On diving in

Anxious author taking the plunge

I have worked with several writers whose primary challenge was taking the step of sitting down at their desk. Their anticipatory anxiety or other resistances create a mental barrier against taking the first step. Often they are entertaining an inaccurate and exaggerated estimate of the agony that will ensue if they write.

I love to swim but I dislike getting into the water due to the brief shock of the initial chilliness.  I spend a good bit of time on the deck pacing and postponing my entry, but once I dive in and do a couple of laps, I’m plenty warm and I enjoy being immersed. Diving into the water might be momentarily uncomfortable, but it’s not anywhere near as agonizing as my mind makes it out to be.

Writers who have difficulty starting often do fine once they have taken the plunge. The challenge is to set up your writing life to increase the odds of diving in.

Make your writing a daily habit, like brushing your teeth, so you don’t have to think about whether you will do it or not. And remind your pacing, skittish, shivering, self that the chill will be over quickly, and that the water is filled with treasures.

 

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Procrastination or gestation?

Procrastination: A Space Odyssey

Sometimes a writer needs to gestate, integrate, contemplate and maybe even vegetate for a while. This may involve pulling away from the keyboard or notepad and staring off into space, pacing in circles, or lying on your futon in the fetal position. Whether you are trying to resolve a complex plot point, refine a difficult line of verse, or create a new theory of the universe’s origin, your brain may be taxed beyond its normal capacities and you have to allow some extra processing time for that.

Someone watching you during this gestation process might think you are lazy and doing nothing. How can you tell whether you are engaged in a productive inner process or just avoiding writing? These two very different enterprises look similar from the outside. When you hit a challenging juncture in our project, do you stop writing because you feel anxious, stressed and uncertain, or is it because you need to incubate a difficult problem? Sometimes it’s both.

The act of stepping away from your desk to feel relief might help 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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Keep your writing toe in the water after a project is completed

It is natural to want to take a break when you have completed a project, especially one that has been challenging and lengthy. This gap time between projects is, however, a high-risk juncture for initiating an extended period of work avoidance. If you take a break of a few days, have a plan in place about when you will begin writing again. It should be more specific than “I’ll get going in a while, when I feel rested and inspired again.” Pick a date and time in the near future that you will set aside to return to your writing schedule, even if it is only for a few minutes a day.

Keep at least one toe in the water.

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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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“No one tells me what to do! Not even myself!”

Anyone who has read even a few letters to the editor in the newspaper knows that anger can stimulate the flow of written words. A touch of outrage is powerful energy that can motivate one to march, fight and write.

Can anger also stop you from writing?

My experience tells me it can. After all, most of us were forced to produce writing against our will during our education. We often did it only to avoid potential bad consequences, not from love of the assignment. If the instructor asking (or demanding) that we write was someone we did not respect or like, there was even more resentment to Continue reading

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Barton Fink goes to Hollywood and can’t write

John Turturro wrestles with a wrestling screenplay

In the Coen brothers movie Barton Fink, the main character (John Turturro) experiences some success as a socially relevant, intellectual playwright in NYC, who prides himself with addressing the plight of the common man in his art. When he is offered quite a bit of money to write for a studio in Hollywood, he accepts, not knowing what a nightmare is getting into.

You wouldn’t think that an opportunity to make good money as a writer could turn out too badly, but it does. Not only does Barton abandon his passion for uplifting the common man through his writing, he’s also completely unable to write the Wallace Beery wrestling picture assigned to him. Totally blocked, he’s a fish out of water, gasping in tinsel town. Continue reading

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A word of caution about giving advice to a procrastinator

 

I, like so many others, am guilty of giving advice to procrastinators. I’ll bet I do it again in this blog post. It is so tempting to offer “help”, and even if my motives are pure and compassionate, the odds are low that advice will change a damn thing. This is a difficult reality pill for me (a man who wrote a book of advice for writers) to swallow.

The primary problem with advice is that generally it is a recommendation to “do” something, and procrastination by its nature implies having a problem with “doing”. Whether the underlying feeling is rebelliousness, anxiety, overwhelm or laziness, there is a resistance to “doing” at the procrastinator’s core. And even when a choice piece of advice from a well-intentioned source appears to the procrastinator as the perfect thing to do; the comforting thought arises, “I’ll do it later.”

If you are putting some task off, your own mind is probably also spewing advice. You feel uneasy about not writing, and compelled to hector yourself with repetitive pep-talks and unrealistic commands. You may repeat these lectures to yourself for years, even if they’ve generated no appreciable improvements.  It’s what people do. Continue reading

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“Gaga” definition: “Overexcited or irrational, mentally confused…..”

Lady Gaga writes her gaga saga

Gaga” is a real word. And Lady Gaga is a real writer- a songwriter. Before her explosion into superstardom, she wrote songs for Britney Spears, New Kids on the Block and The Pussycat Dolls. Now she does a pretty good job of writing songs for herself.

Songwriters may at times go gaga, just like other writers, and get “overexcited, mentally confused, and irrational.” Sometimes this leads to vexing creative droughts.

Eminem wrote a song about writer’s block entitled: Writer’s Block, of all things. In a BBC interview he said, “I had had a pretty bad case of writer’s block. There were literally a couple of years where I couldn’t write anything.” He eventually emerged from the block and the words poured forth again with a vengeance.

Sting experienced an extended period of songwriter’s block after he’d become a household name. He said ” it was almost three years and I did kind of wonder whether I was taking a holiday, or had a mental block, or whether I should be thinking about doing something else altogether.” (Making Music, ’91)

John Fogerty, a songwriting hall of famer who wrote most of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s hits, also had a several year’s writing block as he fought a variety of personal and legal battles over his music. He emerged with a huge solo success, Centerfield.

It’s probably true that some version of going “gaga” is an almost unavoidable part of the creative life; for writers, songwriters and artists of all stripes.  If it is happening to you, at least you know that you’re in some pretty good company, and that when artists resolve their gaga-saga they often have something new and different to offer.

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