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How to Get Over Writer's Block and Hug Your Imperfections

When I used to hear writers talk about writer's block I didn't get it. I mean I spent almost a decade writing a historical novel and never once felt so stuck that I couldn't write anything. Not even a crappy line of purple prose.

Often what I'll learn from my writing students is that they want to write yet don't know what to write. Though once I prod them a little they usually say...well, O.K., I do know what to write because it's been chewing up my soul for the last 20 years, yet I'm not sure if I should? Or, they do don't feel 'inspired' enough to carry through past a page or two.


Sometimes the hardest thing is beginning. We may feel panic or fear because we don’t know where we should start. We have all these ideas swimming around in our head that we want to put down on paper yet we aren't sure how to go about it. Though when we actually do put proverbial pen to paper, and the thoughts and ideas begin to flow, it’s a lot easier.

This happened last year when I was starting a new book. I couldn't understand what was going on until I realized I was afraid of it not being perfect. Even though I'd been through this before with other books I somehow forgot and started playing that old story of mine again. Many creatives are perfectionists and I’m no exception. Knowing that things don’t have to be perfect; not judging myself; being in the moment and enjoying the process were (and still are) the most important (and hardest) lessons for me.

Still today I find myself trying to get over that not being perfect thing. I'm not going to be Jane Bloody Austen out of the gate--and anyway, neither was she!! When it comes down to it I really just want to be myself (la, la, la...), so when I stop thinking about trying to be perfect or trying to be someone else, I loosen up. In this instance I was gradually able to write words and phrases that came from me. Little ol' me!


Think of when you were a child playing in the moment. I bet you didn’t think, oh I’m not doing this right. I should be doing it differently. You simply played. You were immersed in that moment and part of the flow. That’s what writing can be like if you approach it as a child approaches play.

You play with words, you play with language, you play with thoughts and ideas. With no preconceived notions of how that will be, and what it’s supposed to look like. No notions of a book that hasn’t even been written, that’s already published in your head and people are criticizing. Yet instead of playing you may imagine reading the critics before the work’s even finished! Yes, people I DO that, and I know some of you do, too!

The other day I heard Caroline McHugh's Ted Talk on being yourself, and she said that women in particular tend to self-censor and constantly doubt. Well, my Mum taught me how to do that at a young age because her Mum did. When I see my young nieces doing that it makes me want to beat my breast and go live in a tree. Of course I'd bring my writing desk up there and some paper and pens.

There are many things that the mind does to stop us from creating, so why allow it to be the boss of you? Take a few deep breaths, pick up your pen and don’t even think about what you’re going to write. Don’t even think about the story. Then just go and write. Even if it’s not connected to what you eventually want to write, the important thing is to start. I repeat: the important thing is to START. You can always write what you want once you get going.

Think of creative inspiration as a tap that hasn’t been turned on in a while in an old house.

You turn it on and it sputters a bit; you keep turning the faucet, then a bit more water comes out until eventually it starts to flow. Writing anything, even if it seems to you like the most mundane piece of claptrap, is getting that process going and getting that flow happening. You can do it. I have faith that you can do it as long as you show up to let it happen.

Some days will suck and you'll wonder why the heck you're doing this. Other days you'll be completely juiced, go back the next day to see what you’ve written, and say, I didn’t know I had it in me.

That's what writing's about.

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