Refrigerator Refuge for Blocked Writers

It’s possible to stare at the contents of a refrigerator for a long time when you don’t want to do something. The sight of food is compelling in a powerful and primal way. Entire television cable networks have been launched by lunches.

The sweet siren songs of food have pulled many an unsuspecting writer into the deadly maw of the refrigerator, and long periods of avoidance. As a writer you’re vulnerable because your poor, addled brain is desperately seeking something to soothe the cerebral suffering generated by the challenge of writing. It knows what is in the fridge, and it wants you to get it.

You have to eat, and if your nutrition is poor, writing ability is affected because the brain has to be well fueled to accomplish what a writing project requires. But when you get up from the desk because you feel stress, as opposed to hunger, you are reinforcing a habit that interferes with your writing goals.

Writing stress foods tend to reside on the high sugar,  Continue reading

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Does you imagined audience help or hinder your writing?

As a writer, you are frequently advised to write with a clear sense of who your audience is. This helps you focus and tailor a written communication that will achieve the greatest impact. Such advice to writers is fine and probably useful most the time, but what if you tend to imagine audiences who don’t like your writing?  What if you imagine them frowning, scoffing, dozing or gagging as their eyes scan the page? I knew a professor whose writing was blocked by her recurrent inner visions of groups of graduate students laughing at her articles. If you are prone to having doubts and fears about your writing (extremely common) you may automatically conger up visions of overly-negative reactions from your imagined audience. This mental habit can be viewed as an intelligent system of ego-preservation because such visions prevent you from taking the risk of finishing and showing your work to others. These mini-hallucinations protect you from the experience of criticism, disappointment, neglect, humiliation and rejection, by stopping you from writing. That’s a good thing, right? Right? As a writer you do need a good internal, self-monitoring, bullshit-detecting mechanism that helps you critically review and edit your work, and for this it can help to imagine the reactions of your audience. For instance, if you imagine your audience rolling their eyes when you write a certain passage, that’s useful information that can motivate you to revise and improve. But if your internal audience is jeering at you before you even turn on your computer, there’s a good chance that your audience visualizing function has run amuck. That’s way more ego-protection than you need. Sometimes we have to continue writing in spite of the reactions of our imagined readers, especially if they are jerks.

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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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