Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Fear of Writer's Block

I'm a writer. I know a lot of writers. I know professional writers, amateur writers, people who dream of being writers and never will, and people who dream of it and are far better than I, but who just can't seem to make it as a professional. In that last case, I saw a comedian on TV recently who said that there are plenty of people out there funnier than he is, but he's the one making a living at it. It takes a special understanding and perserverance to make it as a professional.

Yes, it takes focus and enduring harsh trials but it also takes a wide variety of things aside from the task you want to do. We would all like to just do whatever our passion is. But it takes a capability far beyond that to make it in the real world. Unless you are extremely lucky. I spent much of my life being protected by others who really appreciated what I could do. But that was the computer world. Once I try to break into writing, it's a whole other bucket of fish.

It would seem that the Art world, protects itself with vast abandon toward care and concern, all in order to keep as many away as possible. Why is obvious. If anyone could do it, everyone would do it. Well, not exactly. I mean, some people couldn't care less about the Art world in general. I think this is more true of traditional artists, especially with multimedia types. But we have this in the writing world too. Especially now a days. Every one seems to think they can be a writer. Because we are all taught to write in grade school.

But to turn out a good story, a good article, a book, a screenplay, a poem, takes more than just your basics. To do it right, to do it well. And not everyone can do that. But of those who can, or who are trying very hard to, there is one killer thing they all seem to fear.

Writer's Block-k-k-k-k...(yes, that's supposed to be an echo)...(yes, it's still echoing)....

Mostly this seems to be of concern to new writers, those who haven't been at it that long. Then there is the first time novelist (or poet, or screenwriter, etc.). Especially if they get rave reviews. Then have to do it again. Now, THAT is a block I can wrap my pencil lead encrusted fingers around.

But even they, need to lighten up. That is usually just a lot of pressure people put on them. Agents, Publishers, family, even fellow writers who should know better. This isn't an unusual fear. In fact, David Duchovney is making a good living at it on his show Californication where he plays a writer who wrote one cricially acclaimed book and then froze up, for five years. And so he does anything he can to avoid it through several seasons, sleeping around, drinking, drugging, any adolescent behavior he can come up with to avoid his responsibilities. And his next novel.

But I have a suspecion, as do many of my writer friends, professional writer friends, writers who have been writing for a long time, that Writer's Block, is a figment of your imagination. And, a misperception. Allow me to elucidate....

The first time I jumped out of an airplane, the first time, I repelled down a cliff face, the first time I raced a car along a mountain highway, I was scared. I feared the unknown. I feared, the known.

What if, I can't let go of the plane? What if I do let go? What if my chute doesn't open? What if on the way down that cliff face, my rope breaks, I let go, someone else above lets go? What if I drive off that mountain highway, or lose control and spin out of control and zip, fly over the edge, or into the cliff side?

In jumping out of a plane, it's pretty easy to explain. You are scared. That is sane, that is nature. But there is more going on there. There is not just a mental, emotional component, there is a physical one. And that is partly to blame for much of our woes in life. You can out think yourself, you can out emote yourself, but when your heart is pounding a thousand beats an hour, it's hard to think straight.

But not for the reason you might thing, that's actually kind of slow and you're probably lacking enough oxygen to think straight. If you figure 80 beats a minute and 60 to 100 a minute is normal, that is about 4800 an hour. Still, if you're heart is beating way over normal for you, it is hard to think straight (now we're on the other side). But I digress.

When your heart beats too fast, you get adrenalin coursing through your system, that fight or flight condition starts up, it is hard to think straight, it is hard to have control. And that is frequently misperceived as fear.

So when you are going to jump out of a plane and your mind tells you don't do it, this is stupid, and your emotions tell you the same thing, that's rational and good. Just tell those two worriers that you have calculated the risk and it's reasonable and along with the training you've received, you have excellent odds of returning to do it again and have fun. But if you're body is screaming at you to stop, you have to recognize what is going on.

Fundementally, your adrenalin has kicked in and you are mixing your emotions with your mind and your body is supporting that insanity. You have to compartmentalize at that point. See what is mind, see what is emotion, and most importantly, see what is body. Separate them in your mind and realize that this is not fear, nor is it terror, it only feels like it. It is, exhileration. It is an unusual phenomenon now a days, unless you are in a very out of the ordinary  situation. Being mugged, in a car accident, near a terrorist attack?

