The heartbreak of TGSWD: Tile Grout Scrubbing Writing Dysfluency.

This bathroom will provide several days of writing relief to its owner

If your bathroom is too clean and shiny, you may be suffering from the heartbreak of  TGSWD – Tile Grout Scrubbing Writing Dysfluency.

Avoiding is not always an idle, languid, lazy state of daydreaming, watching TV, and eating cookies on the couch. For many writers, avoidance is best conducted and sustained in the guise of doing an onerous household chore.

I suspect that if you feel a touch of guilt about blowing off your writing time, serving penance through grout scrubbing or toilet cleaning will appease that inner critic. You may be procrastinating, but at least you’re not enjoying it.  Somehow it helps to know that you are a better person than those who are having fun while they avoid.

Certain religious traditions (note: I’m not naming any one denomination specifically) may generate a higher proportion of those who gravitate to self-flagellation during their blocked periods, but I’m also fairly certain that more than a few atheists find themselves under the pot with an old toothbrush and grout cleaner during their writing time.

One of my students had the reverse dynamic. She abhorred housecleaning even more than writing, and she would intentionally schedule herself to clean the bathroom during the time when she wanted to write. Then she would write to avoid having to clean the toilet.


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Why Bother Writing at All?

On the final day of a recent class, one participant thanked me profusely and shared that she was very pleased with the progress she had made. She had been avoiding and agonizing over an article for months and during the class she decided to just abandon it completely. After that she felt much, much happier. I’m still unsure whether I ought to consider this as a success or a failure of my methods, but it did cause me to reflect about the question: “Why do people bother to write at all?” The barriers and challenges to writing are many and powerful, so there must be sufficient motivation for us to undertake the effort to write. Why do you want to write? There are as many answers to this question as there are people who write. Getting clear about your motivation(s) and the importance of writing in your life will enhance your commitment to actually doing it. How important is writing compared to other aspects of living that you engage in? Without sufficient desire it is hard to muster the energy to face the challenges writing entails. Perhaps your desire is strong but you ignore or repress it. You may be only partially aware of how important writing is to you. Staying in touch with your motivation will assist you in sustaining your commitment to the ongoing practice of writing. Below are some common motivators from a list in my book, The Blocked Writer’s Book of the Dead. Continue reading

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What Counts as Productive Writing?

Sometimes I’m asked this question by writers seeking to evaluate their progress. They are wondering if email writing, research reading and note-taking, making an outline, sitting and thinking about the piece, free-writing or warmup writing should count as part of their writing for the day.

Normally I reply “No.” Not because these activities are not potentially helpful for moving a project forward, but because the challenges are greater in the production of text, and this is what is typically avoided. This is where the rubber meets the road. Either something happens or it doesn’t.

Some people measure productivity by time spent in the writing position. I think this approach is most useful for writers who are trying to get back into the swing of things after a lengthy hiatus. To just to sit down and remain seated for 15 minutes in front of the keyboard, is a productive step. Tougher requirements, like a daily goal of 2,000 words, might be too much and lead to more avoidance. Of course, if you are sitting at your desk and surfing the Internet day after day during writing time; don’t you think it’d be a stretch to count that?

Many writers create a page or word count goal for their daily writing to provide structure and discipline for their efforts. Some find that charting or journaling about their writing process provides another level of reinforcement and focus on maintaining their momentum.

John Steinbeck wrote about how he stuck to his 2,000 word a day goal in, Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath . He experienced considerable self-doubt and resistance to writing, and having an inviolable rule about the 2,000 words kept him on task.

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Johnny Depp Overcomes Writer’s Block in “Secret Window”

Johnny Depp’s block cure involves a significant body count

There are as many ways cure writer’s block as there are to skin a cat…… or kill people, as Johnny Depp ably demonstrates in the Stephen King inspired movie Secret Window. As a freshly divorced, just-out-of-the-psych-ward novelist living alone in the country, Johnny finds he is now unable to write. Traumatic life events can cause such problems, and the viewer’s heart feels tugs of compassion for his plight…initially. As the plot unfolds, his writing remains stalled until a series of unusual events (including dog murder, plagiarism accusations, multiple personality disorder, a number of unexplained slain corpses and the gruesome demise of his ex-wife and her lover) eventually allow Johnny to heal from his divorce and write freely again. So… kind of a happy ending?

In my work as a psychologist I have assisted many struggling writers, but I have never employed the interventions that worked so well for Johnny. Perhaps I’m too conservative in my treatment modalities. Stephen King is also responsible for writing The Shiningwhich similarly features a blocked writer who becomes crazy and murderous. Let’s hope that Mr. King himself never addresses his blocks in these ways.

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My micro-nano story writing practice just became a book

What began as a strategy to sustain writing became a book recently. A couple of years ago, to keep myself writing, I gave myself the challenge to write a a hundred and one 101-word stories within a year. This was harder than I thought it would be because of the demand on the imagination to generate so many story ideas and then beat them down into 101 words, day after day. Somehow I was drawn in by this challenge and made time almost every day to work on them. My productivity rose because I enjoyed the writing.

I took a bit more than a year, but ended up writing 160 stories. After reading some of them at open mics and my writer’s club meeting, and then entering (and winning) some flash fiction contests, I decided to winnow the group down to 101 of the best, and make a book. The final piece was asking my nephew, Jason Cirimele, to make illustrations of several of the stories – one for every page.

I had the book published with the expert help of Patricia Hamilton of Park Place Publications and, Voila! Short Hot Flashes was born – an illustrated collection of a hundred and one 101 word stories. Available now at an Amazon near you!

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Check out this useful blog post about scheduling writing from Jonathan Ball

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Writer’s Block, Shame and Lying

Pinnochio came from a block of wood, and he wanted to be a real boy, but he had a problem with lying. If you want to be a real writer, but you’re blocked, this might be an issue for you as well.

If good bit of time passes with not enough to show for it, shame and self-loathing worm their way into your psyche. If you are asked about your writing, it feels too embarrassing to tell the truth, so you hedge a bit, or maybe a lot. You tell your friends, teachers, colleagues, or significant others that you are making progress, even though you really aren’t.

You may also delude yourself that the situation is different than it really is. At this point you feel badly about both your inability to write and the fact that you are deceiving others. More bad feelings now become associated with writing, making it just that much more onerous to sit down and face the monster.

In addition, you are now carrying the fear that some of the people you lied to will find out the truth, resulting in the possibility of humiliation and relationship damage. You become more isolated and wonder how you will ever get out of your predicament. Your stress level rises.

If this description rings true for you, you owe it to your writing to find a safe place to begin discussing your writing process – a writing club, group, therapist, colleague or cricket will do. A little bit of human support and understanding helps cut the shame and open the door to a renewed connection and vigor for your passion.

You are a real writer.

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