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Block | Doubt

There are books on the market dedicated solely to the concept that it takes courage to write most likely because there is something odd about the mind of the writer.

We hate writing.

We really do.

It’s not that there is no joy in it. When the ideas flow and all that is in your head are the words and worlds of you characters it is like a drug no chemical can produce.

But getting there...

Staying there...

Should our concentration waver, or worse fail to gain ground, a voice may fight us from within. And this horrible shadow has no love for our passion or our work.

If you are a true artist you don’t chose it, the obsession chooses you. Somehow we are either born or made into creatures who can not survive without putting form to the ideas in our head. It is so for all creative types.

A man does not paint for the money. He paints because not doing so tortures him.

But all the victims of the muses, writers, painters, sculptors, what have you, are also born with critics inside their heads. And whomever they are for you, they are harsh and unkind. And also liars.

The courage to write is the strength it takes to overcome shyness and self flagellation so we may produce something that... shiver... another person could read.

“That sentence is terrible. You can’t do this. Just who do you think you are? Why would anyone care about this?”

For many of us the bravery it takes to ignore or silence those voices become habit. We push past with the knowledge this is a first, or second, or third or at least not final draft. We keep going because it fills the emptiness we feel without words.

But sometimes even the strongest can fail to beat back the self doubt that plagues authors.

I’m guessing the start is usually similar. Something stalled your words, maybe a huge emotional shift. Or time you could not dedicate to your work. For some reason a break has occurred and now the momentum is lost and you must fight your way through your fears back to the written word.

This is when she whispers, this evil ghost lurking in each of our minds. “I can’t do this, I will never write again.”

And we fall for it every time.

Of course it is not true, but as soon as the thought slips into our minds we are convinced that this time, this time she is right. We’ve lost it. We can’t get past our critics. Our strength and resolve has been sapped. There is no way through our foggy concentration and the false realization our work is unforgivably flawed.

It could be perfect. But our own ability to hate our own work is unmeasurable. And every doubt and fear is like a silent cacophony in our minds. No wonder we can not still ourselves to continue. We are outnumbered. Our characters call to us but we are positive we can not measure up to their demands.

How can we be free of this?

Well first it is important to know we can never be entirely cured of this ridiculous cycle. It is part of the writer’s life to have moments when we lose all faith in ourselves.

What we can do is learn how to cope with it when it strikes our psyche.

First we must break it down into the two types.

Type One: Lost Momentum

Type Two: Emotional Exhaustion.

Type one

is the kind that will only resolve through action. Start small. Take tiny steps to fight off your inner critics until you have gained enough ground to be able to push them to the back of your mind. More on that in a moment.

For type two

there is good news and bad news. The good news is part of it will go away on its own. The bad news is it will take time. You simply don’t have the resources to write at the moment. You have no other choice than to deal with your stressors and recuperate.

It’s like a sprained ankle. Part of the healing process is time, and part of it is physical therapy. Trust me I know from personal experience sitting on your patootie while nursing an injured foot is incredibly frustrating. So is letting go of the daily desire to write. For both, the urge to try to push on the limits of your pain is there. But while nudging at the gates at some point will help. First you must put up with being fixed in place for a while.

I struggled for years, looking on every website I could find on how to handle stress in a way that didn’t involve a cookie jar or even a Weight Watchers snack cake. All I managed to find was the usual advice for exercise, meditation and breathing techniques involving colour visualization.

Late evening exercise is bad for my insomnia and meditation only works if you can still your mind. Breathing techniques are right out because I become irritated on the first breath. However, give me a drop of bubble bath and a long soak and I can cope. Not an answer for everyone but it keeps me going.

If I find more solutions I’ll be sure to post them. But otherwise, try to get some help if you find you are coping with more than you can deal with.

How will you know when you have enough strength to return? You will be driven insane with desire to the point that naught else matters but the book. If you are lucky the writing itself will provide therapy and relief. You will find courage in the aggravation from doing nothing. But without giving yourself time to heal first you will only fight against the impossible.

At first glance these things may seem at odds but they are not. You must take care of yourself, do what it takes to recover from what has strained you. And with that nurturing ember you may find the fire once again consumes you.

But how to start? Everything is at a stand still. Your critics are waiting and you haven’t touched your work in months.

Back to Type One

It will at some point become obvious to you when I am not working on my novel; when I am either hiding from my work or have fallen for that banshee's scream again. How? Because my blog will update on a more regular basis; my website will swell and grow; somehow I will find a way to dart my fingers across my keyboard.

Step one

is for you to do the same. Keep writing, keep crafting, keep working, even if it has nothing at all to do with your novel. Write reviews if you have to. Most people have some content they wouldn’t mind sharing, and many have a rant or two perfect for a blog. Eventually you will trust you are capable of stringing a sentence together and one of your inner critics will be shoved into a corner with a dunce cap on.

Step two

is to print off your first five pages, or first two chapters or however many you want and start reading. It is important that you print them because the visual cortex is engaged differently when looking at paper than when you are looking at a screen and this is what you want, a change of state in your brain. Sometimes any change at all is what it takes to move you forward

Also the mere inability to fiddle with the words on the spot will allow you to look at your work in a different way and help you gain a little bit of needed distance. You will be a little closer to viewing your work as a reader would and you are more likely to find you enjoy the process of re-engaging.

Step three

Once you are capable of looking at your work with a kinder eye read the whole thing. I’m not kidding. Beginning to the last point you left at, or further if you are like me and write out of order. Allow yourself to sink into the world again and soon you will find you don’t notice the doubts because you will be fascinated by your characters and they will tell you what is happening next.

Of course this process only works if you’re stalled on a project still in process. Finding the courage to start on page one is another topic entirely and unfortunately will need to wait a little longer for it’s own article.

Good luck. “Give em hell”

Last updated March 16th, 2018

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