The Affliction

You're blocked. OK, where does it hurt? How does it hurt? What's the experience of it? Exactly what happens when you're blocked—what goes on inside you?

You sit there in a knot staring at the wall or your computer or a blank page or something you've written, thinking, Writer? Who do I think am trying to be a writer. I'm wasting my time. I'll never publish. I have no ideas. I have no talent. I used to think I had it. I wrote a couple of decent pieces once. But that was long ago. They weren't that good anyway. Now I can't think of one thing worth writing about. I can't even bring myself to put a single word down on the page. If I had what it takes, I wouldn't be having all this trouble. I

might as well forget it. Who needs this misery? Who cares? Why put myself though this? And on and on and on, totally out of control, attacking your talent, your character, your moral courage, your worth as a human being. It often turns into all-out character assassination.

The strange thing is that it has nothing to do with what you need to be focusing on at the moment. Blocking has nothing to do with the act of writing anything. You're totally off the track, worrying about your talent, your future success, the ideas you don't have, all the things that aren't happening and that you can't make happen, instead of all the things you can do something about at the moment. Of course, you aren't aware of what you can do, because you're so consumed with mourning the loss of your talent and your demise as a writer.

The first thing to realize is: You're wrong—about all of it. These kinds of negative emotions should never be trusted, because they're always distorted, excessive, irrelevant—completely off the track, totally beside the point. The problem is, this is an emotional game. Your emotions are your best guide. They're 99.99 percent accurate. Most of the time, there's a good reason for feeling what you're feeling. But never when they turn against you. When they do that, they're always wrong. So, it's like having a trusted friend who helps you with everything, whom you must depend on to get anything done, but who every so often without warning and for no reason decides to clobber you.

None of these worries have anything to do with actually writing something. But they come over us when we write—or when we're trying to write, so we call it writer's block. What's really in your way, what's really blocking you, are all kinds of concerns you drag into the process (is it any good? am I any good? will I ever make it?)—concerns that are irrelevant to actually putting words on the page. It begins to seem impossible. It seems impossible because it is. You've made it impossible by loading yourself down with so many concerns that you can't move. Nobody can deal with all these issues and write at the same time. It can't be done. But you can unload them so that you can start writing again. Writing doesn't have to be so hard, and it isn't. Once you learn how it works, you'll find that easier writing is better writing.

Putting words on the page is the simplest of acts. If I were to give you a thousand dollars for every page you filled with complete sentences (anything you wanted as long as you didn't write the same sentence over and over), you'd get going fast, you'd fill a lot of pages, and, without even trying, you'd come up with lots of good ideas. So it's not objective reality, but your state of mind (subjective reality) that's in your way. Writing is not in your way. Your worries about writing are paralyzing you. Worrying and writing are two completely different acts. These are the kinds of problems we create for ourselves when we write, and because they're so closely connected with the act of writing, we don't realize that they're not part of the writing process at all. OK, I don't want to be splitting hairs or quibbling about definitions, but it's important to realize that writing is a simple act, but because of what we drag into it, we make it complicated, miserable, impossible. So, when you're blocked, you're completely distracted, you've lost all sense of proportion, and you're waging an all-out, unrealistic, and unfair attack on your work, your talent, your imagination, your chances for success, and anything else within striking distance. It's self-abuse of the highest order. I said in an earlier chapter that you have to be a sadist in order to tell a good story, to create conflict that hurts your characters and incites them to act, and you must be a masochist in order to write. This kind of pain/lunacy is why most people give up. They think they don't have what it takes (ability/talent), but that's never the case. What it takes, what makes you or breaks you, is whether or not you can withstand this kind of misery while you find some way around it. Identifying the source of the pain is the first step. Then, you must have an orderly, step-by-step way of treating it.

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