Unblock the Writer's Block. Activities to help you "let go."
Natalie Goldberg ,the author of Writing Down the Bones, inspired me to create this article. When she was in Minnesota, Goldberg set up a spontaneous writing booth at the Minnesota Zen Center, where kids to adults of all ages lined up in front of her table to give her a topic to write about. Her customers expected her to fill a whole page, front and back, of pose, and that is exactly what she did. Regardless of how well she wrote, she had to give up the work. With this writing practice and discipline, Goldberg learned to “let go.”
I remember a quote that said that something like this. A person cannot let go of anything if he or she cannot notice that that person is holding on to it. Neale Donald Walsch, the author of Conversations with God, goes on to say that if we admit our weaknesses we can watch them morph into our greatest strengths. This is true with writing as well as life in general. If we hold on to all of our masterpieces and what we call junk, we'll never continue to write new masterpieces and junk. When we do, they too will just be piled on our desk or floor waiting, and for what? The beginner writer tends to struggle with throwing away their masterpieces. What happens is they struggle with going beyond the "Once upon a time..." because they love that phrase so much that they just can't "let it go."
Letting go...how does letting go help the writer write. I've devised in a series of exercises (Ctr + End) below that helps the beginner writer get a jump start in his or her work. With resources and more important, with just doing it, the writer will learn that he or she will cherish their writings when they know they can go beyond what they wrote before since they are just letting it go.
"I'm always right, and when I'm not, I correct myself." ~Carlita
In an early Tuesday morning, right now, both you, an inquisitive young lad, and I sit at Au Petit Paris, an old style cafe in Paris. I remember a friend and author told me once that there are countless cafes and restaurants in Paris begging authors to write and eat. I didn't believe it until I saw it for myself. Now my job, as I convinced myself, is to do just that--write and eat. It doesn't happen so easily as most people believe. I end up eating more than writing. When I go to different cafes or restaurants it always brings a new experience because I always have a new writer with me. This new author asks me questions so he or she can learn the ropes and climb the mountain of what they consider perfect art. My job is to do just that, but first I must ask: Is there such thing as perfect art?
The waiter came, placing already ordered food on the linen thin cotton clothed table. I smile, saying thank you, and study you. I can't imagine what thoughts of yours may be swarming and questions waiting to be answered. I admit, I'm not the idol person to receive advice from. Who is? We are all travelers on the same path, just some are further ahead than others. It's a process. Writing takes time. While I'm immersed in my own philosophical blabbering, I watch your eyes spike and lean slightly towards me.
So, I answer you, "there isn't such thing as a perfect art."
When you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target. ~George Fisher
You draw back. "What do you mean, there's a lot of great writers out there. A lot better than me." You say and drop your head. "What I mean is, there are more experienced writers than I am. The only way I'd know if I can make it is if I knew what the perfect art is. You're saying there isn't such a thing." You stop.
Sliding the glass of Passion Tea off the most expensive linen cloth I've seen in any fancy restaurant. They completely out did America in their restaurant attire. I dabbed at the wet circle imprint with an napkin in my empty left hand and drink the tea from the glass I held in my right. The best way to understand that there is no perfect art is really to explain it to you.
Point 1: There is no perfect art
So, erase that from your mind. The point of letting go, as mentioned above, is to get rid of your masterpieces and your junk to develop better skills. There is no end to making what you have work. We learn from what we do. It is a process, just as life, and fortunately it does not stop. I'm not saying don't aim for perfection. Many religions and faiths aim for perfection, they just call it names: free from sin, enlightenment, and so forth. At the same time, many faiths understand that perfection (for some in this life) is not possible. It is the exact same in writing. Maybe we rate our "writing perfect" on the basis if our editors and publishers accept our work or not. Who knows? What I believe is that the only person who rates their own work as better is the person who wrote it. If you believe that writing is a ongoing process and the will for and the result of improvement leads for better results to build a foundation for more writing, you understand that there is no perfect work. Until then, you must learn to let go.
I call the waiter. He rushes to our table in an enthusiastic glide and stops. "Hello both of you." He eyed you and me. "What can I get you today?"
"Let me see," I think, "I just want something small." We already had the menu in front of us, but in all our talk, we seem to forget it existed. "Can I have a Tomato Basil Soup with another Passion Tea please."
