Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.-Sue Grafton
The dreaded curser flashes in time with the ticking of the clock. “OK,” you think to yourself, “I’ll just start with an outline.” Five minutes later you’re staring at a blank piece of paper except for the word “OUTLINE,” and the curser taunts on. Three hours later your eyes are transfixed to the light of the computer monitor, crumpled Post-its litter a three-room radius, and you’ve begun to sympathize with Edgar Allan Poe’s despair. You may not have a jeering Raven, but you do have a nasty case of Writer’s Block. At this moment you feel like one of Sue Grafton’s “goats.” Writer’s Block can be experienced by people of all types as they struggle with a variety of tasks. Unsure of how to introduce your boss at your next corporate function? Need a solid story to tell at your next family dinner? Trying to describe yourself in 30 words or less for a classified ad? The frustration of drawing blanks or having ideas you just can’t quite articulate isn’t reserved for novelists – it could happen to you! Don’t sit around waiting for your Muse to call or for the lightning of inspiration to strike. Get back to writing sooner by simply applying life balance principles to every step of the writing process.
1. When researching, read as much as you write. Award-winning novelist and screenwriter William Goldman once said, “The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.” Anybody who has suffered through writer’s block knows he is correct. The best thing to do when you’re in a mental fog is read. Become an expert, both in your field and outside it. If you are writing about a specific topic, become deeply versed in it. The more information you have, the more you can pull from. But when you need to walk away, walk away. Don’t leave the library, however. Simply move to the next section. Challenge yourself to read outside your area of expertise. Explore new genres and topics, even those seemingly non-related. You’ll be surprised at the parallels you find.
2. When outlining, question yourself but don’t censor yourself. When sitting down to write, it’s important to know where you’re headed but it is not necessary to plot out every point along the way. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Like the first phase of a building, this creating stage is full off possibilities.” The first step is to ask the right questions. What would you like your piece to accomplish? Who is your target audience? What attracted you to the topic in the first place? Rather than force these ideas into a structured format, allow your brain to freely explore them. Try mind-mapping, free-writing, or mediating. Whatever comes out on the paper should be applauded as progress. Remember the words of Margaret Atwood, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
3. While writing, make yourself comfortable, but don’t over-indulge. Journalist Mary Heaton Vorse called writing “the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” All you need to do is make sure you have the right chair in the right room. Make sure you are in an environment that is conducive to writing. Make sure you are comfortable, but use your best judgment as moderation is the key. Writing in bed is a bad idea, but so is an uncomfortable chair. Fluorescent lights can bring on headaches, as can candlelight. Mozart can stimulate the brain, Maury Povich probably won’t. Beat down procrastination before it begins. Unplug distractions and assemble everything you may need (research materials, snacks, your printer) ahead of time. If you’re stuck in a writer’s rut try working in a new location. Libraries are a popular choice. Coffee shops come with built in boosts, as long as you don’t get distracted by cute baristas or the wonders of free WiFi.
4. When you’re finished, allow yourself some idle time. Even if you have a new project with a quickly approaching deadline, give yourself a breather. Your brain needs rest too! Racing into the next project will cause far more stress and brain fog than allowing your mind time to settle and comfortably explore new ideas. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it best, “Health is the first muse and sleep is the condition to produce it.” Even if you can only fit in a power nap, do it. You’ll wake up restored and ready to write again. Just make sure your power nap doesn’t turn into days and days into weeks. Procrastinating now will just bring back the dreaded flashing curser sooner or later.
The cause of most writer’s block is fear. Give yourself the permission to let your thoughts be known. Challenge others to read them. Don’t worry about whether or not they will agree. Critics are editors who are paid to pick things apart. Don’t beat yourself up for free. Take a leap – you just may vault into an award winner. Heed the words of Sylvia Plath, “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
© 2008 New Perspectives. Permission to copy this article is granted as long as the authors are notified and the following information is included:
Kathleen Passanisi PT, CSP, CPAE is an internationally recognized transformational speaker, therapeutic humor expert, healthcare professional and author. She has spoken to bajillions of people about life balance, wellness, the power of perception, and the link that exists between humor and health. Kathleen is a member of the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame and the funniest woman in Lake Saint Louis, Missouri (and, quite possibly, the Western Hemisphere.) For more information on Kathleen's presentations, books and products please visit the New Perspectives website at KathleenPassanisi.com
Annie Passanisi is the daughter of a motivational speaker (see above) who inherited her mother’s love for women’s issues and the platform. If that does not tell you enough about her, she is also a Chicago-based actor, singer, freelance writer and editor, 1950s pop culture enthusiast, and swing set champion. For more information, please visit www.TheAnniePassanisi.com.
Need a mother/daughter speaker team? Have Kathleen and Annie co-present for you.