'There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.'
Walter Wellesley 'Red' Smith
'The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt.'
'Ooh, fiction's so liberating,' some people will tell you. 'Anything can happen.'
Yes, I'd argue. Anything can happen - absolutely ANYTHING. So how does a writer know which is the right 'anything' for their manuscript? Should we go down route A or path B? How do we choose age range, word count or theme? When you're mired in the angst of deciding what your manuscript is about, there are some things you should and should not do.
Push on through
Don't. Just don't. If you feel like banging your head against the desk, it's time to go and annoy yourself with something else.
Scrolling back and forth through a manuscript can be like picking at a scab. 'But what's it all ABOUT!' your mind screams, as panic simmers at the edges of your existence. You don't need to know what the manuscript is about yet - you're not revising for an exam. Don't worry about the big picture. Take your time, get the words on the page, complete a first draft. Themes often emerge of their own free will; you don't have to force the issue. I'd argue that themes are secondary - it's action that counts. You know, people doing stuff, on the page.
Listen to your mother
She always told you to get a good night's sleep, didn't she? She's right. Everything looks better in the morning, but particularly a manuscript. I find that I often dream myself out of problems. That tricky plot point melts away when your sleeping self makes suggestions. I won't suggest that all the writing ideas from your dreamscape are good ones - some of them will seem woefully inadequate in the morning! - but your brain is being left in peace to sort through the rubble and find you gems. A good night's sleep is crucial.
Talk to people
Trying to put your doubts into words can clarify what your doubts are exactly. An innocent question from someone who loves you is worth its weight in gold. 'Have you written a plot outline?' Ummmm, well, they're always so tedious to do. 'Has anyone read it yet?' No, no, I can't share this yet, it's not good enough. And the best question of all: 'Have you been spending too much time on the Internet?' Just don't kill the person doing the asking!
Go back to school
Exam revision techniques can be unexpectedly useful for the writer crawling towards a goal. When you need to focus on the important matter - getting the damn thing written - divide your time into manageable chunks. 30 solid minutes of writing with no email, Twitter, Facebook or Google. Go on, try it. Many writers swear by the Pomodoro Technique. Yes, even creatives need time management (and there's a great app for your iPhone).
Nice Cup of Tea and A Sit Down
If all else fails, do what the British do best and make yourself a brew. A nice calming cup of camomile or perhaps builders' best. It gives you five minutes to calm down, snack on a biccie and go back to your desk with your head sorted.
My final words of dubious wisdom? Listen to Sylvia Plath. Self doubt really is the enemy of creativity. If we all listened to that writhing worm, no one would get anything done. Take it one step at a time - or 1000 words at a time, as many writers suggest. 1000 words a day over, say, a couple of months and you have yourself a first draft. Two months! Is that all the time it takes to write a novel?! No, I said 'first draft'. Many more drafts will come, but you've done the hard part - you got to THE END. The two most beautiful words in the English language.
Especially when you once believed you didn't have it in you.