Wednesday, November 16, 2011

writer's block--

You try to write every day--you take off work so you can really focus on writing, and the most you get all day is one new paragraph. 

You've written for a month-and-a-half and produced six drafts, some a page, some five or six pages, none of which feels right. 

You realize you have no idea what you're doing. 

Some people call this writer's block, but there's got to be a better term for it. 

From my own experience (see above), writer's block is synonymous with self-condemnation, a crisis of confidence. And it doesn't apply only to writers... Artists. Musicians. Parents. Designers. Entrepreneurs. Teachers. Plumbers. Mentors. Someone going through a "mid-life" crisis. We look at what we've done and see that it doesn't amount to what we want from ourselves. So we try again, and when that doesn't work we begin to doubt who we are or what we do.

I don't have the be-all, end-all remedy, but I can tell you what helped me. I stopped striving and had faith. I took Ira Glass' words to heart.

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. . . .
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. . . . 
It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile.”

Listen to yourself: do you really care about making what you do matter? Do you care about making it great? Then you've got what it takes. Every person on this earth has the spark of a creator within them, somewhere between their heart and mind. Whatever it is you do. You are an artist, or have the capacity to be.

One thing that fosters artistry is child-like curiosity. Wonder. Coming at a project from every angle. What gets in the way of artistry? Striving--trying, grudging, contending. Instead of letting the inner spark ignite and swinging the doors wide open to let the winds of imagination fan it into flame. Which takes repeated, regular practice.

Once I got through those six drafts that weren't going anywhere, I tried a seventh. I don't think I could have gotten to the seventh without the first six dead-end drafts. But I stopped trying to write the story I thought would be good to write. I allowed my imagination to illuminate a path I couldn't have conjured and the road kept opening up before me. A little at a time, just a couple of footsteps ahead, but the flame was living, it was breathing, and I was following.

copyright Sarah Shaffer 2011


  1. I LOVE this. It's true and well-said. I especially like the quote from Glass. The topic hits the nail on the head of what I'm experiencing right I ever going to be any good? Is it ever going to sound like I want it to sound? "We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have." The bottom line like you said, "Do you care about making it great? Then you've got what it takes."
    I wish I had time to read all your posts. :) Eventually.

    1. Thanks :) I'm glad this encouraged you!