By Susan Mary Malone
Got writer’s bloc? As folks in rural Texas say, we’re a’gin it.
Okay, so that’s somewhat flip. But the truth is that here, we don’t allow it. Don’t believe in it. Don’t succumb. It’s one of the few things that will get you whipped into shape from this office.
Yes, many, many folks have huge problems with writer’s bloc. I hear about it every day. And it does exist, as do a plethora of psychological problems and neuroses. And rest assured, that’s all this is — a neurosis. We all know the origins of it by now: fear of failure (or success); fear of not being ‘good enough’ (or of believing your work is so much better than what’s being published); of thinking the first draft as to be absolutely perfect (any 12-steppers out there want to respond to this one?) Or a host of other deep-seated lies of the ego.
As any artist who’s been practicing a craft will attest, the biggest hurdle to producing beautiful work is to get the ego out of the way. That, in turn, lets true creativity and artistry bubble up from the deep unconscious, where we plug into that numinous quality of beauty, from which all art originates. As Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” So, problem solved.
Okay, there I go being flip again. But far too much emphasis is given to avoiding writer’s bloc, and what a terrible malady it is to suffer through. Because this is one of those instances — for certain — where the more focus you give it, the bigger a beast it grows to be. Especially for a monster that does not, in reality, even exist (except front and center in that dastardly ego).
As any scribe who’s been at this long knows, writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It’s all about the work. And there’s only one way to accomplish that: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard.
I have one prescription for my writers when suffering from this made-up malady, and it’s failsafe. Works every time. Might not the first day, or the second. But if you don’t give up on the process, it will work.
Step One: Carve out a time every day to write. Yikes! That sounds like work. Where is all the glamour of being Hemingway? (Note: he wrote every day, even if it was just a paragraph). Tough real-life schedule? Four AM has always been a favorite time of mine . . .
Step Two: Sit your butt in that chair every day at your appointed time. No matter what. Unless your hair is one fire or your child is in the hospital, I don’t want to hear why you can’t. Just do it.
Step Three: Write. Cat got your fingers? That’s fine. Sit there. Write the yellow pages. Write why your husband / boyfriend / sister is a first-rate crumb and doesn’t understand you. I don’t care what you write, just write.
This is the key to the kingdom. I have yet to find the writer plagued with horrid bloc who after doing this for three days, didn’t find himself back to work on the novel, short story, memoir, etc. (And conversely, I can always tell when someone wimps out and cheats. I have my ways. Something about making those fingers work is kinda like the motion of the ocean for a child in a car — it puts your conscious mind (ego) into a lull and voila! Out comes art (or a dream, if you’re in the car, which in essence is part and parcel of the same thing).
Julia Cameron in Finding Water recommends writing morning pages every day. A stream-of-consciousness set of pages first thing in the morning that just lets all your demons out — many of which you didn’t even know were there. While I don’t do that, I like the idea of it. If writer’s bloc has set in, however, do this.
A few additional notes here as well.
Most importantly, forget caring about this first draft. Stop it. I order you. Doesn’t matter if it’s the worst schlock you’re ever seen, and wouldn’t even let your cat eat it. Nothing in a first draft is permanent. Not even that lovely line you’re so amazed came out of you (half the time even those end up on the editing-room floor as well). First drafts don’t matter.
Let yourself go. Let your fingers go. Quit thinking! This is the creative stage, and we’re trying to get you, the you of the ego, out of the way. Just write. If your goal is to write for forty-five minutes every morning, and you end up with one well-written line, wow! Give yourself a big pat on the back from me. That’s the entire point in a nutshell. Go have a nice cup of coffee and watch the sunrise.
And tomorrow, you can build upon that line . . .
About Susan Mary Malone
With a BS in Political Science and minors in English and Journalism, Susan Mary Malone’s professional background includes working as an editor, columnist and reporter for newspapers and magazines. In business since 1993, her edited books have been featured in Publishers Weekly, and won numerous awards.
Her clients include NY Times Bestselling author Mary B. Morrison, and Essence Bestselling author Naleighna Kai. Other notable edited books include: The Things I Could Tell You (Jeremy Woodson was nominated for an NAACP Literary award); O’Brien’s Desk (a Publishers Weekly Spring Pick to Watch); Ida Mae Tutweiler and the Traveling Tea Party (made into a Hallmark film), among many others.
With many published works to her credit, Editor Susan Mary Malone applies her skills at editing books to her own book writing, and those of her clients. Susan’s success as an award-winning book author of both fiction and nonfiction, as well as her short stories, is highlighted in the list of her works at http://www.maloneeditorial.com/Malone.htm .
She also participates as speaker at many literary conferences, including the Harriett Austin Writer’s Conference (at the University of Georgia), the Blue Ridge Writer’s Conference, the SouthWest Writer’s Conference, and the upcoming Golden Triangle Writer’s Conference, among others.