Writer’s block is all your fault.
It’s all my fault too. At least, my writer’s block is. When I’m face with a blank page, it’s very easy to blame work, lack of ideas, personal stress, a busy social calendar, or the need to “just relax.” But these are all excuses, and worse they are lies.
The truth is I’m afraid to write. I’m afraid of sounding stupid (or sometimes as a twisted Catch-22, too smart), or not being original. Being boring. Oh no, or mundane. Pedestrian. Or too personal.
None of these fears are helpful. To be sure, they might be true. I wish I could tell you that your fears are false, but that’s not right. You might sound unoriginal, whether you are writing about a farmboy who discovers his special destiny or a detailed personal memoir. You might sound stupid, regardless of how much knowledge you are writing from.
But there are two important things to consider. First is that it’s all subjective. Your layman’s understanding of biology in your bio-punk novel may sound stupid to doctors of biology, but it may also sound brilliant to everyone who isn’t a doctor of biology. Which of these categories of people benefits you more to impress?1
Second, people have made a lot of money without being any of the things you’re telling yourself you have to be. But they share a quality with the ones you aspire to be.
They gave themselves permission. It’s really simple, but it’s not easy. Jennifer Blanchard and Johnny B Truant did a couple of excellent articles with some tips on how to do that. I tried the pen name thing. Maybe I picked the wrong name (seemed like a good idea at the time). But Jennifer’s “Stop Completely” step was the one that did it.
In fact, I’m writing this through a bought of writer’s block. My critic2 is screaming pretty loud. I can either give in, or I can keep going. Which one is easier? Which one will, when you lay your head down tonight, help you feel better about how the day went?
There’s a reason that I’m a bit vague on the focus for this blog in my explanatory post last week. A large part of it is to clobber excuses and lies that my critical voice will put in my way. Not having an idea for a poem isn’t an excuse. Not having enough time isn’t an excuse (you may notice that the first post is all of 17 words and three lines). I’m done with my excuses and fears. But they aren’t done with me.
Giving yourself permission isn’t always as easy as simply filling a page, or trying to. Set the stage for that blank page. Remove as many rules as it takes. If this must include rules of grammar and spelling then toss them!3 No one is going to stop you. Seriously. Grammar Nazi’s boasts the largest number of pacifists of any National Socialist party, and has never fielded any type of military.
Okay, there are times when work or personal disruptions get to be so much that they really are in the way. But these are not the times were I find myself staring at a blank page. I may wish I was. But these are times were you need to give yourself permission as well. Permission to focus on more important things. Permission to take a vacation. In these cases, I find it most helpful to establish a special routine. Maybe that routine is that I have permission not to write for two weeks. Maybe that routine is carrying a notepad and squeezing five minutes of writing in on the train, while eating lunch, just before going to sleep, or just before waking up. Find something that works. Your traumatic time won’t last forever.
And if it’s that really terrible day where the fear is so much, then open a file or grab a piece of scrap paper and keep it super secret, and give voice to the fear. What does it say? What does it make you feel like? What do you say back to it? Keep writing. Keep going in circles with it. Pick at it like a scab. And when you’re done you can always delete the file or throw away the paper, but first consider it. You might feel worse. But there’s a trick here.
You just wrote in spite of your fear. The fear might feel like it has a stronger voice. Maybe you couldn’t think of a good argument against it and feel that it’s more right than ever. Except that you are now looking at proof that it’s wrong. You just did some writing.
Start giving yourself permission and stop accepting your excuses.
1. If you said the doctors (or whatever the analogy means to you) then it’s probably worth your time to improve that area for you. But that still doesn’t mean you need to live up to it now. Consider why it’s important (and whether it really is) and set that as a goal, not a requirement.
2. I first heard of the Critic in the Artist’s Way. I’m sure I’ll speak more about this. But suffice to say for now, it’s the voice in your head that tells you negative things and gets in your way when you try to do something you want.
3. Chances are, any excuses about being a bad speller or bad with grammar comes from your critic. But even if its true that you have to stop to think about how to spell restaurant or don’t always understand where a comma needs to go, there’s absolutely no reason that you need to wait until you’ve mastered these skills. In fact, writing is the best way to do so. Practice makes perfect holds true.