There you are again, faced with the blank page and a looming deadline and your hands are frozen over the keyboard. Or maybe, you feel creatively tapped, exhausted - unable to come up with one more scene, dialogue or character. And, there is that manuscript that is hanging out on your desk, so beautifully printed but NOW What?
This is called Writer's Block and it happens to everyone. The reasons are vast and plentiful, but most often, they have to do with fear.
Over the next three months, I will be posting about Writer's Block. What it is, why it might be happening to you, and some successful strategies for overcoming it. I will also include, in each posting, questions and exercises to help get you Off the Block and On the Street to successfully finishing your work.
Today, is the first in the 10 part series.
Okay. So, we know that Writer's Block is definitely tied into fear about something. Pssst - here's a secret: you already know what you're fearful of. Now, you just have to deal with it.
Here's another secret: all of us experience fear of something or other at different points in our lives.
So the goal of talking about fear is not eliminating it from our lives, but rather, learning about how we handle it and work with it to develop positive, constructive strategies for our success.
Ask yourself, how do I deal with fear in other aspects of my life? Do I run from it? Deny it? Drink it away? Hide? Push it aside? Go into it? Let it control me? Find strategies to cope? Build my tool chest? Talk about it with a friend? Work around it?
Think about a time when you gave into the fear. How did that work out for you?
Think about a time when you were fearful and you still managed to perform. What did you do? How did you do it? What tools - both internal and external - did you draw from?
So, what does all of this have to do with Writer's Block?
Fear is the root of Writer's Block. Each and every time. It is insidious, wrapping itself around our hearts, minds and spirits until we are choking on a big blank screen, a pile of perfect print outs, a pen full of ink. Fear is like the ocean, but so are joy, tranquility and satisfaction. The trick is in re-directing your energy to draw on the things that nourish you rather than block you.
Fear is a malleable voice and it can sound something like this:
- I can't write.
- What was I thinking?
- I'm not going to get tenure.
- No one is going to want to read this.
- What if I get published, then what?
- No one is going to publish this.
- Why didn't I get a real job?
- I don't make any sense.
- They made a mistake. I'm not this smart.
- The real work is elsewhere. This doesn't matter.
- This is so boring.
- I suck.
- This has to be perfect.
- Everyone's going to realize I'm not who I say I am.
- I'm not as good as [Insert name of peer or mentor].
- What if I can't do this?
- What will my parents think of me?
- No one understands me or my work.
- etc., etc., etc.
If you recognize yourself in any of these, you are not alone. And, I'm sure you can add your own voice to this rudimentary list. The truth is, everyone, everyone goes through fear in its different forms. Just read Joan Didion's powerful reflections on her husband's death The Year of Magical Thinking. Didion - one of the most prolific American writers, gifts us with her profound vulnerability, showing us her fears as both a woman and as a writer. Or read the interview with Marilynne Robinson in the New York Times Magazine to hear another incredibly successful writer for a similar kind of inspiration.
So now that I've got you to touch that live wire (don't hate me for it, please!), I want you to do something with it. Embrace fear as part of your writing practice. Start here.
1. Go write in your journal about your fear(s), specific to your writing and writing process.
2. Interview one of your characters and ask them about their fears and how they handle it.
3. Ask at least 5 friends about their writing rituals/strategies. Create a list for yourself. Post it on your wall.
4. Research poems about fear. Mine them for wisdom.Print one out, and take notes in its margins.