It can strike while you’re working on any piece, anytime, anywhere. You're writing along like butter, and suddenly a stomach-wrenching jolt slams you up against a concrete wall. That thunderous voice in your head rebukes: "THAT'S THE WORST, MOST HORRIBLE, STUPID PHRASE SINCE . . . ." And you’re paralyzed.
This guest post is by Noelle Sterne, author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor. She has published more than 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Funds for Writers, Children’s Book Insider, Inspire Me Today, Pen & Prosper, Romance Writers Report, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. She has also published pieces in anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Soul books; has contributed several columns to writing publications; and recently became a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for over 28 years assisted doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, she is completing a handbook addressing dissertation writers’ overlooked but very important nonacademic difficulties. This book, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles, will be published by Rowman & Littlefield Education in 2015. In her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), Noelle draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her webinar about the book is on YouTube. Noelle invites you to visit her website: trustyourlifenow.com.
Take heart. Such a message doesn't have to plunge you into a full block. Recognize it for what it is—your ever-present inner editor, often old programming, maybe residue of parental strictures, telling you you shouldn't be writing, you'll never be a writer, and you might as well go sell burner phones (if that's not your day job already).
Like all of us writers, I've experienced this forbidding voice many times. But its fearsome fireworks, like those of the Wizard of Oz, mask its instability. And, as Dorothy and her friends proved on the yellow brick road, the terrifying presence is vanquished by taking one step after another and trusting that you're on the right path.
When I first heard the inner editor’s deafening, dismissive voice, it stopped me cold. First I sat staring at the blank screen. Then I wandered hopelessly around the house, like an orphan in a canyon. My current project lay abandoned, drafts yellowing and computer files corrupting.
I longed for a savior on a white Ipad. But realizing that only I could break that catatonic state and pierce through my paralysis, cowering I continued.
As I punched out the offending words (or phrases or clichés), the dread voice continue to intone, and as usual I almost froze. But from some subconscious forest, the excalibur appeared. It charged me to type one more word that calmed, commanded, and cut through the hailstorm of criticism. The word: FIX.
I’ve found that this innocent three-letter word triggers a palliative magic that renders the inner monster powerless and keeps me writing.
- It tells me that what I've just written isn't typed in cement.
- It reminds me that this is only the first draft, or the fifth, or fifteenth.
- It assures me I've got as many shots as I want.
- It reminds me I can go back, and where to go back, any time to fix
- It acknowledges that I know, I know already, that this word/phrase/cliché is much less than my best.
- It admits that this might not be my finest hour, but so what?
- It gently confirms that the writing process is one of trial and error, coaxing and courting, boldness, patience, and courage.
- And, most miraculously, it shows me I can trust my mind.
Writing FIX at the offending passage does more than buckle the inner-editor giant at the knees. It also, mysteriously, releases my imprisoned creativity.
After I type FIX, two seconds or two minutes later, as I'm deep into the next paragraph, my eyes flit back up the screen. With hardly conscious thought, like apples bobbing up in water, new words surface. They're invariably better than those first horrific ones, and sometimes even the right ones.
For example, a few lines back, that orphan simile came rather easily. But the words directly before it ignited the inner ogre's abuse:
I mope around like an orphan . . .
I feel like an orphan . . .
I wanted to run for the coal cellar. Yet, swallowing and following my own advice, I weakly pecked out FIX. Three lines and barely five minutes later, the right phrase popped up, and I wandered hopelessly no more.
You've probably already thought of your own examples, even if your methods are different. Maybe you just haven't given yourself credit. Now you can FIX that.
So, the next time you hear your own version of the frightful condemning inner editor’s voice, just greet it with a FIX. This little word enables you not only to keep going, meeting your word or minute count for the day. It also, astounding, sets your creativity free. And you'll be thrilled to discover greater confidence in your mind, your abilities, and your work. Accept the process. You'll see that you can FIX anything.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.