Simmering Pages

I know now, after reading and re-reading my Writer’s Block page, that my version had elements of numbers 1, 2, and 3. Tension, Indecision, and Fear of Failure. The remedies are Relaxation, Clarity, and Confidence. I think there was an element of clarity that I didn’t mention in that first Writer’s Block tangent, and it’s important.

(When I wrote the Writer’s Block instructions, way back in 2008, I’d never had writer’s block, and wasn’t sure why I decided to write about it. Something urged me to write it, and although I knew nothing about it except what I’d read, and what my students described, I just went ahead and did it. It was like automatic writing, or as close to that as I’ve ever been. But then, I always feel, when the writing is going well, that I’m just transcribing what’s in my head and have absolutely no clue as to how it got in there.)

So. Clarity. This really speaks to revision, which is what I’m doing now. The solution for Indecision is different with first draft and revision. I was ready to just go into first-draft mode again, that’s how stuck I was yesterday and the day before that and the week before that. But I sat down and immediately worked out the two main problems, or points of Indecision. It was like my unconscious needed time to simmer. So, sometimes, with Indecision, all you need to do is be patient for a week or two. Be patient and try to write morning pages to keep the writing muscles flexed and ready to go.

At first I was patient, but finally I got concerned enough to look up my old posts (I originally wrote the Writer’s Block page as three or four posts) and work my way through them. I gave them a page of their own so I could consult them anytime withoutt using the search feature. And consult I did. It got me going with the Relaxation and Confidence and I  decided I could live with Indecision until it sorted itself out. What got me to the page was this thought: “Just write anything. Then read it and see if it’s good.”

So I did and it was and I’m cured! LOL. Really, what I mean to say here is that sometimes you just have to be patient and let the mind work your plot points out. Not patient for a year, but a week, maybe two. Things will look very different after simmering awhile in the drawer.

How to Read

This might be obvious to most of you, but for random people goggling writer’s block, or clicking on the category, it’s most helpful to read my Writer’s Block series (and do the required work to break through a block) from beginning to end. Just scroll down and start with the first post.

In the words of Sly Stone, You can make it if you try!

& in the end…

When I started this series on writer’s block, I identified four stages of repairing broken writer parts. I also admitted that I wasn’t sure why I was writing such a series, but I hoped it would help. And it has helped me to refocus on the reason why I write-to make a connection.

In her poem “Poetry” Nikki Giovanni says “a poem is pure energy/horizontally contained/between the mind/of the poet and the ear of the reader” and I think that’s true for most writing. Some of us have personal journals we write just for ourselves and never intend for anybody else to see, but most of us also write because we’re longing to make a soul to soul connection.

What I’ve learned in this process of delving into writer’s block is that it doesn’t matter if my writing reaches one reader or 100. What matters is that I make a connection.

This is similar to teaching…in a room of 25 students, if I only reach one person, I’ve done my job. I feel the same way about writing, although this wasn’t always true. As I confessed early on in this series, my hidden desire for fame made me believe that I needed to be published well and sell better to truly be happy with this writing life I’ve chosen (sometimes I think it’s the other way around, and writing chose me).

Connection is the final step in breaking free of writer’s block. Get your work out there in front of another pair of eyes. Join a local writer’s group, or start one. You don’t even have to be physically present. I’m on a couple of writer’s loops on the internet. There are zillions of them!

The connection that satisfied me most and stopped my constant hunger for publication was creating a website and posting daily entries on “A Writer’s Diary.” Blogging is not for everyone, but it worked for me. I made the connection my soul was seeking.

Five years into the blog, I said to hell with traditional publishing and self-published a book, something I never thought I’d do. But you know, viriginia Woolf’s husband was her publisher, and I named this blog after a book he collected of her journal entries about writing, so it ended up making sense that I stop waiting for the fairy godmother of publishing to swoop down and save me and just go ahead and rescue myself.

