Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writer's paralysis is boring

I think everyone in the grip of writer’s or artist’s block feels isolated, alone, and unique. Block is a scary thing; it feels real, but is entirely intangible. If you’re afraid that someone is breaking into your house, people understand that—it’s violating, potentially dangerous, but especially quantifiable. Block is different. It grips you around the throat of what makes you special and it attempts to kill it. Yet, it’s ghostly. It evades description. But every creative person has felt it, and knows what you mean when you start saying, “I don’t know, it just... I can’t seem to do anything. And that makes me feel worthless...” Every creative person can sympathize.

When I was (much) better about going to the gym, I would talk to my friends who wanted to have better exercise habits. I’d say things like, “you just have to do it. Don’t give yourself time to think, just get up, put on your workout clothes, and get to the gym. The rest will come.” And I’d completely believe myself. It wasn’t until later, when I’d fallen out of the infallible habit of going to the gym every(ish) day, that I understood: my advice wasn’t unknown to my friends; it wasn’t new. It was just that, sometimes it’s impossible to take that advice. You are tired, you are sad, you are stressed, and you are busy. You feel like you deserve a break. You feel like you need a break. And, whether you “let” yourself or not, your brain speaks up—it screams. You can’t block it out, you can’t talk over it, and it apparently has grabbed the strings that control your limbs and it won’t let you move.

Similarly, when I’m in a good writing groove, it seems easy. I talk to my blocked or paralyzed friends and I say, “you just have to do it. Sit down, open the document, read over the last thing you wrote, and start there. It’ll come.” But when I take a break, that advice seems... totally unapproachable. I want to. I just... can’t. It’s like a generator that powers itself. If it stops, there’s no way to get it going again.

Of course, that’s not true. I give good advice. I just have to follow it. I know that. And the voices in our heads—the collective creative—that scream that we can’t do it, that we don’t know how, that our audience will hate us and hate our writing and we’re really just wasting paper/electrons: those voices will fall silent under the crashing waves of our words when we finally let the dam break.

It’s not unique. Everyone goes through it. Everyone staggers under the weight of their own pain and fear. When you describe it to your friends and they nod sagely—or give you well-meaning advice about how to get past it—it feels even heavier. Because we like to feel special, like we’re the only ones who have ever felt this way, like it’s unique and it’s actually crippling, not just personal weakness. It’s disheartening to know that the way through is in. We all want to find the shortcut. We all want it to be easy.

It helps a little knowing that our favorite authors have struggled with the same things. That our favorite books probably took five to fifty drafts before they were published. That the intricate plot threads that seem so ingenious were either accidents or put in after the bones of the story were built. Nothing was created right the first time. Nothing.

I put this here because it continues to be the very best, most lighthearted, humorous, and yet exactly correct advice on writing I have yet found:

joseph-the-mop asked:

I have been trying to write for a while now. I have all these amazing ideas, but its really hard getting my thoughts onto paper. Thus, my ideas never really come to fruition. Do you have any advice?


Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it.

I’m just kidding. There are much easier ways of doing it. For example: On the top of a distant mountain there grows a tree with silver leaves. Once every year, at dawn on April 30th, this tree blossoms, with five flowers, and over the next hour each blossom becomes a berry, first a green berry, then black, then golden.

At the moment the five berries become golden, five white crows, who have been waiting on the mountain, and which you will have mistaken for snow, will swoop down on the tree, greedily stripping it of all its berries, and will fly off, laughing.

You must catch, with your bare hands, the smallest of the crows, and you must force it to give up the berry (the crows do not swallow the berries. They carry them far across the ocean, to an enchanter’s garden, to drop, one by one, into the mouth of his daughter, who will wake from her enchanted sleep only when a thousand such berries have been fed to her). When you have obtained the golden berry, you must place it under your tongue, and return directly to your home.

For the next week, you must speak to no-one, not even your loved ones or a highway patrol officer stopping you for speeding. Say nothing. Do not sleep. Let the berry sit beneath your tongue.

At midnight on the seventh day you must go to the highest place in your town (it is common to climb on roofs for this step) and, with the berry safely beneath your tongue, recite the whole of Fox in Socks. Do not let the berry slip from your tongue. Do not miss out any of the poem, or skip any of the bits of the Muddle Puddle Tweetle Poodle Beetle Noodle Bottle Paddle Battle.

Then, and only then, can you swallow the berry. You must return home as quickly as you can, for you have only half an hour at most before you fall into a deep sleep.

When you wake in the morning, you will be able to get your thoughts and ideas down onto the paper, and you will be a writer.

And all in all, writer’s block is mundane, everyday, commonplace! It is not new, not to anyone. Complaining about it, looking for shortcuts, trying to figure out how you’re “doing it wrong”... it’s all a waste of your valuable time. The only thing that works—the only thing that works—is writing anyway! So stop being boring! Start writing!

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