The Root Of All Evil

We've looked at the condition of being blocked and what we do to contribute to it, but not at the root cause. For that we have to look at the creative process itself and uncover what it is that brings on these attacks. The problem is that the very skills we have to master in order to create a story can also cripple us. A carpenter's best tool may be his saw, but not if it's used the wrong way, slips off the table, and cuts into his leg.

There are two processes that you must master in order to create anything. The first is the flow process. The flow process is what happens when you open up and let whatever is in you flow onto the page. It's what you must do to get something to work with. This part of the process is quick, fluid, messy, emotional, and most of all non-judgmental. If you're lucky, this flow will go on for several pages; if you're very lucky, it will go on for an entire draft.

But there's more to it than getting loose and pouring something onto the page. Eventually the momentum (flow) stops, and you have to go back and look at what you've got and decide what to do with it—decide what stays, what goes, and what gets redone. That going back and that evaluating are the editing process. The editing process is slow, deliberate, organized, intellectual, and, most of all, judgmental.

Now, when things are going well, you can switch back and forth from flow to edit in an instant. You write a stretch (flow). It's not quite what you want (edit). You cut some (edit), then dash off some more (flow). It's better, but it's not there yet (edit). You work it again (flow). Ah, that's it (edit). You have a feel for what you want, and you keep working until you get it. So, flow and edit work together—two parts that make up the creative process. Neither one is better or more valuable than the other.

So, what happens when you get blocked? What happens, and this is all that's happening (it's enough), is this: you're editing when you should be going with flow. Being blocked is editing run amuck. At its worst, you edit yourself out of the picture entirely—I have no talent. I'll never publish. I'm wasting my time. I might as well give up. Or you may be editing ideas in your head—discounting them, telling yourself they're lousy—before they even get to the page, before you get a good look at them and give yourself a chance to turn them into something that works.

Remember: Nothing counts until it's on the page. Do not work in your head. Unless you have a special genius for it, never, never edit in your head. Get it out on the page where you can get a good look at it.

OK, that's all fine and good, but no matter what I say, you will edit in your head, you will turn against yourself, you will get blocked. We all will. What can we do about it?

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