As the chairperson of a local Writers’ group, the Valley Writers’ Guild, I volunteered to be the first speaker at our January meeting. It will be the first time we have met in the library and so I wanted to address a topic of common concern to writers. The frustrating experience of writer’s block is certainly one every writer has from time to time. The problem stems from self-doubt and sensitivity to the inner critic hovering around as soon as a writer applies the seat of his or her pants to the seat of the office chair. The inner critic is rather like a nasty tiny black devil sitting on the shoulder and making snide comments each time a writer tries to make a mark on the blank screen (or paper) on the desk. Nothing will come of the session if this menace is not promptly put in its place. After all, you, the writer, are in charge. Don’t allow this dictator take command. It’s a case for disciplining your inner discourager.
I propose, instead of suffering through this misery, that you, the writer in question, make a strict contract with your self-doubt (aka the “editor”). I think that is very important that you actually write this contract up and post it above your desk. As a matter of fact, print it out on a bright colour like lime green and frame it so that it is prominently in your line of vision. This is so that every time you feel attacked by self doubt you can re-read the “riot act” to your editor.
Okay, now what should this contract say?
First of all make a statement of your intentions:
eg: I will write for at least an hour every day, no matter what.
or I will write a short story (skit, chapter, article, song or poem) each week.
Then write the following rules for the Editor:
1. Acknowledge and affirm that you are a Writer! This is very important because otherwise spending time in this activity will just be a waste of time. You need to acknowledge that you are a legitimate writer because a) you write, b) every writer has doubts c) no one has the right to criticize your ambition and d) you need to be patient with the learning curve of your skills.
2. The Editor is only helpful after the first draft is finished. This is crucial to the writing process. Anything judged before it is any more than an idea is still in the raw state, like crude ore before the refining process. You need to allow yourself time to actually mine the ore (more about this process in a later blog). Therefore judgement before this process is completed is grossly unfair and for your purposes not allowed.
3. The Editor is not allowed to set foot in your head space until he or she is called upon to do so.
You must have control and so you must agree to be incommunicado until “editing day”. Editing day is a day you choose either at the end of each week or the end of each month (your choice) when you review the material you have written and decide what to do with it. You should never edit anything too soon after writing it unless you are on a tight schedule for a deadline. Time gives the Editor in your head an opportunity to see what is written with fresh eyes.
4. Anything said to you by the Editor is invalid unless you accept it. This is very important for your self esteem. Any criticisms that insult your own intelligence such as : “this is stupid tripe”, “this is just garbage” or “your writing sucks” should not be given any credence. They are simply unhelpful. Only specific criticism such as “that’s a dangling participle”, “don’t use that double negative” or “this is redundancy” should be heeded.
5. Post your successes rather than your rejections (no matter how minor they seem). Self-encouragement feeds your confidence. Confidence defeats writer’s block. The more confidence you have the more submissions you will make. The more submissions you make the greater chance you have for successful publication.
6. You have the right to “fire” the Editor without notice. This may happen on a daily or weekly basis until you have learn to apply the Editor gag whenever necessary. If you need a second opinion after a decent interval of time you might consider a different pair of friendly eyes. Choose this person carefully. It should be someone who’s opinion you trust , someone who will only offer helpful criticism and frank tactful advice. Getting input from a group of writers who are experienced in critiquing each others work will be immensely therapeutic. In that way you are able to weigh the overall criticism of your work by noting the commonality of their comments.
This is the contract you need to make with the Editor and when he or she starts whispering or screaming in your ear simply refer to the posted contract.
You are now empowered to write as much “junk” or “garbage” as necessary until you find the gold, your “voice” as a writer.