Shouldn’t You Be Writing? The Real Reason Writers Avoid The Blank Page

"All writing problems are psychological problems." ~ Erica Jong

“All writing problems are psychological problems.” ~ Erica Jong

We writers are an imaginative, intelligent bunch. But instead of using our super-powers to finish writing the most kick-ass story ever, we often apply our cunning to the art of avoidance. We can always find an excuse. Pinterest “research.” Social media promoting. Cleaning the house. The quest to find the perfect pen. Personally, I’m partial to whittling away hours at a time making spiffy teasers and graphics like these:

raven in gray teaser

Dharma and Desire Teaser

Raven in Gray

 

 

 

 

 

 

And by the way, you can hire me to make spiffy graphics and teasers for you, too! Please, PLEASE give me something else to do besides facing the page.

We all do it. Anything to avoid doing the words. Sometimes our avoidance tactics are not even conscious. We rationalize our excuses, convincing ourselves that they’re real. If we’re so intelligent, why do we do that?

Because we aren’t even aware WHY we are running away. 

When it comes down to it, there’s only one reason. Fear. Big fat, stinking, slinky, fear.

Writers block is a misnomer. What is called writers block is almost always ordinary fear. ~ Tom Wolfe

We already talked about how scary it is to be honest and authentic in our writing. But the fear of exposure is only one of many fears.

Maybe we also fear…

We won’t be able to finish the book.

We aren’t good enough. We aren’t a “real writer.”

Nobody will want to read what we write.

We’ll go broke if we devote ourselves to our writing.

Complete failure.

Total success. (Yes, that can be scary too.)

We’ll find things deep inside that we don’t want to see.

And a dozen other things that are personal to us.

So now that we understand that fear is always beneath our avoidance, how can we conquer it? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news… but we can’t. We can only develop a new relationship with our fear.

Don’t underestimate the power of recognizing your fears.

When our fears are unconscious we get ants in the pants, and do everything in our power to escape that feeling. Once we recognize our fear, name it, and claim power over it (it’s just an emotion after all,) we can pull up our big-girl panties (or big-boy boxers,) sit down and write despite the ants in our pants. 

In order to gain more consciousness around our fears, I recommend writing them out – along with the worst case scenario should our fears come true. Be imaginative and overly dramatic about it. This will give you awareness of your fears as well as help you see that perhaps some of them aren’t even valid (or at least, they are blown out of proportion.)

Remember, courage doesn’t equal fearlessness.

We can face the page, filled to the brim with fear, and still do the words. We all have similar fears. We are all scared we aren’t good enough. But do you want to know what makes a “real writer”? The act of writing despite fears.

So pull up those panties or boxers, recognize the monsters in the closet, and do the words anyway. Your story needs you.

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Writing On The Edge. How Courageous Writers Make Successful Writers.

Fear is your guide, not your enemy.

Writing is scary.

It’s true. Only writers get this. Try to explain to a normie that you haven’t finished your novel because you are afraid, and you’ll only receive a blank stare of confusion, or worse, judgement.

But why exactly is writing so terrifying? From the book, The Courage to Write:

Even though novelists and short story writers ostensibly deal in fantasy, they are the most self-exposed authors of all. Fiction writers are judged by the emotional authenticity of their work. To create authentic feelings in their characters, they must first call up their own.

It’s that word: authenticity.

And that’s the crux of it. All famous authors have said it in their own way. You must be honest. You must be real. If you aren’t, your work will suffer.

“The only writers I respect,” said Henry Miller, “are those who have put themselves completely into their work. Not those who use skillful hands to do something. This isn’t writing, in my opinion. A man who can dash off a book, let’s say, and say it’s a good novel, a best seller, even of some value, but it isn’t representative completely of him, of his personality, then there’s something wrong there. This man is a fraud in a way, to me. All he put into his book was his skill. And that’s nothing. I prefer a man who is unskillful, who is an awkward writer, but who has something to say, who is dealing himself one time on every page.”

So many of us are afraid we aren’t good enough, skilled enough. So we obsess over rules and how-to’s and paralyze ourselves with the rigidity of doing it right. Often this is only a tactic our fear uses to distract us from writing the deep, scary, truth.

