Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Overcoming Writer's Block

Writer's block is a common illness. Most of us suffer from it at one time or another. It is a unique form of fear—exposing our true selves to others—that hides in nearly everyone's closet.

Even if you don't think you write all that often, it's surprising how often life calls upon you to put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard. You might have to write a simple email or a brief report at work. It might be something as short as a Facebook status or as long as a dissertation.

When's the last time your boss asked you to give a presentation? How often do you write in your journal? Have you started your life history yet? How often are you called upon to—start hyperventilating—give a talk?

I hear a lot of people say, "I can't write" or "I'm not a writer." But how often do the circumstances of everyday life require you to write? For many, it's more often than we'd like. You can't run forever.

There is help, of course. Consider these words from the Book of Moses:
And then began these men to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them; and a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration; and by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled. (Moses 6:4–6; italics added.)
There is a promise in those verses to those who call upon God. They are promised that they will write by the spirit of inspiration. I am very grateful for that promise.

You and I witness this almost every Sunday. A new deacon, for example, gets up to give his first talk in sacrament meeting. He has written the talk himself, with little help from his parents. He prayed for help when he wrote it and he prayed for help when he gave it. Though his voice may be quiet or halting, you can hear the touches of inspiration and power that come through the words he's written. It's a fulfillment of the promise given in Moses. We can count on that help, if we call upon God in faith.

One reason why writing is so scary I think is because writing is commitment. There is something about it that requires a decision, a commitment, to put ourselves out there. When we write anything, whether we realize it or not, we are saying, "This is who I am." That is scary.

I wrote a novel about 20 years ago. I didn't like it when I was done so I set it aside. There really wasn't that big of a problem with the book. The big problem was me. And giving up too soon on my book and myself.

For years I've read about successful writers who get to a point in their writing where they just trust their inner voice. I've wrestled with that in the past. But now I think I know what they were talking about. I've learned to ask, "What's next?" and then listen. The answer always comes.

The difference between how I used to write and how I write now is simple: I trust that voice when I write, and I don't believe that voice comes from me. I think it comes from a Divine source. Not that my writing is always divine, but that the inspiration behind it often is because I ask for it.

When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I wrote a story called "1983" (not to be confused with George Orwell's 1984). I am grateful that my mother saved this and a few other papers from my childhood. I think I can remember the night I wrote it. I sat at our dining room table. I wrote "To Dad" at the top of the first page. It was four pages long, illustrated (see the illustration from page 4 above). I remember giving the story to him. I don't remember what he said, only that he smiled and was complimentary.

I don't think it was a school assignment because there are no marks on it. I just wrote it because I wanted to. I wasn't afraid. The story had lasers and a giant hand and a character named Dick (well, it was the 1960s). And a rather gruesome ending, I am sorry to say.

I remember that I didn't have a lot of social fear in those days. I had some but not a lot. I was content to be who I was and to express it. The incongruity crept in a couple years later and I went into hiding.

But I've kept writing. I did well in writing and literature classes in high school and college. I have a bookshelf full of journals. I majored in English and took up writing as a career. I love it. It is an endless pursuit. I never tire of writing nor will I ever retire from it, though I may receive advice to the contrary.

Overcoming writer's block is a simple formula for me. Ask. Trust. Receive. Do something about it. Repeat.

It always works. It takes patience, but it never fails. Correct principles correctly applied always work. If we are patient enough to apply them.

I wrote another novel last year. I am in the middle of the fifth draft. I believe in this book. I believe in myself. It's working. I haven't had this much discretionary time in 15 years. I plan to not waste it.

A kind mother in our ward read the third draft to her eight-year-old daughter a few weeks ago. The girl made her mom stay up quite late one night to finish reading it so she could find out what happened. It still has plenty of wrinkles, but I am ironing them out daily, relentlessly. Relentless, I have discovered, is what makes things happen.

In other words, don't give in. Never give up. Keep trying to express what's inside of you, in whatever form is best for you. Writing is the universal way to do that.

When was the last time you sat down at the dining room table to write a story, just because you wanted to?

Stop worrying about what other people will think. You are a fabulous person. You deserve to be heard.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this today. Thank you. I think it is a matter of trust. Trusting yourself, trusting the message, and trusting the Lord.

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