Every writer, at some point or another, experiences this feeling: after working for hours on the same piece, over and over, he or she looks at the page and thinks (or screams out loud with frustration), “All I can write is sh**!” (Disclaimer: Your actual use of profanity may vary. See dealer for options and pricing.)
I’ve decided that what I am experiencing a the moment has less to do with writer’s block, and more to do with an over-abundance of self-criticism. I can hear my own voice in my head saying things like, “You teach this stuff. You can write better than this. What’s your problem?” As I proceed to revise whatever I’ve written, and in an effort to shut the critical voice in my head up, I begin over-writing, and I end up with something that sounds like – well – like doo-doo.
When I was working on my critical thesis for my MFA, I reached a point where the writer’s block paralyzed me. Yes, I know, you’ve already read about that if you’re following along at home. Bear with me – new stuff just ahead. At one point in the quagmire of the experience, a former friend said to me, “I think you have analysis paralysis.” This phrase refers to a concept common among many occupations, but it involves a unique set of challenges as it applies to writing. We writers tend to want to push our words harder, make them do more, drain every possible drop of blood and emotion from them. Most of the time that’s a good way to think, but on occasion it causes us to over-think our writing, and the end result is we over-write and produce the kind of purple prose reserved for bad poets, old pulp fiction mags, and self-published work from people who know nothing about writing. (True, self-publishing is a viable option in many situations, but not because you got four or five rejection letters on a story).
When analysis paralysis happens, the best solution I’ve found – for me, anyway – is to step away and simplify. Sometimes writing requires distance. It’s like looking at a George Surat painting too closely – you can see all the words like tiny little dots, but the bigger image is lost.
In addition to the various techniques I’ve described previously (word games, not writing writing, etc.) I’ve decided to turn my attention to something completely different for a while and started working on a completely new novel. The new piece is funnier and more lighthearted, it takes my mind off of the other piece that’s frustrating me, and I still feel as if I’m being productive because I’m still being productive. Better still, because I have no expectations of this one, I’m simply enjoying the creative process rather than hyper-analyzing every syllable that I put on the screen.
That editorial voice in my head – and most writers know it all too well (their own editorial voice, not my personal voice) – causes me to lose my focus and undermines my confidence. Clarification: I allow it to do those things to me. I am the only one responsible for internal demons, and I am the only one who can turn them off. Sometimes, however, we all forget we have that kind of control. Sometimes we just lose track of the off switch. So here: