So, having spent time overcoming some of it myself, now might be a good time to talk about a topic near and fear (not a typo) to my heart... writer's block!
What is it?
If you look up writer’s block on Wikepedia, you get “a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.” On a grand scale, this can be a career-ending and character debilitating. Perhaps you’ve run out of ideas, or every idea you come up with falls well short of the last work you published, which was well-received. You find yourself spending all your time coming up with excuses for not producing. Finally, you just give up.
So far, that hasn’t happened to me (unless you count the decades I spent “working up the nerve,” which you probably could). I have a long list of ideas – I’m not saying they’re all good – that could never be exhausted in the short time I have left on this earth. And, I’m pretty secure in the perspective I have on my own writing that it is steadily improving.
But, if I ever suffer from such an extreme manifestation of writer’s block, I bet it will be caused by the same things that plague me on a daily basis and that plague many other writers I’ve talked to.
We’ve got the idea. We’ve got the characters. We may even have an outline for our story. Yet, after finding a few precious hours to write, away from the thousand other obligations in our lives, we stare at the blank screen of our laptops, our fingers poised over the keyboard as the time ticks away. And nothing gets done. We’re stuck.
What causes it?
There are three things that cause the kind of blocks I’m talking about, and they’re the same things that make us unable to accomplish other things we want to in our lives. They are fear, impatience, and perfectionism.
“Fear is the mind-killer.” Remember how Paul Atriedes used to recite this litany in Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel, Dune? It’s true. When we dwell on the possibilities of failure (or even success), our minds are frozen into inactivity.
Impatience makes us want the end result without taking the necessary action. It causes frustration, raises blood pressure, and sometimes makes us take a short cut we know will lead us in the wrong direction. It might even lead us to give up.
Perfectionism is really a specific form of fear. We want what we write to be the best, and god forbid it fall short of the perfection we strive for. So the lines we have in our heads are never good enough to put on the page, and therefore they never get there.
What to do about it…
Stay in the moment. It is the key to conquering fear. It is the cure for impatience and perfectionism. When you are in the moment, there is no past to regret, no future to be afraid of. There is only the now, and now is the only time we ever get anything done.
Staying in the moment conquers fear. Fear comes from what might happen in the future, and in the moment there is no future.
Staying in the moment dissolves impatience, because we aren’t concerned with our destination, only with where we are right now.
Perfectionism cannot exist in the moment. We cannot strive to be what we already are.
It wasn’t until I developed the ability to stay in the moment that I ever achieved any success in writing. It’s the single skill I have to thank for being able to finish a project I’ve started, and when I get stuck, it’s the thing I fall back on first to get myself unstuck.
A valuable exercise I use regularly is to ask myself the question, what is my character feeling right now, and how is he/she reacting to it? That not only puts me in the moment, it puts my character there, too. You see, I may or may not know where my character is supposed to end up in the scene, but I can’t write about that. I can only write about what’s going on now, in the moment.
So, I write about how my character feels. I write about how my character reacts. Before I know it, my character has taken some action, and it is written down.
Okay, so those are all the wise words I have today. I’d tell you what’s coming up next week, but I’m staying in the moment. J Until then, Happy Reading!
But Master..., you might say.
Hush, young Grasshopper, I reply, leave it in a comment below.
...after you've checked out the first two Red Wolf novels, enjoying an average reader rating on Amazon of 4.45 out of 5 stars!
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