Drawing a Blank? You’ve Got EPET (Empty Page Emotional Turmoil)

Empty pages. Do you hear these pages taunting and ridiculing you? Do they oppress or torture you. Do they make you cry or scream in frustration? Do they terrorize and demoralize you?

If you feel these things, the good news is that empty pages are not able to do any of these nasty things to you. They’re just empty pages, and quite benign. The bad news is that your writing mind is besieged by EPET (Empty Page Emotional Turmoil) and that’s not good.

EPET is a killer – it murders writing productivity. One symptom of this syndrome is that you draw a blank when faced with the task of bringing out your words. Drawing a blank does not mean you have nothing to say. Far from it. It means you Continue reading

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Boozing and Blocking

Alcohol is a powerful sedative. Its effects vary from person to person, but when used in moderation it usually creates a relaxed sense of well-being and pleasure. Does alcohol help writers with their productivity?

You might conclude that drinking must be helpful, because so many well-known authors drank so much. Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Poe (to name only a few) both wrote and drank quite a bit. A romantic notion exists about the dissolute, bohemian writer whose creativity emerges from a pickled, tortured psyche.

To write well, most of us need to have the brain firing on all cylinders. Writing is one of the most demanding cognitive activities we can engage in, and our brain has to be operating effectively and  accurately in order to do it well. It can feel stressful to write, and though alcohol can provide an immediate sense of stress relief, there is a cost.

Booze is a depressant. There may be an initial period of disinhibition and Continue reading

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Childhood Writing Experiences and Blocks

If you have concerns about your writing process (or lack thereof), it may be useful to review your history as a writer. You were taught to write during childhood, and the effects of these early experiences and conditioning extend into your current life, whether they are helpful or not. Many writers report having an affinity for books and the written word at an early age.

In my book and in my workshops I ask writers to examine their early memories, good and bad, about writing. These might include interactions with parents, teachers, siblings, peers, and others. Of particular interest are those experiences where a strong message was conveyed about your capability, or how writing should or should not be done.

School experiences figure prominently here, because reading and writing Continue reading

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A Room, Womb or Tomb of One’s Own

In her book, “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf emphasizes how important it is for a writer to have the right place to do the work. This place is the womb where literary gestation, growth, labor, and birth occur. It is an important issue for non-productive writers to consider.

Having a good enough place to do your writing is important, even if it doesn’t guarantee that any writing will occur there. Indeed, many ideal locations lie fallow season after season as their inhabitants languish in the numerous psychological purgatories and hells reserved for those called to the writing life. The womb can become a tomb.

Issues to consider are, Continue reading

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Harsh Criticism and Writing Blocks

There’s nothing as effective as harsh feedback for shutting down the writing machine. Our sensitive egos are made even more vulnerable when our words are read by another, and it requires some courage to go public even under the best of circumstances. When the feedback is sharp and negative; Ouch!

On the one hand, writers need people to tell them what does and doesn’t work so they can improve. There is a lot of intelligence lurking about in the outside world, and it helps the writing to tap into it. On the other hand, not everyone is skilled at giving feedback, whether it’s through their lack of understanding, poor social skills or unresolved issues with their own writing.

Everyone has a different tolerance for the criticism process, and it’s important to know what works for you, so you can limit the odds that the experience will shut you down. Choose the right reader to show your work to – someone who Continue reading

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Psychosomatic Symptoms and Writing

Sometimes the desire to write is strong, but the body won’t cooperate.  Psychosomatic blocks interfere with the writing process when unconscious psychological conflicts manifest as physical symptoms that prevent writing.

Michael Douglas is a frequently stoned, dissolute English professor who struggles with fainting spells in the movie, The Wonder Boys .  He passes out repeatedly as he tries to complete a second novel after achieving a major success with his first. This is a funny, excellent film that revolves around the writers and writing process, and I recommend it to blocked writers.

When Douglas is finally forced to face the reality of the many problems in his life and work, his spells disappear. Continue reading

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The Jerk in My Head

As writers, we frequently endure the caustic heckling of acid-tongued internal critics that live inside us. It comes with the territory. Writing requires a certain amount of critical thinking, but it’s not so easy to get into an enthusiastic, productive groove if the soundtrack to your writing life is a corrosive tirade of criticism and self-loathing.

I know writers who even have a name for the inner jerk who works tirelessly to undermine their confidence, self-esteem and writing productivity.  How’d these destructive creeps get into our psyche in the first place?

These loudmouth, asshole-introjects are  usually the result of intentional or accidental brainwashing that we’ve been subjected to in the past. Parents, siblings, teachers, nuns, editors, bosses significant others, or colleagues might be involved. Maybe they even thought they were trying to help, rather than curse us, but at the end of the day the impact was to give us an  acerbic inner voice that prevents us from pursuing our writing dreams.

There is no one to blame. It happens, and we have to work with this part of our psychology, however it was developed. The least we can do is have some compassion for ourselves as we attempt the challenge of writing and in this way, eventually teach ourselves that the inner jerk’s bark Continue reading

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