There is a woman in my writing group who desperately wants to be a better writer. When she shares her stories, they inevitably fall flat. She’s good with grammar, plot structure, and description. But there is something missing: truth. There’s no honesty in her stories. There is no risk.

The risk is what rivets readers.

They sense that not only are these characters in some sort of danger (physical, psychological, or otherwise) but the author is, too. Readers want to see the truth laid bare in all it’s humiliating glory. Why? Because it resonates as truth. And that makes them feel connected. It makes them feel better about their own truth. It makes them feel they are not alone.

This type of writing takes guts. There’s no magic cure for writing fear (though I’ll be focusing on how to face it for the rest of September.) As a successful writer, self-exposure is not just an occupational hazard. It’s a requirement. Make peace with this fact as best you can.

Remember that fear is your guide, not your enemy.

“When you stiffen,” said Toni Morrison of anxious moments while writing a novel, “you know that whatever you stiffen about is very important. The stuff is important, the fear itself is information.”

When you feel the fear, celebrate it instead of cursing it. Instead of running away. Be glad you feel it. It means you are doing something more important than following rules: you’re writing with authenticity.

And that’s a good thing. All those famous authors can’t be wrong.

 

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The Character Insight Spread

A fun, unique, and surprisingly effective way to learn more about your character! Use a tarot deck or regular playing cards.

Have you ever had one of your characters surprise you? Perhaps something they said gave you a sudden insight into their motivation. Or perhaps you awoke in the middle of the night with a realization about their past. Good characters do that. They are always whispering little secrets about themselves that they want us to know. This exercise is a fun and unique way to turn up the volume on those whispers!

I’ve been using the Tarot for almost twenty years to help friends and family gain insights into themselves. The other day it hit me: why not create a spread specifically for the characters in my book? And so The Character Insight Spread was born!

Not only does this layout provide insights about your character’s life and personality, it can also inspire all kinds of new plot twists if you’re feeling stuck.

If you don’t have a Tarot deck, you can use regular playing cards. It won’t be as in depth, but it will work. Visit Playing Card Divination for excellent descriptions of card meanings.

The Layout

The character insight spread for writers

1. The character’s past.

2. The character’s present.

3. The character’s future.

4. Subconscious influences/a secret. (What the character doesn’t see.)

5. Hopes or fears.

6. Their world view.

7. Their world view continued.

 

How To Do It

Shuffle your cards and think about your character. I usually say “Tell me about so-and-so,” a few times. After they are thoroughly shuffled, cut the deck once, then lay out your cards. If you’re an expert card reader you can take it from here. If not, consult the book that came with your Tarot deck or look up playing card meanings here. You may also leave your layout in the comments and I will try to help.

As you are interpreting the reading, keep an open mind and engage your imagination. Sometimes cards are only hints. Let them spark your creativity! If you are confused about a card pull a second card to clarify.

Remember that the cards influence one another and are interpreted as a whole.

About Court Cards

Court cards can be tricky to interpret. They can represent your character, aspects of their personality, or another person all together. If, for example, a Queen shows up in your character’s world view, consider that it might be their mother or another woman who impacted your character in a profound way. Perhaps the layout is telling you another character should be added to your story. If you are totally confused about the appearance of a face card in your reading, pull a second card to clarify.

Example Reading 1

Example 1This reading is for my character, Raven, from my current work in progress, Raven In Gray.

1. Her past: Restricted, unable to make decisions. Sorrow. Imprisoned.

2. Her present: Imbalance. Energy is being wasted and scattered. Out of control.

3. Her future: Sharp, organized, and perceptive. Able to cut through confusion to arrive at the truth. Transformation.

4. Subconscious influences/secret: Moving away from conflict. Let emotions settle.

5. Hopes or fears: Freedom from bondage.

6. World view: Poverty, low vitality, spiritual emptiness.

7. World view continued: Sudden, unexpected upheaval.

Putting It Together

Raven is a woman who has felt trapped and in bondage. She is currently acting out and going to extremes because of that frustration. Her subconscious knows she needs to move away from the source of her emotional upheaval (whether or not she listens to that wisdom is another matter.) Her ultimate hope is to be free from the bondage she feels. Her world view is that poverty and tragedy can strike at any moment, so she must constantly be on guard. (I didn’t know this about her. Why she feels this way is something I’ll have to explore.) But in the end her future looks positive; she has become the wise Queen of Swords who has learned from her past. She is looking down at the butterfly on her sword, knowing that like the butterfly she has been transformed.

