3 mistakes writers make
Published: June 27, 2003
|Block writing (committing to writing for a certain period of time) can help you avoid the following mistakes:|
1. Writing too slowly. Ever watch a painter or sculptor work? They rarely pause after each brushstroke or chisel strike. But I know writers who cannot pen more than a sentence without stopping to reread and revise it, as if perfect prose should flow from them like birdsong and the final product should take shape sentence by perfect sentence.
On a first draft, the writer must probe the soft underbelly of thought where words and vision, form and intuition, meet. Taking that inward journey means a commitment to writing in an uncensored way, and that usually means writing quickly and without stopping to second-guess. By writing quickly, we can finally silence the critical monitor, the little devil who sits on our shoulder interrupting the creative process: "Is that the best word?" "This is probably a dead end." "Will the reviewer think that's stupid?" The devil gets his turn in the revision and polishing stages, not now.
Writing quickly also gets us in sync with our internal voice, which gives writing its authenticity and resonance. The bottom line is that there is a time to create and a time to evaluate. Both are legitimate parts of writing, but they are best done at separate times.
2. Not distinguishing between fear of failure and possibility of failure. It amazes me that every time I sit down to write, I still get that panicky fear in my gut that makes me want to wash dishes, sharpen pencils and walk the cat--anything to procrastinate. I have to remind myself of the important difference between the fear of failure and the likelihood of failure.
Rooted in our insecurities, fear of failure usually has little connection to its actual possibility. The reality is that if I've done good research, know the format and market I'm writing for, and I'm willing to put in the time, then failure is unlikely. Although I've learned to accept my irrational fear of failure as a part of my writing personality--even to welcome it, because it makes me try harder and keeps me humble--I've also learned to trust reality. I recall all the other times I've sat down to perform this same act and been successful.
3. Focusing on the final product. While occasionally teaching writing at the University of Virginia, William Faulkner talked of the difference between "those who want to write and those who want only to have written." I think he meant that we are better off focusing on the challenges of writing, the potential it offers us for personal artistic growth, the satisfaction of creating something--rather than the by-products of our work, whether ego or money.