Saturday, February 25, 2012

Eight reasons why I look in the mirror and see you

The moderator of my local writers' group handed out a list of "Issues Associated with Writing Blocks and Decreased Productivity." It's from the Stanford University Faculty & Staff Help Center, and was compiled by David Rasch, Ph.D. in 1997. Our handout was distilled from the original.

Obviously, there are not only plot and character archetypes, there are some for writers' block also.

Procrastination and avoidance. Well, duh. This is pretty much what all of us do, published and not, at various times. Even though I am almost always motivated to write, when I have trouble with scenes or plot I've been known to pop onto Critique Circle, mosey around the forums, and post when I really have nothing to say.

Negative self-talk. Who hasn't done that? I bet even Stephen King sometimes worries that his current project really belongs in his computer's recycle bin.

Perfectionism. Unrealistic expectations, over-editing, difficulty declaring a project done - no kidding, eh? To be fair, unless you have a professional editor helping you, it's easy to fall into this trap. I've spent innumerable hours in the strait jacket of not knowing what to put in, what to leave out, and related irritants.

Anxiety. The point under this heading that speaks loudest to me is "reinforced patterns of avoiding writing to reduce anxiety." Ahh, I'm really stuck but I should write, and now I'm breaking out in a cold sweat, so I'll go clean the parakeet cage, then I'll water all the houseplants, then I'll play with one of the cats, then it'll be time to listen to the hockey game and I've missed so many because I was writing ....

Psychosomatic. Cramps, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness. I don't have trouble with this. Well maybe the headaches. Well, possibly fatigue. Raise your hand if thinking about the beginning, middle or end of your plot causes any of these symptoms.

Difficulty finishing. Worthy of its own section. "Excessive pre-writing research" --I'd be guilty of that if I could find enough research. "Lose sight of main focus" --I call this the "why bother" syndrome. This story really is stupid anyway, so why bother writing it ... or the other seven stories.

Interpersonal issues. The biggest one for me here is "lack of mentor or colleagues to discuss writing with." It's why I keep going to my local writing meetings even when I haven't submitted anything. Frankly, even sharing nonsense posts on Critique Circle helps me feel connected.

Mental health conditions. *ahem* Hey, do we have to get personal here? Seriously, things like ADD, grieving, clinical depression, are not as solvable by ourselves as the other issues. There may be times when the best thing is to not write and just deal with the bigger issue.

See, you're all sitting there nodding and saying, "Oh, that's me, and that one is really me!" Writers share a whole bunch of problems as well as things like creativity. There's a reason for the stereotype of the drunken writer. This boat we're all in is a lot bigger than any cruise ship.

The list also has tips for improving productivity and I'll share those next week. I'll toss in one right now. The most helpful thing for regaining focus for me has been to think back to what sparked the story in the first place, what pulled me in. I've reduced it to two sentences on an e-sticky on my laptop screen that is always displayed. That tiny seed idea is the key. Go back to that, rediscover the magic and fall in love all over again.

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