You Want to Write, Why Don’t You Just Write?
What – in you – causes you to screech to a halt, and what if anything can you do to fix it?
Do you ever think it is just you? Everyone else seems fine – they write, they publish. They gush over their writing residency, and then ask if you could be their beta reader. Meanwhile, you seem to struggle.
They call it Writer’s Block, and it has lots of ways of presenting itself.
1. There’s the jillions-of-ideas-and-never-picking-one problem.
2. There’s the classic blank page – no ideas. Period.
3. There’s the “soggy middle,” where innumerable writers get lost.
4. And then there’s the novel-in-the-drawer syndrome – people who finish their work except ONE THING – and then never do anything with it.
There’s plenty of ways to not write, to not publish, to not produce. And there are a million reasons we don’t write, though we want to, intend to… have to write. Do you ever wonder…WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?
It’s a good question, even though it doesn’t feel good to ask it. We have not been taught to decipher what specifically is keeping us from writing. We’ve been given the standard issue Nike adage: Just do it. And even though Once begun is half done (as Mary Poppins says) “half done” is half the problem. We start things and can’t finish. Or think things all the way through and don’t write them. Just getting yourself into a chair is precisely that – about half the solution.
What about the other half? Why do we quit? Why can’t we continue? Why do we feel doubt, dread, and anxiety about writing?
How Do You Think Creatively?
It is good to get a clear view of how you think creatively. Let’s begin to look at your brilliant – if frustrating – creative brain. Over the past 60 years, scientists have developed a model, called Deliberate Creativity, for how creative thinking happens. They’ve identified four thinking phases that are distinct, because each has a different outcome in the creative process, accesses a different part of the brain, and is enhanced by different moods.
1. You CLARIFY. What might it take? How might you tackle it?
2. You IDEATE. You have those exciting ideas.
3. You DEVELOP. You select and perfect the best ideas. You formulate your work.
4. You IMPLEMENT. You give it form and build support for your work.
Deliberate Creativity is the map of how creative thinking works, based on the Foursight Model, by Dr. Gerard Puccio. It is the most prevalent model used among creativity practitioners. This model is both micro and macro – we run our thoughts in this order and path whether we’re taking on a tiny task – like naming a chapter – or as the overarching process we follow as we take a book from start to finish.
Since each of these phases taps a different part of the brain, and is enlivened by different moods, it stands to reason that different people excel at and enjoy some phases, and dread or avoid others. One of these phases might be precisely why you’d rather wash dishes or visit the dentist than continue writing. You might be stuck in that one dreaded phase that taxes your brain, and brings you down. And it can cause you to push away from your desk (or avoid it altogether) and look for any distraction.
How Can You Fix it?
Try this. Take a look at the four examples of writer’s block I gave above. Which one describes you best? Find a creativity fix for that problem below!
Is this you? Are you full of great, exciting ideas that never quite come to fruition? The good news is you’re probably a strong ideator, but perhaps a weak CLARIFIER. You might be skipping or avoiding CLARIFYING, simply because you know you’ll always have another brilliant idea. But jumping from one idea to the next wastes a lot of time and energy.
The Fix? Use the word “might” instead of “have to.” Think the sentence: “I have to finish that chapter.” How does that sentence make you feel? Where do you feel it? My clients say things like: my stomach clenches, my shoulders tighten. Maybe you clench your jaw. Now rephrase the sentence: “How might I finish that chapter?” How does that feel? Lighter? You can feel the difference in your brain and body. And before you can finish the sentence, solutions come to mind. I call this Mighty Language.
2. Classic blank page – no ideas
You might be stuck in CLARIFYING stage – you just need a little more research. You’d like a little more context! And you might not be a very strong IDEATOR.
The Fix? Can you “give” someone ideas who doesn’t have them? Of course. There are piles of research that show that brainstorming will increase your ideas – both in quantity and quality. You can brainstorm all by yourself – just follow the brainstorming rules.
First, let your ideas flow, unedited, unjudged. Just capture them all in writing, no matter how dumb. Second, shift gears entirely, and begin to “judge” your ideas. Select and perfect them. Just separate those two sessions – coming up with ideas and choosing ideas – and your ideas will improve. It’s a proven fact.
3. Lost in the “soggy middle.”
Is this you? You get halfway in and get bogged down? Writing a book is an enormously complex undertaking. But perhaps you’re not a strong thinker in the DEVELOP phase.
The Fix? Visualize what’s next. Ask your brain to see it. Your imagination is more powerful than any movies’ special effects, so start your sentence with “What I see happening is…” and let your brain begin to see it all in three dimensions. If you can’t write it down fast enough, dictate and record what you see.
4. The novel-in-the-drawer syndrome
IMPLEMENTING is fun for some – the “Ready, Fire, Aim” crowd – and leaves others frozen in their tracks. You might be stuck in the DEVELOP phase, especially if you’re a perfectionist. There is a natural dynamic tug between these phases of thinking. Part of you is eager to get it done and out, and part wants to hold on and finesse it a little longer. If you’re not a strong IMPLEMENTER, the finessing wins out. So quit pussyfooting and get your work in the world.
The Fix? Let’s use your imaginative brain again. Imagine what you want most in the world, for example, a bestselling book. Write that goal on a sticky note and put it to the far right on butcher paper or a wall. Continue moving backwards – what’s one tiny step it might take to get there? Write that step and place it just to the left of the goal, and keep moving left with steps that will need to happen. Why? Because Backwards Planning disengages your resistance and allows you to see the path in its entirety – even see holes without feeling the fear and inadequacy you’d feel in a normal forward planning session.
When you’re stuck, avoiding or keeping “busy” to get away from things you want to write, get some perspective on how you think creatively, and what research, tools and help there might be to help you progress. Writer’s block – like creativity – is not one-size-fits-all.
Julia Roberts could have written 100 books by now, but she has published three, notably the Amazon bestseller, Sex, Lies and Creativity – Gender Differences in Creative Thinking. In the search for What’s Wrong with Me? she became a certified creativity coach and then got her Masters of Science in Creativity. She is a creativity practitioner who dedicates her work to enhancing creativity and smoothing out the creative process for writers. She can be found at decdodingcreativity.com, and in her FB group – Write Without the Fight. (Ask to join. It’s free and fun.)