressed wannabe writer. I spent decades in that terrible state trying to get friends and family members to read fragments of future novels and story starts. I had good reasons for it, which is why I'm sympathetic to anyone who is in that state. Quit beating yourself up. Karl is right. Write something, even if it's just personal journal or venting in an email to a trusted friend.
Choose friends who support you and want you to succeed at writing. Don't vent to people who discourage you.
One of the reasons I was blocked for that long is basic. We live in a critical, judgmental society where fault-finding and personal criticism is socially acceptable. Do not show your unfinished writing to anyone but another writer who's genuinely supportive, probably wants reciprocation and willing to help. Be clear about whether you're asking for support or critique.
Writers with confidence ask for critique in order to get help with the lengthy editing process. Writers without it who just ask someone to look at it are likely to get a useful critique of everything that needs work. That's just as important as support - the difference is that both are real needs.
The way to get support from non-writers is something I learned from Chris Baty at my first NaNoWriMo. Don't tell your non-writer friends about the story unless you can put it in a two-sentence blurb. If you can tell it for TV Guide, give that version. Measure your progress by quantity, not quality.
It's an achievement to write 5,000 words or 20,000 words or 50,000 words. It's an enormous achievement to write The End on a novel. You deserve to be cheered. The best way to get those cheers is to give them for all of your acquaintances' personal achievements. When they clear out the garage, congratulate them on a hard task well done. They are likely to reciprocate.
The more positive you are about friends' achievements, the more likely that social exchange gets reciprocated and you'll get a big cheering section. If they like the topic of your writing, give the two-sentence blurb as "what it's about." They may even ask instead of your having to twist their arms to get them to look at it.
But even if they don't read for enjoyment, they're going to recognize your achievement as one comparable to clearing the garage, losing 25 pounds, winning a gardening award, getting a promotion at work. Everyone's life is full of achievements. The way to get positive people who support them into your life is to join in that reciprocal support pattern.
If you need validation for your plot, seek out a writing group in your genre that separates "Supportive" comments from "Critique" or has critique levels. Believe it or not, pure support critique is real feedback. A better writer looking at a beginner's first story is going to look for something good about it that's real.
The beginner may be more self conscious about the best things in the story than about the worst. It's very easy to mistake your worst passage for your best, because it flowed easily or made you feel good. Or think your best passage is your worst, because you dared to try something new and it's not like the rest of your writing. Getting support feedback from experienced writers can give a much clearer idea of the successes and flaws of any given story than your knitting friend who goes "Congratulations" without understanding.
I still sometimes do that, even though by now my rough drafts are pretty clean. I'll do something new that's a stretch for me and get self conscious about it until I hear back from writer friends that it's the best part - when I didn't cue them. Or vice versa, feeling so proud of a polished, poetic passage I slaved over that turns out to be completely redundant. It goes on the cutting room floor.
Most writing groups mix the two types in their critique guidelines - open with something positive, go into the problems, suggest possible fixes for the problems and end on a positive note. The "Crit sandwich" is a good comfort level except when the writer is confident enough not to want to bother reading through all the compliments and just wants a line edit - or the writer's feeling discouraged and needs support only. That's why so many groups have critique levels.
People have many reasons to be negative and discouraging. Often it's jealousy. Anne Lamott writes about this in Bird by Bird. She talked about losing a lot of her friends once she sold her first book. Writing groups that were uniformly supportive right to that point gave her some nasty surprises as some of her unpublished fellows got jealous and turned on her socially.
The risk of rejection is not the risk that an editor will write back saying "This story doesn't meet our current needs. Please submit again." Those editors mean it. They'd like you to look at their upcoming issues, pick a theme from next year's list and send in another story that has the good points of what they just looked at. If they give any critique, it's gold. They're telling you how to write for that publication and also in general how to write. That means they liked it enough that they almost bought it. They think you're worth cultivating.
The risk that sent me into black terrors of anguish staring at the blank page was the risk of social rejection. My parents, my teachers, my ex, many of my friends and when I was underage, everyone in my life including therapists all were dead set against my becoming a writer. They each had their own reasons.
I'll go into some of those social risks in later entries, along with other factors that can interfere with successful writing. I've got the dubious privilege of having believed at one time or another in every idiot myth, pretentious attitude and stupid idea about writing that I ever heard.
I don't beat myself up that often now. Every time I succeed at writing, whether it's finishing a story, finishing a Nanowrimo, editing one, sending something out, I'm building another level that my confidence won't sink below. I know I can finish a book. I know I can sell a short story at pro rates. I know my indie novel paid out well enough to be an economic success. I know my friends are happy for me when I succeed and that I won't be friendless when I sell a pro novel.
So watch for Writer's Block II: Better Taste than Skill.