Example Reading 2Example 2

This reading is about Torin, my tormented artist in Raven In Gray.

1. His past: Intense grief and loss. Suppressed pain not being faced.

2. His present: Overwhelmed by financial demands. No long-term plans.

3. His Future: Dreamy and passive. Lives in fantasy not reality. Creative outlet could help.

4. Subconscious influences/secret: Life feels unfair. Blaming others for problems. Comparing self to others.

5. Hopes or fears: Moving away from conflict. Emotions settle.

6. World view: Hard working. Skilled with materials and hands.

7. World view continued: Just like life, we have our own cycles and rhythms. Fate.

Putting It Together

Torin experienced profound pain and loss but never dealt with it. (Something I didn’t know about him. But it fits!) Currently he is floundering, especially financially. He doesn’t even realize that he blames others for his own problems, or that he compares himself to others. He hopes someday he will escape conflict and pain, and experience peace. His world view is actually pretty positive. He views himself as skilled. He knows that life is cyclical so perhaps he figures that “things will eventually come around.” He believes in fate, which might make him feel disinclined to take action. In the end, he chooses passivity, and decides he’d rather stay in his fantasy world than face the reality outside.

 

Both of these readings were crazy accurate. And both gave me some interesting ideas to chew on.

Give it a try and see what you find! Let me know how it works for you.

If you’re struggling with the interpretation, give me a shout out. I’m happy to help if I can!

The What If Game

 

The fast and fun way out of writer's block.

I don’t get writer’s block. I just get stuck. I think that’s what happens to most of us. We get confused about where our story is heading or about what scene should come next. But we can always write something.

And that’s exactly what I used to do. I’d get stuck in the middle of my story and go start something else. Until eventually I had a dozen half-written stories piling up and collecting dust. Nowadays, I know the importance of finishing what I start. But I still get stuck.

So how do I escape from behind the massive walls of confusion and doubt?

Play the what if game!

To play the what if game, all you need to do is start listing possibilities. They don’t have to be probable — or even possible. They can be totally absurd. Treat the what if game like a stream-of-consciousness exercise. Don’t think about it, just write down the first thought that pops into your head. Then the next. And the next. And so on.

Here’s a screenshot of the what if game I played today:
The What If GameAs you can see, some ideas are silly. But as the game progressed the ideas became more interesting. In fact, I’m getting excited to dive into one or two of these.

In less than five minutes I freed myself from writer’s block!

You may make a list of a hundred what ifs and only use one. Maybe you won’t use any. That’s fine. Because I guarantee that simply doing the exercise will spark your imagination. You’ll gain insights into your characters and come up with questions about your story that need to be answered.

Just don’t think too hard. If you’re anything like me, that’s the best way to keep yourself stuck. 🙂

My One and Only Writing Rule (That Activates The Inner Author Archetype)

That activates the inner author archetype.

That activates the inner author archetype.

I only have one writing rule and it may seem a little strange. But I am a writer after all. It’s to be expected.

Honestly, I take slight issue with all these rules of writing and formulaic approaches to the craft. Yes, some are good to keep in mind. But if I worry too much about whether or not I am following the right formula, writing in the right genre, or hitting every supposedly required structural element of a story, I end up stifling my creative process.

When I approach writing I want to get my subconscious involved, I want to access the deep recesses of my psyche where the good stuff hides. If I’m super rigid about writing this is hard to do.

Yes, I believe we should write everyday and try to create a routine. But even this isn’t a hard and fast rule for me. Sometimes I need to walk away. In the space between words is often where I’ll receive insights about my story.

So, enough stalling. What’s my one writing rule?

No writing in pajamas.

