I’m a novelist. I write long. If you’ve had a phone conversation with me, you know that’s a transferable skill. But I also know how to listen. Well, and deep. Which is how I listen to language, to writing, to writers, to what they ask for.
I’ll do my best to make these blogs on the shorter side.
But years of work with language and its creative uses have taught me that the straight line doesn’t always get us where we need to go. And the wanderer, the circler, the zigzagger, the backtracker, the burrower, and the lover of mazes and labyrinths, of reversals and leaps, can open thought and creativity, language, song and story, in some very interesting ways.
July 2020. This is a hard time for writing. Let’s clear the way.
I’m a writer who for many reasons has been interrogating what I have been told and taught for a long time; a writer who knows that starting at the beginning is always starting in the middle of something. But, at the same time, I do want to begin this blog by addressing one of the most basic myths designed to stop writers: writer’s block. Not the block that says: take a rest, refresh yourself, it’s a time for other things. But that debilitating thing that may not even be real. Writer’s block may be, more than anything, a challenge to readjust; to grow your vision and free yourself more.
There is more about this in my courses, including ways to lift this pressure that says you can just be, somehow, generically, blocked. As if you parked your writing in the wrong spot and came back to it after a coffee, only to see it with an enormous steel boot on what makes it go. A solid one-size-fits-all boot.
But “blocks” are not one size fits all. “Blocks” are not generic. They don’t “just happen”, as a cheating lover might claim when found in bed with someone else.
As so many people are feeling now, these enormous changes, for many, have “booted” down our writing. This is no block. This is a new world, and the writer has work to do to bring forward that new voice and vision. Please see my Writing in Upheaval blog, which does address this.
But, here, let’s look at the whole issue of writer’s block, censors and critics. To my view, writer’s block is not generic. Feeling unable to write or to finish a project is not because of some writer’s “virus” that snuck up on you when you sat down at your computer.
There’s much to be said about this generic and, I think, inaccurate view of “writer’s block,” but for now, I’ll tell you about dealing with inner critics.
If you’ve ever watched The Blacklist, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that, as for inner critics, with whom I still battle as I approach the desk, once I sit down to write—I do not allow them space to harm me, betray me, silence me. I take them out.
I won’t tell you my story of how that steely decision came to be, how I became the warrior writer. Not now. I think many of us have really interesting stories, and battles, about inner critics trying to silence us. This is not “writer’s block”; this is the result of history, context, societal forces, large and small violences, whatever hand over our mouth, whatever suffocation, is aimed at us.
(Note: I am not making metaphor of horror. I am not generalizing specific experiences, as the asphyxiation by police of Black people, of people of color. But I want here to include both physical suffocation and the threat of it, and the strangling of voice in a way that is not directly physical. Almost suffocated as a child; almost strangled as a young woman; learning and re-learning what it means to have one’s volition stolen along with one’s voice; I speak for myself when I say that for me, the physical act holds the destruction, the silencing of voice; and the emotional and psychological destruction of voice holds the death of being.
So! The only way I could write when I was young was to write as fast as I could, to stop for nothing, to listen to no one, to drown—in my rapidly unfolding language, the violent critics who would shoot…down…every…word; who would rip through…every…image; who would take my breath and my brilliance, which defied what they thought of me.
So, I barreled forth, freewriting when I had never heard of the term freewriting because, really, it hadn’t been said. And this is what I say to you now. (I’ll get more technical and crafty in other postings, if you like, but beginning at the beginning means, beginning in claiming your vastness to write.)
Here is this simple thing—when you are writing, when you are working, there is NO ONE who can tell you what to do. This is an absolutely free field. You can do anything you want, use any language you want, move into any content you want, create any view of the world and its events that you want. If a critic is present, they just better sit in the corner and behave.
You make the decisions around here. It is different for everyone, except for this—
in the creative part of the work, NO CRITIC belongs. (No censor, ever. You may make decisions to be kind to someone, but that is your heart’s decision, not the decision of any censor.) Critics, like revision, come later. Critics in the room too soon, can easily destroy what you might write at your most brilliant and liberated, most authentic and visionary. They might mess with your biggest self at work.
Critics can be dealt with later. They can be of extraordinary use even earlier in the process if what they support is fulfilling your work and not suffocating it.
If they can help beckon the voice forward, open the work even more to the fruits of the creative process, give you useful, thoughtful, critical feedback about your work, including its strengths—maybe they are not critics, but allies.
Whenever you allow any critic in to the actual work of those first drafts, you are being censored. You are cutting off the creative process. You are harming the work. When you want to rework, revise, rewrite, expand, rediscover, polish that piece of writing, then you can listen to the writers and readers who notice each little word and mistake in narration, as well as continue to support discovery and deepening in your work.
If I hadn’t finally put my voice and my work first before what anyone says about it, good or bad, I would still be a contingent being, begging for approval from someone I might not even respect. But, I refuse to bow to, or even negotiate with, a prefab idea of what I should be writing. And so I encourage other writers to do the same.
Not to refuse illuminating feedback. Listen! Use it! Make your decisions. But first, write from the core of you. Get down that stream of language that is your gift.
To get to the writing that will utterly surprise you in its power, beauty, and reach; kick censors and inner critics and conventions to the curb, at least for a while. I’m thinking you won’t be sorry. You will be in the land of discovery. Your voice, your own. Creative magic.