Now I’m going even further into what was once unthinkable, scary territory. I’m making connections in person by publicly speaking about writing.

Fear of public speaking is the #1 phobia, and since most of us never need to do it, it’s easy to dismiss. But if you write a book and want to share it with others, you’re going to need to conquer your fear.
Here’s how I did it, with the help of Ainslie MacLeod.

In his brilliant book The Instruction, MacLeod describes a method for getting rid of phobias that really worked for me. It worked quickly, too. Took about two weeks, a few minutes a day, for this life-long paralyzing fear to completely disappear.

I started practicing the method two weeks before school started, and on the first day of class, I didn’t have even a hint of my usual first-day nerves. Then I sat on the library panel for three weeks and spoke easily and without fear.

To accomplish this feat, all I did was write MacLeod’s script on a notecard, look into the mirror every morning, and read the words from the card. I glanced at the card for the phrase, then looked up into my eyes as I said the words. I used a lot of feeling and fierceness, too, even though I felt silly.

Here’s the script I read to myself, based on MacLeod’s text: “Listen, fear of public speaking. I’ve had it with you, you little punk! I’m going to murder you. I’m done. I’m finished. You are out of here as of NOW. Vanish while you have the chance. I want you gone NOW. You are dead to me, fear.”

That’s all it took. You could even write a similar script banishing writer’s block from your life. Kill the writer’s block!

So that’s it for this series. It’s been fun, so thanks for reading. Just remember, if you let it flow, if you commit to the process, the writing journey can take you a lot of places.

Row to Hoe

Brain imaging is a fairly new science. Whenever I even say the word “science” I feel a little like a fraud, because I don’t know the complete periodic table. And I hated dissection. I am also bad at math, but that’s another post.

I’ve been reading a lot about brain mapping because I know there’s something useful there. Understanding this science has helped me, literally, change the way I think. And it can help people who suffer from writer’s block, too.

Changing a behavior, it turns out, is not easy, but it is absolutely doable. I did it with exercise, which is the thing I am most resistant to in the world, and it only took two weeks of determined effort, a pink highlighter, and a calendar. Plus my sneakers. If you’re trying to break through writer’s block, you don’t need the sneakers.

What you will be doing is changing your brain programming from “can’t write” to “write with ease.” It’s NOT easy those first two weeks, which is about how long it takes to make a solid start on turning a new behavior into a habit. Not easy, but armed with knowledge about brain mapping and how to use a visual aid, totally possible.

New imagining technology now tells us that the brain, any brain, no matter how old, tired, or stubborn, can form new neural pathways fairly quickly. It just takes a little bit of work, a little row to hoe, and before you know it you have a garden. Or a manuscript. There’s a bonus, too. Forming new neural pathways as we age keeps our brains active and engaged, improved memory, and may even stop dementia-type plaques from forming.

Knowing that I’m doing something positive for my brain after all the abuse I heaped on it in the 70s made me that much more determined to build some new road up there. But, at first, I needed a visual record that I could look at every day, just a quick glance, that would show me in solid terms that I was indeed working my plan. I was not an easy exerciser yet, but I was laying the foundation. I was doing the hard work that would bring me to the other side of my block.

My visual was a simple calendar. I only used the calendar for this one purpose–I boxed exercise days with a pink highlighter (I love the color pink) and jotted down how much and what type of exercise I did inside the box.

Just seeing those pink boxes motivated me. If there weren’t enough boxes, I knew I needed to log another day (or two) of exercise that week. Despite being back to work and having a bunch of other stuff going on, I was able to organize my schedule to fit in my target number of exercise days that first week.

And after the first week, just seeing those boxes filled me with positive vibes and an “I can do this” attitude. I made my target the second week, too. And the third. Even on vacation!

If I can change my lazy brain, anybody can. Just focus on what you want to achieve, set your goals, and remind yourself that your brain is ready and willing and actually even giddy about getting started on making those new neural pathways.