Dear Sherry: Stuck in My Head

Dear Sherry,

A number of years ago, I entered a short story contest and won. Yay me! One of the prizes was tuition in a writing course. Something the teacher said has stuck with me all these years. She said that I shouldn’t take the time to picture the story in my mind first. She said that ruins the story. She said I should write the story, let the words flow onto the page, rather than think about it first.

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to imagine and picture the story first before I write it, but now I’m not so sure. The teacher is a fairly respected writer, and she made it sound like what I was doing was all wrong, and that I’m not a real writer because of it.

I have a novel in me that I think is pretty good. I can see it all in my head, start to finish, but I haven’t written any of it down. I am afraid to. What should I do?

Signed, Stuck in my head.

Picture Credit: PublicDomainPictures


Dear Stuck,

I call bullshit. Every writer as their own process of getting the words on the page. Some, like that instructor, write best by allowing the words to flow without forethought. Some outline the story down to every detail, and it can take them months before they start actually writing. Others don’t write a word until they have the entire novel pictured in their mind. I like to have flashes of images playing out before and during my writing time, and between writing sessions, I picture what will happen next. You do what works for you.

What makes you a “real writer” is actually writing. That is your only priority until you have your book done. You do not owe anyone any explanation as to your own writing process.

I suspect that when you sit down to write, it will not matter what you do, you will still hear your teacher’s voice saying you are not a “real writer.” Her voice has likely become the voice of your self-doubt and lack of belief that you know how to write.

When you hear that voice telling you that you are not a real writer, what is it you are really questioning? Your commitment to writing? Your knowledge of the craft? The time it will take to write the novel?

Write down what it is you are questioning. Now ask yourself why it bothers you so much. Why do you fear the commitment to writing? Why do you fear you do not know enough about writing? What is it about the amount of time it will take to write the novel that bothers you?

Once you figure out what it is you are truly fearing, then you can find the resources you need to overcome that fear.

First and foremost, though, sit down and write the first word, then the first sentence, and the first paragraph. Enjoy telling that beautiful story you have tucked away. It is time to share it!

Creatively yours, Sherry

Sherry Peters“Dear Sherry” is an opportunity to ask for advice on writer’s/creativity block, time management, the process of writing, and more. Sherry Peters is a Certified Life Coach who works with writers at all stages of their writing career looking to increase their productivity through pushing past the self-doubt holding them back. Her fiction has won the Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-book award, and been nominated for the Aurora Award, Canada’s top prize for Speculative fiction.

If you could ask a writing coach anything, here is your chance! Send her an e-mail at





  • Nicole Taft November 3, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    I second the bullshit call. I 100% visualize things before slapping them down. Maybe not every scene or every detail, but I’ll hop on the treadmill and go for a few miles with the right music and flesh out all sorts of stuff. Then later on it’s ready to go, kind of like whipping up batter for some cookies, leaving them in the fridge to prep, and then going all out and baking like there’s no tomorrow.

    Besides, visualizing stuff is damn good fun.

  • Ronya FM November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am

    Agreed. I could not write if I couldn’t visualize things first. It *is* damn good fun. Plus, pantsers like me need to be able to visualize stories or even just scenes before writing them down. I hear the whole learning styles thing has been debunked, but I think it’s important to encourage people to learn and work in different ways. I can’t imagine approaching writing the same way every time for every story, either – but MMV.

  • Shara White November 4, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Also agreed. When I was finishing my SHU Thesis novel, my process was to walk a couple miles in my neighborhood to get my head on straight, get into story-mode and to visualize how I wanted things to play out, rewind, try out alternatives, etc. I knew what the large strokes were for the book, but yeah. Nothing is wrong with visualizing, so long as writing is part of that. Where people get into trouble is when they do nothing but imagine their stories over and over and over without committing anything to paper… that I can see being a problem.


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