Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Writer's Hell: Myth #1

Anyone who reads self-help books and articles for writers has come across instructions for freewriting, writing practice, journaling or any of several other topics that urge you to simply start writing and keep that hand moving. If you run out of things to say, doodle, repeat a word or phrase, do whatever it takes to keep that hand moving because … what? You’ll go to the proverbial Writer’s Hell where you sit and stare at a blank page for all of Eternity if you don’t? Or maybe the motor in your brain is driven by the inertia of your hand and you’ll stare at a perpetually blank screen?

The advice to keep your hand moving is good advice if you suffer from serious writer’s block, and it can unclog fascinating ideas that may otherwise never emerge. But here’s some great news: You will NOT be sentenced to Writer’s Hell for failing to keep your fingers moving. In fact, it’s often quite a healthy option to lapse into a motionless trance during a writing session. Especially when that writing takes the form of journaling.

Speaking from personal experience, I assure you that my most gratifying and productive journaling sessions include those where stunning new insight emerges onto the page from unsounded depths. When it does, I savor the moment, holding space for this new thought to mesh with others. I’m sure that someone with the proper receiver and earphones could hear electrons snapping across synapses  as concepts form, reform, and remap throughout my brain.

This pause is usually spontaneous and several seconds or even minutes pass before I’m aware that I'm no longer writing. Obviously this is a natural thing to do, to let things soak in and settle while they're fresh and fertile. These pauses are refreshing, elating, and cherished.

They are often times of great silence and peace.

These pauses should be distinguished from the ones where words simply won’t come. On these occasions, my mind is dry as the Sahara, thought wheels spinning in sand. These times are agonizingly hot: my idea of Writer’s Hell. These are the times when it’s a very good idea to keep my hand moving, if only to generate a slightly cooling breeze. My moving hand, rocking back and forth, sweeping shifting sands of thought, gradually builds traction, catapulting me out of my trap.

So a moving hand is a Get Out of Hell Free card, not a magic barrier to keep you out. But there are far better tools for getting unstuck than the momentum of a moving hand. In the next post we’ll look at the lubricating effect of questions.

Write now: determine to allow yourself permission to sit in still silence when next struck by a beautiful idea while writing. Celebrate the new insight, and make notes of connections with previous insights and beliefs.

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