That’s it. There’s a few reasons why I have this rule.

The obvious reason is that it helps me feel that I am treating writing as a job. It makes me feel a bit more connected to the human race. (Just a bit.)

But the main reason I have this rule, which might seem silly to others, is that dressing a certain way activates the “archetypal author” in my subconscious.

My grandmother was a world renowned concert harpist. She was an incredibly strong, successful, and graceful woman who always looked impeccable. As a child I was in awe of her enormous closet filled with elegant dresses and gowns. (Okay, even as an adult I was in awe.) She always said “It is not enough to be a harpist, one must also dress as a harpist.”

IMG_0105

I guess that concept became engrained.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that to be a writer all one must do is dress as a writer! We must also do the work of writing. (And what does a writer dress like anyway? That archetypal image is personal to all of us. I bet it would be fun to compare. 🙂 )

What I am saying is that acting “as if” can have a powerful effect on our subconscious mind, allowing us to step more fully into that which we truly are.

This rule certainly isn’t for everyone. Maybe some write best in pajamas. When it comes to the creative process, we need to find what works for us. Even if what works seems totally weird to others.

Speaking of which, check out this fun book on this subject…  Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers

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It’s Okay To Lose Your Pants (And Other Lessons Learned From Writing My 1st Novel)

And other lessons learned from writing my first novel.

From initial conception to publication, my first novel took almost 7 years to write. Granted, there were months – years even, that I didn’t work on it at all. But I can safely say that in 7 years I learned a lot about how to write, and how not to write, a book.

It’s okay to lose your pants.

I’m a pantser, not a plotter. Meaning I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t outline, plan, or structure. I let the creative process guide me. I let the story tell me where it wants to go.

But there were many times those pants went missing. I couldn’t find a single thread to write by, much less an entire seat! I was utterly naked, vulnerable, and lost. I had no idea where I was heading. I wailed unto the Universe in abject agony. How could you desert me oh, muse? (Or, um, pants?) I knew I’d never find my direction again. It had all been for nothing.

Needless to say, I always, eventually, found my pants. Usually when I wasn’t looking for them.

It’s okay to lose your pants, your direction, and your inspiration. It happens. You might as well accept it. I did (finally.) And because of that, my second book is proving far less traumatic to write.

Don’t edit while writing.

Justin McLachlan says “Trying to edit while writing is like trying to chop down a tree while you’re climbing it.” It’s true. This is why I was stuck in that damn tree for over 7 years!  Now, if you are utterly pants-less and devoid of all direction, I think it’s okay to go back and do a little editing. Sometimes it triggered ideas for me. But editing constantly as you write is a big mistake.

Perfectionism is not your friend. Self-compassion is.

Should you have your work professionally proof-read and edited? Absolutely. Should you receive feedback before release? Definitely. Should you constantly compare yourself to your favorite, famous authors? Probably not. Should you write and edit, write and edit, until your book is 100% perfect? No. Because it will never be perfect. At some point you simply have to know that you created something wonderful that you are proud of, and let your baby out into the world. You’ll never reach that point if you demand perfection.

If you’re anything like me you can be extremely hard on yourself. The process of writing a novel is HARD. Give yourself some credit and be kind to yourself. I had such a difficult time doing that with my first book.

Writing a novel takes immense faith.

It takes guts, it takes dedication, and it takes a lot of time. But I believe, more than anything, writing a novel takes faith. I knew deep in my heart that this book would be written and I trusted the creative process – even when I was pants-less. Even when I was wailing in abject agony to the Universe, a small part of me knew it would be okay. Nurture and cultivate that part. You must truly believe in your story and the fact that the idea was given to you for a reason. The world needs your book. Have faith that the words will come.

I should have started building my author platform sooner.

I didn’t know how to do it and I didn’t feel worthy enough. I wish I’d found this amazing site sooner: Your Writer Platform Get moving on that, no matter what stage of writing you’re at. Struggling to find readers after your book is published is no-fun.

So there it is. I may do a second post on this topic, as there’s more I’d like to share. Is there anything in particular you’d like me to address?

If you’ve already written and published your first novel, what did you learn?

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