The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, January 21, 2005

Smashing Writer's Block

As some of you may have guessed from the volume of my posts, I NEVER get writer's block, and can teach you to be the same way. 
I remember making this comment to an audience at UCLA.  Afterward, one of the instructors, a very nice lady, came up to me and said, "why did you lie to them?  It's not possible to break writer's block." 
Poor baby.  She thought that the limits of her own understanding were the limits of reality.  Always a mistake.
Writer's block can be defined as the inability to produce text, or to finish projects.   Seen this way, it is ALWAYS a result of the confusion of two states:
1) The "Flow" state, where you are producing text.
2) The "Editing" state, where you are judging the quality and appropriateness of what you have written.
You see?  If you weren't concerned with quality, you could sit all day and type complete nonsense.  No block at all.  Of course--I didn't promise you the daily work would be good.  But the following belifs are quite useful:
1) the only way to have a good idea is to have a lot of bad ideas.
2)  Everyone has a million words of b.s. they have to work through.
3)  If I learn one new thing every time I sit down to work, I improve at a steady, butt-kicking pace.
So.  What is necessary is to learn to go into flow state, the origin of the "Genius Zone" from which your greatest performances will emerge.  There are many things that trigger this state:
1) 60 beat per minute Vivaldi largo-rhythm string music. 
2) Yoga meditation
3) distance running or walking
4) Alpha state light and sound machines.
5) the Five Minute Miracle, performed lightly in a seated position for 15 mintues or more.
6) The "hypnogogic state" immediately before falling asleep.
7) the "contour drawing" exercise found in the excellent book "Drawing on the right side of the brain.
8) Tai chi
There are others.  Find one.  Master it it.  Your ability to cultivate and hold "flow" is essential to your success as a writer--or in any creative endeavor.  More on this another time.
Second, you need to learn to identify when the Editor voice in your head turns on.  This is often a negative, sarcastic voice that keeps saying that this or that aspect of the work isn't good enough.  You know what?  Re-read the following several times:  IT'S COMPLETELY O.K. FOR YOUR FIRST DRAFTS TO SUCK.  Who cares?  Re-writing reigns supreme.  It's why God made word processors, folks.  Give yourselves a break. 
Write in flow.
Re-write in Editor.
NEVER confuse the two states, and you will never be blocked.  Becoming a published writer in a year becomes a real possibility...and damned near inevitable if you actually let yourself become a Lifewriter!


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