Maxie van Roye
Volume 21 Issue 18 2013-05-17
Have you ever sat down in front of a blank page, put your fingers to the keys, and then . . . nothing? Of course you have. Writerís block is so ubiquitous that itís become late-night entertainment show fodder. But all the SNL skits in the world arenít going to do you much good when thereís a deadline around the corner and your brain wonít push past the opening line.
What about when youíve got a good thing going already, but get stuck partway through? The 70+ half-finished drafts (gulp) in my blogging folder suggest that this is a bigger problemóat least for me. Iíll be cruising along, typing however many words a minute my kinda-sorta-but-not-really ten-finger typing can put on the page. Then there will be a blip in my creativity stream and Iíll waste time and altitude trying to sort out which word would be the best choice or how to end that paragraph.
Inevitably Iíll become so stuck that Iíll either spend twice as long as necessary on the written piece or Iíll get up and walk awayóbut never come back.
The solution to both problems is this: just write something. That sounds simple, but of course itís one of those things thatís a lot more difficult in practice.
Why? One of our problems is that we often self-edit as we write. Yet this is one thing that most creativity experts will warn us against, since it slows down and even interrupts our thought process. Itís impossible to keep a smooth flow of words and ideas if weíre constantly reviewing and picking at what we just put down on the page. Sure, itís not perfectóbut itís not supposed to be, not yet.
Letting thoughts flow without worrying about perfection is a hard habit to establish, but itís necessary if we want to be productive writers. When I find myself falling into a pattern of editing as I go, I have to force myself to move ahead, even if I canít think of the perfect word. Iíll put in a note (ďINSERT RANDOM WORD HEREĒ) or finish a sentence with ďBLAHBLAHBLAH,Ē highlight the issue, and move on. The highlightingís important so that I donít miss the problem on my second go-around.
Then I work time into my schedule to come back for a second look, and invariably the solution to the problem will jump out at me. If Iíd tried to solve it the preceding day, it would have taken me hours.
Prolific writing is not a guarantee of good writing, but steady writing is the only way youíll practice enough to get anywhere near perfect. And making a habit out of a second edit is a good idea even if you didnít experience writerís block, since it gives an additional opportunity to catch errors and polish your work. By writing first and editing later you can stave off writerís block and produce a more polished bit of writing.
Now thatís something to write home about!
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