"Ah, we, we, but of course you want a Souple de Tomates Au Basilic, very good choice." He turns to you, "and what would you like?" I found it hard to understand his English; and still I understood him. I smiled at you, pushing my eyes in a slight nod.
"I don't know." You say, finally noticing the fancy restaurant attire matched the food on its menu. The waiter helped her,
"The French Onion Soup or the Gratinee A L'ognons is a perfect appetizer," He said and raised his eye brows.
"Yes, give me that." You hand the menu to the waiter and I did the same. I tell you, "it will be awhile before we have our meals, what would you like to talk about next?"
"You said there's no perfect art. So, why write?"
"Why write?" I pulled back, my eyes widened, and lips parted. "Why write? You are a writer, are you not?"
"Yes, of course. You never pondered why you're interested in writing? Even just a little?"
I must admit, I do ponder. I think the inner critic is the corporate for all my ponderings, since I ponder and think more than I write.
"That's a good question. I'll use me for an example." I try and think, "I like to talk about many things that most people I know do not care about. Sometimes I'd write about Socrates and his relations to Jesus Christ. I love writing about religions and people of other faiths. Im sorry, Im digressing. I love to write about what I rarely talk about. I love to journal sometimes, but that I dont put to much effort into since journaling to me is putting all personal information on paper, and I tend not to do that."
"Why not," you ask, "that's a good way to write."
"Do you journal?"
I straightened my back, reviving my teacher's composer.
"That's a good way to let go. Start with journaling."
"Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do."
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe~
Point 2: If you don't have anything to talk about, talk about yourself; journaling the key to let go.
What is Journaling? Journaling, according to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary is to "record of experiences, ideas, or reflections kept regularly for private use." Sometimes we call it a diary. I rather use journal, makes it sound more "grown-upish." It does not matter what you call it. When you write down your thoughts, experiences, ideas, and reflections on paper or on the computer (we upgraded now), we don't fixate on what we write. We take what we carry around and put it down on paper; so, just in case we go out the house, we can leave our "thoughts" behind. I know, even this is easily said than done. Just by writing doesn't mean you erase your thoughts; that's wishful thinking. However, what you can do when you journal is first buy a cheep, two or three dollar notepad--just enough to write a month full of thoughts, not too much to where you don't want to write in it for fear of wasting unwanted thoughts on golden page lined leather notebook. Personalize it. Color it, put stickers on it, or write your name on it. (Actually, I don't like writing my name on books. Not that someone will know its mine, more of once I officially make it "mine" I don't want to write in it anymore.) I don't know if that's the case for you, and it's your choice to do with it whatever you want. What should you write? Junk. Keep your hand moving and write the worst junk possible.
Gosh, I don't even know what to write. I'm just thinking some 'hit to write (funny, in real life I don't curse, so anything can surprise you), What did I eat this morning? Some cookies. Those cookies look really good on the shelf inside of Barney's market where, as I remember once before, he took me to the carnival. I think I was about 6 at the time. What is his name, Mr. Genero, that’s right. An aging, crippled, you know someone bending over not crippled as in the policially correct term handicap or whatever you call it, anyway, he had so many wrinkles, i thought maybe if I ironed him he'd turn out young again. Then again, as I look at my own hands and arms, they getting rinkled too... too much cookies!
What do you do when you're finished writing your junk? Let it go! Throw it down the toilet. You may find that all the junk you are writing are piled in your garabge. You may even find that you have more "writing" junk than you have garbage. This won't last for that long. Meanwhile, you'll realize you're throwing less in the garbage and maybe a month later less than that. What you're doing is not hoarding your junk; that's counter productive. You're writing from first thoughts and since your writing has improved you find you don't need to "get rid" of it. You also realize you can put it on the shelf as "another piece of work" written not another "masterpiece." You find a balance of how you perceive perfection. Hopefully, your editor and publisher will as well!
As a teacher, I know that students will have more questions than the average individual who may want a tea spoon of advice. So, with a lazy smile, I lift my head and found the waiter balancing a tray with two dishes. The both were two bowls with their individual saucers. Both of us said thank you and once he left, you sigh.
