The End of Writers Block
So we’ve been discussing why short stories are your road to publication, and one reason is that there is less ego investment in a short project. If you’re writing a short story a month, or a short story every week, and submitting them for publication, by the time the rejection comes through you’re down the road another couple of stories.
You can look at the rejection slip and shrug rather than flinch, or flinch rather than curl into a fetal position and scream and sob. One of my wife’s writing instructors, said that a “real” writer papers her office with rejection slips. Total agreement. They learn to eat the pain of criticism and rejection.
When I was in college, there was a guy who was in my writing class, who was the teacher’s pet. Quite literally, she was having an affair with him, but that’s another story. He would write stories about a motorcycle mechanic, who visited scrap yards and built a motorcycle out of parts and made it work despite the fact that everyone said he couldn’t. And then he would drive up to the top of a bluff and look down over the town, and think deeply about the meaning of life. Just beautifully rendered prose, this guy looking at the town. I would write stories about the giant amoeba that ate that town. And the teacher would laugh at me, and the teacher would praise him up and down and sideways. And I stewed about this, but I noticed something very interesting, on the few occasions that someone criticized his work, he got ANGRY. Anger is fear. And I thought to myself, you can’t take criticism, I can, you’re going nowhere buddy. And I’m going to be a professional writer. Because he let the fear stop him, and I did not.
I used everything, everything to motivate myself, when there was tremendous insecurity around writing. I mean, I literally burned my bridges, so that I would have no choice but to succeed. No choice. I gave myself no way out.
Back to short stories, 100,000 words of short stories will teach you 10 times as much about writing as a single 100,000 word novel. You will have to go through every pattern, everything, over and over and over and over again, until you get to the point that is called, unconscious competence. Are you familiar with the pattern that leads to unconscious competence? Okay, unconscious incompetence is you don’t even know bicycles exist.
Conscious incompetence is you know bicycles exist, but you don’t know how to ride one. Conscious competence, is you could ride a bicycle as long as you focus all your attention on what’s going on. And unconscious competence is, “look ma, no hands!” Now you can juggle, while you’re riding the bicycle.
All art takes place at the level of unconscious competence.
In other words, if you aren’t touch typing, it is hard to get into flow state, and flow state is where the magic happens. It is the doorway to superlative performance, in every arena. That’s the point where time just kind of disappears, you’re just kind of floating.
If you can access that with your writing…fantastic. Because if not, then specifically, Google is your friend.
Have you ever suffered writer’s block, or known someone who did? If so, I have good news, because WB is easy to beat once you understand what it actually is. Here’s a model of what it is:
Writer’s block is a confusion of two different states of mind. The flow state, where you are creating, and the editing state, where you are judging what you have created.
And if you don’t get that those are two completely different states, that they will never be friends, and that the voice in your head that says “this is crap” will never shut up.
It’s not its job to shut up. It’s your “editor’s” job to keep pointing out the problems in your work. That’s what it does. That’s how it rolls. That’s what it is. And once you make your peace with that, you can learn to separate out those two states. You can learn to meditate, or you can listen to soft jazz or classical music. Vivaldi’s sixty beat per minute largo rhythm string music is great stuff.
There are writers who have two different desks. One where they edit, one where they flow. Two different hats, they put on the flow hat, take it off, put on the editing hat. Or edit one day, flow the next day, they separate it out.
You don’t do both in the same session, because the editor will kill you. Why? Because everybody has read more than they’ve written. Which means that the editor is always smarter than the little kid inside you who’s just trying to dance and make mommy and daddy and aunt and uncle happy and look at me, you know, “earth below, heaven above. No one in the world like me.”
The editor is saying, “that sucks.” And just crushes your little boy, crushes your little girl, just crushes them. So you protect your child. You let that little kid inside you play. What Ray Bradbury referred to is just running barefoot through the grass in your first draft. It’s the second draft, the third draft, the fourth draft, that’s where you put on your editing hat.
An analogy: Imagine yourself driving down a country road with the top down, the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, listening to the music, just enjoying yourself. That’s flow state. But if the car breaks down, sometimes you need to be able to pull over to the side of the road, pop the hood, get out the toolbox and see what’s going on. And that’s where the editor comes in. What you want is to drive down the road smoothly, but you have to know how to do the other thing. So you look at that process, once you set up the machine that I set up with that six steps, whatever is stopping you will manifest at one of the six steps. You’ve just done a diagnostic, you know what to do. And once again, Google is your friend.