If you can separate those three things, you can move forward and do some amazing things. As you climb up forward in the plane, near the open door (if it even has one), and it's hard to hear with the rushing in of the wind and engine noise, you look down and see thousands of feet of, nothing... just breath deeply, calm yourself, separate those three elements and put each in its proper place.

Then go ahead, jump. Now you fall, whoosh! Droppinggggggg.... swimming, maybe trying to get back to the hand hold on the plane, which is not a block away because it's going like a hundred or so. Now the rest is easy, you fall. And there is some other stuff that happens. And if you have an easy landing, under say twenty miles an hour, you may go do it again.

Getting back to writing.

When you think about writing, you have to deal mostly with your mind, your thoughts about what you have to do, and your emotions, your feelings about what you have to do, and your expectations, a blend of those two. If you have pressure on you, if you have over stressed yourself about doing it, or if you have agents or publishers, family or friends, weighing on your head, it can give you an anxiety attack in the worst case. But all you have yot do is, write.

So write.

Thinking about it, whateer it is, sky diving, cliff climbing, writing, producing works you know whill be judged and rejected possibly, can really stress you out. But you can't let it get the better of you.


If you feel you can't write, just write, something. Make an outline. Do the easy stuff, get into the swing of things. Prime the pump. Then when you feel into it, jump into the harder stuff, the creative stuff, whatever works for you. For myself I find that literally "tricking" myself into doing what I need to do works very well. Or rewarding myself. If I want to do something pleasant, rather than just do it, I'll hold off and tell myself that I can have it once I finish writing this chapter, or page, or whatever.

I used to do that when I was working on my yard even. I'd crack a beer, and put it ten feet away in the hot sun. Then I had to get ten feet of sidewalk trimmed (I was using a hand tool, I didn't have a fancy stand up and roll it along tool). Gauge your time by your reward and vice versa, whatever works for you. No dinner until you finish this paragraph. Whatever. What is important is you find something that helps you move along.

But writer's block? I don't, and most writers I know don't, accept that it even exists. I know that this way of thinking alone, can stress some people out. But I many of my friends agree with me that writer's block is just a misperception. It's not a block. It's something, and you're not writing, but don't even look at it as a block to your productivity.

I find that 100% of the time it is either that I am doing something wrong, or I don't have the resources I need to continue, or I need a break. I find that last one to be prevelant a lot. I wrote for ten hours on a novel this last Sunday. I had Monday off and after writing that day for six hours, I "hit a wall". I just sat there and couldn't go on.
So I asked myself why, what is keeping me from continuing? And what I found was that I had written a lot yesterday and today and I had just come to the end of the novel. That is a good time to take a break. I still needed to make several passes over the 500 pages of the novel, and I still needed to write the ending, and tie up all the loose ends, which was primary in my inability to continue.

I was tired. I needed a lot of energy to tackle that next stage and I needed time to think about how to go about it and what I wanted to do with it. But it wasn't writer's block. It was me, telling me, I needed to take a break, get some rest, get away from writing for a little while and then come back at it refreshed and energized to tackle some difficult writing. And that's okay. I could come back later in the day, that night, or the next day. I don't have a time table on this project so that's not a consideration.

And when you are on a schedule, then you are dealing with something like test anxiety, only it's deadline anxiety. But again, it's not writer's block. If you can sit and write, you  don't have writer's block. I could have continued, but I found I really did't want to, it was as simple as that. There was no block, I just wanted to be doing something else for a while, replenish my jets.
To be a good writer, or anything for that matter, you need variety. If you do anything too much, you will burn out. And then you need to refuel, reenergize. Pure and simple. So, give yourself a break. Reward yourself at that point, you've earned it.

And if you haven't done anything, well do something. If you truly have writer's block, then you should consider, maybe you don't really want to be a writer. It sounds very romantic, or to some, glamorous, but that is only after hundreds or thousands of hours of hard, lonely, isolated periods of work. Some of it redundant and unrewarding, until you get the credit, kudos, money, attention and such that you are seeking.

So fear not writer's block, because really, for truly, it is just your friend, trying to tell you, you need a break. Listen to it, make it work for you, and never let it get the upper hand. Because there is no reason for it to have that.

Just remember that you and only you, always have that upper hand. And when you can see that, applaud yourself, because you have gotten a lot further than many, many other people out there who are trying and simply may never make it. Simply because they misperceive themselves.

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