"I have one more other question." You say, flipping your wrist. I looked up to the wall. "We've been talking a whole hour," I say. It is now 1pm and I had an appointment at 2:00.
"The Inner Critic," she starts, "how do I get rid of that?"
Point 3: Defusing the inner critic
I knew the Inner Critic question would show anytime now. I wondered why it took so long.
"Yes, the inner critic. Actually this is a simple one, because it goes along with what we were talking about."
"Think about it. There is no perfect art. The inner critic wants you to think there is." I can hear my inner critic now. 'Why would you put that comma there? Erase that, that's not good enough.' I end up letting go not to improve my writing but to shut-up my critic.
"Personify your inner critic. Is your critic a man or a woman?"
Your eye brows furry and head tilts. Are you confused, I ask myself, or angry. I waited.
"I guess a man."
"Good." I grabbed my bag that I’d dropped on the floor as soon as I made myself comfortable. I took out four blank sheets of lined paper and a pencil. I found a thing hard back book so you wouldn’t write on the table cloth.
"Here is an exercise you can do before we leave." I can tell you are definitely confused.
"Yes, take this." I gave her both the paper and pencil. "You said your inner critic is a man. What is his name?"
You hesitate. "I don't know, Bob."
"Maybe Gary, no, Manuel."
"Okay, good. What does he look like?" I proceeded and asked you the physical characteristics of your critic. You write some paragraphs, but not the whole thing. That's fine.
"Personality?" I found out your Manuel is pretty smart. He stopped you from writing four good stories that you knew had good ideas. He didn’t know you kept them.
"I kept the stories, though. I listed all the ideas just in case I'd come back.
"That's good." I smiled. "What else?"
"Really nothing more than just gets me not to write."
"Well you're off to a good start. You have the name, personality, and dialogue for your inner critic. Make him a character of one of your stories. He may be pretty interesting when you let him take control."
Your mind seemed to wonder off. "True, I'll try that."
The hour we had left was spent with you writing about your inner critic and seeing how he would be personalized.
That is the key to the inner critic in its briefest of terms, personalize it. I have an inner critic, she's a tall, athletic woman whose personality mimics that of an Amazon. Don't ask me how I come up with this and more details but it works. Now this Amazon woman is helping me strengthen my writing. "Oh, you want to put that there. The better idea is to take this period and place it here. Remember you place the period after the last word of a full sentence." No, she doesn't explain it to me like that. She doesn't bother me though. The more I write, the more I realize that maybe I'm leaning on her instead of protecting myself against her. Using her as an excuse to shape my writing. That's where some of us go may stray. When we personalize our critic, we still do what he or she says. That's not the point. The point is, if you want to diffuse the inner critic, you need to come to terms with what you know and what you don’t know. You learned about grammar from your teacher. Don't be surprised that your critic will correct your grammar mistakes. When you keep writing, you push through that and say "hey, I know, I know" I talk to myself sometimes when wrestling with my inner critic. But I don’t want to fight her, she's an Amazon. Do you understand what I say.
To wrap up this whole article, there is no such thing as the perfect art. If there were then why would we keep writing after we actually wrote something not only everyone else but you like? Journaling is good because its informal and you can doodle in between your writings. Last but certainly not least, when you personalize your inner critic you take the pressure of him telling you what to do to him suggesting what to do. Don’t get wrapped up with making the "perfect" inner critic. You know him or her already. Just write it down. Now that will get your critic. You're writing about him instead of something else.
Below there are exercises and prompts that help you worked out your writer's block. Follow the rules below and you're on your way.
You are a writer who can write; all you need to do is DO IT!
"Don't be shy, read the article and write! WDC members want your input too... Prompt: Both she and her sister watched the news and found the missing woman on screen looked the exactly the same as one of the woman watching it."
""Have an prompt related item to share? Game or how-two article perhaps? Suggestions? Plop them at the bottom of your prompt. Rules apply. We want you to use all WDC 'resources as possible. Prompt: Children found they have no biological parents. " "
"Did you write a story, play, or poem related to prompts here? Yes? Display them here (New prompt at the bottom) in bitem format. Other places to post your work: "Writing Contests @ Writing.Com!" I "Plug Page Help" Prompt: "It doesn't look like a woman, sir." "
Total Displayed: 3