Daydreaming: Time wasting escape or creativity aid?

What happens when you drift off into periods of reflection and daydreaming?  There is some sense of letting go of your usual awareness of the world, and allowing something else to happen. Evidently your conscious mind needs to take a holiday every so often.

Some writers say they connect with good ideas during the daydreaming state, and it is fuel for their creative process. Freud thought the contents of the unconscious mind are more accessible to writers when they let their minds drift.

Daydreaming can also be a habit that interferes with writing. If you tend to fall into a waking dream to avoid facing challenges in your writing, you have probably learned to Continue reading

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Elvis Costello is writing the book everyday. Are you?

Sometimes I will start one of my writing productivity talks or workshops by playing Elvis Costello’s song, Every Day I Write the Book . While the theme of his song is more about love than writing, the chorus is a repetitive “Every day, every day, every day, every day I write the book.” This is a very useful tape loop to implant in the mind of a blocked writer.

Speaking of tape loops and music, writers really vary in terms of what they need in terms of external sound when they write. Some crave absolute uninterrupted silence, others like a cacophony of ambient cafe noise, and others gravitate toward music. When I write songs I require complete silence so I can hear internally. I generally work in silence for other types of writing, but on occasion I’ll get into the zone in a cafe and somehow appreciate being encased in a shroud of muffled conversations.

Writing can be lonely, and if this is uncomfortable for you, writing in public may help mute the distraction of those feelings. If you aren’t writing because there are too many external distractions, you may need to consciously create a better insulated bubble to write in. Experiment.

Elvis Costello has written hundreds of songs, which indicates he probably does write just about every day. Try it out, and one day you’ll discover you’ve actually written the book too.

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William Holden’s writer’s block leads to an unfortunate demise in “Sunset Boulevard”

William Holden is pulled from the pool in Sunset Blvd

In his role as a struggling young screenwriter in Hollywood, William Holden in Sunset Boulevard pays heavily for giving up his craft to move in with an aged, has-been, profoundly narcissistic silent-film screen idol (Gloria Swanson).

Bill has experienced serious rejection as a writer in tinsel-town, and is eventually reduced to hiding his car from the repo man. A chance meeting with Gloria offers an opportunity for Bill to make some good cash editing her own screenplay, which she is counting on as a comeback vehicle for her moribund career.

Holden is sucked deeper into Gloria’s insanity by his own greed and becomes her kept man and lover, turning down opportunities to return to his writing and a normal relationship. When he finally decides to leave and tells the truth to Gloria about her terrible screenplay…well, you should watch it, but I can tell you Gloria is none too happy about this conversation, and Bill ends up floating face down in the pool.

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When the PhD Dissertation Goes on Forever

Dissertation writing is often the most challenging part of the Ph.D. program for many reasons. Granted, it’s supposed to be hard, because you are exploring new areas of research, and this is demanding on many levels.

Dissertations are often several-year projects that have no set deadlines – a reality that makes it harder to write consistently. There is typically an enormous amount of literature to review, and a then mountain of information that needs to be organized. As a graduate student you may or may not have adequate or any assistance with these aspects of the thesis. You have to do it yourself.

A graduate student is also greatly dependent on the PhD advisor, and this critical relationship can be either good or bad. When it goes off the rails, Continue reading

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Hurray! Success!…..So why am I blocking?

You’d think that the experience of success as a writer would boost your confidence and inspire you to write regularly, with vigor and enthusiasm. It sometimes does.

I’ve seen the reverse happen with several writers, who became blocked after hitting their first home run. These challenges are greater when the success comes early and fast. It’s harder to feel like you deserve it if success comes early on or without a lot of effort, and imposter feelings can emerge and sabotage attempts to keep writing. You might think: “My first article was a lucky fluke, and if I write another, I will be revealed as a fraud!” So you stop writing to avoid humiliation.

Success can also stimulate is feelings of not being worthy of the accolades the literary world is bestowing. If your self-esteem is low, praise can feel foreign and threatening. Inner voices may chime in with, “Who do you think you are! You’re not a real writer! You don’t deserve this notoriety!” or variations of this kind of brainwashing. Continue reading

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Desperate cry from beyond the grave, “It was only a first draft!”

I heard about a young man who wouldn’t start his screenplay because of the worry that if he died unexpectedly before it was done, someone might find his unfinished manuscript and conclude he was a terrible writer. He would, of course, be much too dead to clarify matters and say: “Wait! It was only a first draft!”  Writing is indeed a risky business as far as self-image is concerned. What was this man afraid of? The imagined opinion of an unknown person going through his affairs who might find a first draft of the screenplay he hasn’t even written yet and have a critical thought about it?  While I have not found this “post-mortem discovery of a first draft” fear to be a common one, plenty of similar bogeyman constellations glow in the dark firmament of a blocked writer’s wordless nights. Just how nuts are our sensitive egos?

Very nuts. It’s the human condition to feel compelled to protect and defend our sense of self (this is also the compelling substrate of much great literature, I might add). Writing is a challenge because it inevitably opens us up to the experience of receiving criticism, and we have to tolerate this input to continue writing, and to develop our craft.  Sometimes our previously held view of our ‘self’ needs to die so we can grow into our next incarnation as a writer. This means taking less seriously the negative and positive ideas we cling to about ourself, especially if they limit our productivity, or our ability to go public with our work.  As writers we have to let the ego die a little. It’s uncomfortable, but the feelings pass and something better is born.

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Writing and Sacrifice

To fully embrace writing, you have to make peace with the sacrifices involved. There is a price to pay and reluctance to accepting this reality can inhibit your productivity.

First of all, to do it properly, you have to dedicate time to writing. You have to give up a percentage of other activities (or non-activities) to give writing the time it needs.

Every day you can choose to write or not. When you chose to write, you may have to sacrifice, for at least a while, having fun with friends, sleeping, money-making, hikes through nature on a sunny day, reading,  movie watching, beer-making, beer drinking, gourmet cooking, skiing, gardening, house cleaning, motorcycle trips, staring at a wall, mowing the lawn or making love. To name only a few.

If you have a lot of internal conflict about the sacrifices you have to make for your writing, you may experience ambivalence, procrastination, avoidance and resentment. You may need to make a deeper commitment to writing  for it to actually happen, and this means consciously giving up something you don’t want to give up. It might even mean giving up unhappiness, which is a lot to ask of anyone.

Would you rather sacrifice your writing, or an episode of Game of Thrones? There is mourning either way.

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