Friday, July 29, 2011

Writer’s Block (Part 16 of 16)

Final Thoughts on Writer's Resistance

We ask what's going on inside us. We listen. And we listen patiently and lovingly. If we accept that the resistance is a gift—a loving gift from our protective, wiser self, we won't demand an answer or berate ourselves for not getting it immediately.

If the ability to write well is a gift (and I believe that), it means the talent isn't ours to manipulate or misuse. I believe God gave me the ability to write. If I falter or discover I can’t figure out the next words to type, I stop. I talk calmly to myself and explore what's going on inside me.

I'm grateful to God for the gift to communicate through writing.
I listen carefully to my inner self when the gift falters.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Writer’s Block (Part 15 of 16)

So What Do We Do about Writer's Resistance?

The first thing is to face it. "I'm blocked." I read various writers who tell us to leave our writing, go for a walk, or watch TV. I have no objections to those suggestions but I think they miss the point of writer's block.

We're blocked for a reason. We can move ahead if we start by admitting it, and then we ask the next question: What is going on inside me? (See part 1.) This is not a capricious or evil emotion. This comes from inside and wants to help us and not hold us back.

It's not enough to ask the question;
we have to listen for the answer.
We overcome writer's resistance by asking the right question
and waiting for the answer.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Writer’s Block (Part 14 of 16)

The Joy of Writing

It may seem strange to write about joy in the midst of writer's resistance, but I think the secret of being a productive, serious, and committed writer is that it brings joy. It's fun. I'm often emotionally drained at the end of the day, but I've had fun. I've created words that become sentences that grow into paragraphs.

Maybe one way to say it is that the pleasure we find in writing is the positive sign that it's our gift, our calling, our destiny. Good writing doesn't come out of rigid self-discipline. (Notice, I said rigid.) We need discipline to write, especially in the early days. But if we feel we have to force ourselves to write or grumble because we don't have enough time to write, we might do well to leave the craft alone.

I've been writing and publishing for nearly 40 years. I began to write shortly after I finished seminary and had entered a doctoral program. I discovered so much pure joy in writing that I lost interest in earning a PhD. I've never regretted that decision.

Feeling joy and pleasure in writing
are excellent antidotes to writer's resistance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Writer’s Block (Part 13 of 16)

How Do We Overcome Writer’s Block or Resistance?

The problem begins when we consider internal resistance as bad or evil. What if we saw it as a positive effect? What if we viewed our resistance to write as a gift from our inner self?

Here's how I say it: "The inability to write is a sign that our unconscious self is fighting with our conscious self." Sometimes we get excited about a project or a topic and want to write about it. And it's a good topic. It may not be for us or it may not be for us now, and we flounder and can't seem to push ourselves. Some resort to a lot of caffeine. I suspect that's why some famous writers became alcoholics.

Instead of fighting ourselves, what if we paused and listened to our inner voices? As a serious Christian I also pray for God to speak and help me see the positive reason for my inability to write. I haven't had much trouble because I've nearly always been aware of something inside me that tells me I don't want to do a project.

What would happen if we saw writer's resistance
as a positive sign to examine ourselves?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Writer’s Block (Part 12 of 16)

More on Writer's Resistance: Our Values

Writing against our values is the way I say it. Some people have laughed, but I'm convinced that we do that. Sometimes good writers take on a project because the publisher wants them to do it. I've almost gotten caught up in that. I felt flattered when the senior editor of a publishing house came to me with a writing project. "I know you can do it and do an excellent job."

I loved hearing those words and I agreed. But something didn't feel quite right. For the next two days I struggled over that decision. I finally called the editor, told him how much I wanted to work with him, but I couldn’t do the book. "It goes contrary to my values."

He wisely listened and said, "I understand."

By contrast, one of my friends received a large advance for a book that he couldn’t write. He finally broke the contract and his relationship with the publisher. He told me, "I was writing something I did not feel, did not believe, did not care about, and I avoided writing what I did care about."

When we try to write against our personal value system,
our wise inner critic tries to block us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Writer’s Block (Part 11 of 16)

Writer’s Resistance: Fear of Finishing

I met Vern at a writer's conference and he attended every year. He had an excellent nonfiction book, but he had never written the final chapter. Editors had read portions and wanted the book, and so did several agents. But Vern never finished.

He knew what he wanted in the final chapter and he told the editors and agents, but he couldn't write that final chapter. At the time, I thought Vern was unique; he wasn't. I hear this regularly from people who get thumbs up from editors or agents and never finish.

Vern finally told me why he couldn't finish—why he resisted. "I was depressed before I began to write. That depression went away while I worked on the book. I'm afraid that if I finish the book the depression will return."

I started to reason with him and stopped, because I sensed that anything I said wouldn't help. He'd probably heard all the arguments and suggestions before. I reminded myself that Vern had to make up his mind if he would allow his fear of returning depression to stop his finishing the book.

I have another talented friend who has started 15 books (and possibly more). He has never finished one. His reason isn't the same as Vern's but the result is.

Some writers are afraid to finish a writing project.
They allow their fear to block their creativity.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Writer’s Block (Part 10 of 16)

I remember only his last name as Mills, but he joined a writer's group called the Scriptiques that I ran for nearly four years. Mills was fairly talented and he might have become a well-known writer. But he couldn't take criticism.

He read our comments on his manuscripts and listened when we spoke, but he didn't change anything when he brought his manuscripts back. He finally stopped writing. He had a number of excuses about how busy he was and his wife didn't like his spending so much time on writing.

Maybe those facts were true. But I think he was incapable of bursting past writer's resistance because he couldn't take criticism. The more our group pointed out his weaknesses, the less he wrote.

A few years ago I formed an online writer’s group, and one woman was talented—her gift was evident, even though her skills weren't that advanced.

Each time I edited her material I pointed out her weaknesses (and they were many) but also reminded her that she could learn the rules of writing. Each time I mentioned how much I admired her talent.

After five months, she dropped out. "You never have anything good to say about my writing. All you do is criticize. I can't take any more of your negativity." I never heard from her or about her again.

Some people can't handle criticism
so they give up and give in to writer's block.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Writer’s Block (Part 9 of 16)

I often see a resistance that shows itself in two different ways. The first is fear of failing. "What if I can't pull off my ideas? What if I fail to say it right?” By contrast, there are those who fear success. "Suppose I write a book—a really good book? Then I have to do it again. I don't know if I could do it again."

We've all known of people who have written one wildly successful book and never wrote again. To Kill a Mockingbird is one example.

My response is, "So what? What's wrong with having one great success? Isn't it better to have one big success than ten failures?" Even though I speak those words, they rarely impact the ones who’ve given into a fear of being successful. Until they figure out how to get beyond that barricade of resistance, they probably won't write.

Fear of failure; fear of success.
Either can paralyze gifted writers.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Writer’s Block (Part 8 of 16)

Writer's resistance hits some in the form of repression. They have things to say, but they just can't put them out for the public to read. Twenty years ago I contracted to write a book with a man. He had marvelous insights and I enjoyed working with him.

A month before I turned in the book, he called me and asked me to take his name off the book. The reason came down to this: “I believe this now, but later I may change my thinking. If it's already out there in print, I can't unwrite it."

I tried to reason with him and point out that all serious writers change. That is, they grow. If they grow, they may not believe exactly as they did before or may change their position on something. I also pointed out that most people probably wouldn't remember anyway. It didn't matter. He was firm, so I removed his name.

Serious writers are growing writers.
We change our thinking, we mature, we learn as we live.