Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Big Red Light in a Writer's Head

By Divina Infusino

What stops a writer from writing?

A day job. Family. Spouse. Relationships or lack there of. Too much time on the internet, with the television, game console, iPhone, fitness routine, texting, or (fill in the blank).

The house needs cleaning, the dog walking, the plants watering, the garden hoeing. Quick, look around. There must be something afoot that needs tending other than the blank page/screen insisting on great words to fill its void.

Actually, activities, people and demands do not deter a writer for any length of time, at least not when the writer is burning with something to say.

The one culprit that often stops a writer from writing is doubt.

Doubt in yourself, your talent, your creative abilities, your cognitive grasp of a subject or craft. Doubt in your judgment. Doubt that you can actually write something that anyone might want to read for more than ten nanoseconds.

The problem with doubt and its root state of mind, fear, is that it is often unconscious. Half the time we don’t even realize that we have fear and doubt around our writing. Instead, we just run away, distracting ourselves with anything that we can rationalize as more pressing.

But if we stop and reflect for a few moments, we can spot those self-sabotaging thoughts that circulate just beneath the rising panic:

Can I really write?
Am I good enough?
What if what I write sucks?
What if it is boring?
What if I don’t have enough information, knowledge or creative juice?
What if I have nothing of value to say?
What if people hate what I write? Or worse yet, just ignore it?
What if it is not perfect?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we need to live in non-stop bliss, full self-realization or the mythical village of the always-happy people in order to write.  In fact, sometimes the need to express anger, frustration, pain, suffering or outrage bulldozes through any emotional resistance.  But if your inner Bad Editor (the kind that nit picks for the satisfaction of torturing you) looms too large over a writing project, you may never get started…or finish. 

What to do?

Obviously, the solutions vary depending on your circumstances and who you are. But here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way from my own experience and from other writers:

*First, realize that you are, in fact, experiencing self-doubt. If you don’t recognize that self-doubt about writing is the motivator behind your sudden impulse to clip the cat’s claws, you cannot do anything about it.  You have self-doubt as writer. It’s ok. In fact, it’s normal. So admit it, then you can remedy the situation.

*Most fear around writing stems from a past experience.  A time when someone criticized what you wrote. Or worse yet, you were unhappy with what you wrote.  You had a factual error. Or someone you interviewed complained or you handed a chapter, article or book in late and everyone was mad at you. So be it. But you probably also had good experiences around writing, probably many more than the bad ones. Remember those. Remember the process you undertook to create them.  Remind yourself that you can do this. You have actually done it many times.  And you can do it again –right now.

*If you are experiencing trouble getting started, write down random ideas about your subject.  Don’t force them into an outline right away. That can stop you in your tracks.  Just jot down your ideas under general topics.  Then, give it more structure later.

*Ask yourself: Is there something I need to know that I don’t? Do I need more research? Another interview? Perhaps I should think through a concept more fully? Greater understanding of your subject always improves confidence.

*If you are on a long project, it can help to have a writing cohort, someone you can call and talk to about the problem you are facing. Even if you just talk for 10 -15 minutes, that is often enough time to sort through the issues and get a fresh perspective, or, if nothing else, a pep talk. (Yes, those can help.)

*Bring down your stress levels with exercise, meditation, yoga, or stretching. Or just get some fresh air or sunshine.  You actually need some stress for writing (That’s where deadlines come in handy). But too much stress can throw you into a brain freeze.  Find a technique for relaxation that that works for you.

Self-doubt about your capacities as a writer goes beyond writer’s block, although that is an offshoot.  Self-doubt is actually part of the creative process.  Embrace that fact and it will release you from its vice grip.

Of course, before I wrote this, I washed every dish in the sink, did a round of laundry and vacuumed under the bed.  Just sayin’…

Any thoughts about self-doubt and the writing process? Please share.


adventures said...

Great tips, Divina. I think we've all had the Red Light moments of self-doubt. My husband is happy, though, cuz all my procrastinating turns into housecleaning :>)

Sarah said...
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Cythera said...

Thank you. I LOVE your clarity here, and reading it couldn't have come at a better time for me. "Vice" grip? Indeed! (oops...a little rusty with the blogger account :S )

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