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Confronting Writer's Block
Transcript of Confronting Writer's Block
Rudin realized he was not alone when struggling to write. He had a “creative angel” who could help him get his first ideas on paper.
Of course, much like the Inner Critic and the Devil’s Advocate. This is a metaphor for the ability to create what Anne Lamott calls, “Sh*tty First Drafts.”
Confronting Writer's Block
DePaul University - The School for New Learning
"Inner Critic" and "Devil's Advocate"
Whether we are reluctant or eager, we will get called to some writing task. Our instructors, employers, colleagues, or loved ones will want us to produce a polished product. And more often than not they will give us deadline to complete it.
The Creative Angel, Inner Editor, and Devil’s Advocate are all aspects of ourselves. They represent ways that we help ourselves but get in the way.
No matter how strong of a writer you are at some point, you will feel stymied as you try to begin a writing project. Feeling a block is not a problem if we have strategies to deal with it.
With all of this support, writing should be easy. But then from the shadows two figures emerge: the Inner Critic and the Devil’s Advocate.
But most dangerously after he has convinced us not to write, he will try to convince us that we can’t write.
And then he will tell us we don’t belong in school or in our current job.
If given his way, he will nag and harass us until we lose our confidence and wonder what if he is right.
Before we put our thoughts to paper, we should think about the helpers
who are already here to help us write.
• The DePaul Writing Center
• SNL Writing Boot Camps
• Well-meaning family, friends, and co-workers
Some will be more willing than others, but it is important to find identify our network of support.
And of course, we have ourselves and our experience. Even if it has been decades since we have written anything, we have at some point put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to communicate an idea.
We will be able to do it again!
The Inner Critic is not always an enemy. After we’ve written our first draft, he can help us edit and make our writing stronger. But if he comes before or during our first draft, he tricks us into wasting our time.
Some of his deceptions include:
• making us write a sentence, delete it, write it again, and then delete again.
• convincing us to stop writing for hours while we try to think of a single word.
• tricking us into irrelevant research when we could just use our own analysis.
But these are just a few of his mischievous games.
The Devil’s Advocate is much more dangerous. He starts by telling us we have more important things to do than write.
He will tell us that we need to mop our floors or straighten our living room. He will tell us that we need to check our email or watch a little TV before we start to write.
If we listen to him, he will tell us we always have something more important to do than write.
Even when we know our adversaries, the blank page can be daunting.
In our heads, we know what an essay (or memo, or report, etc.) should look like and it’s not this.
Sometimes it seems like we will never be able to complete our task.
In 1987, Sherwood Rudin, a president of a consulting firm who taught business writing classes, explained that “The blank page is often no more than a symptom of the affliction of perfectionism.”
Essentially, the image of what the perfect essay is gets in the way of us writing the essay we need to.
Why would anyone want write a “sh*tty first draft?
The simplest answer is that once we have some text the page is no longer blank.
We have something to work with.
Anne Lamott offers us a more complete answer by reminding us that writing is a three-step process.
• The Down Draft – Where you write down all of your ideas and possible directions you could take your idea. In this draft, you don’t worry about grammar and you don’t take anything out. (And these should be messy or in her parlance “sh*tty.”)
• The Up Draft – Where you fix up what you have. You clarify your thesis (or main idea.) Delete any sections that don’t support your main idea. If necessary, add new sections to support it.
• The Dental Draft – Where you check the teeth (i.e. the grammar, sentence structure, mechanics.)
Even though, it a “three-step” process, I usually repeat the second and third steps several times before I am done.
If the thought of simply free writing seems unsettling to you, Sherwood Rudin proposes taking these steps:
• Complete a five-minute mind map
• Select items from mind map that have the most potential
• Set a time limit for your freewriting/10 minutes for each page of the final draft
• Begin to write continuously – do not delete do not change
• Don’t stop writing, if you get stuck write “keep going” repeatedly until you can think of something else to write
• Stop when your time is up/or the draft is finished.
If the Inner Critic shows up during the Dental Draft, don’t worry. He can be helpful at this stage.
Even when we know the process, getting the first draft down can still be challenging. So what else can we do?
The Devil’s Advocate can be the loudest when we are surrounded by all of the others tasks we have to finish. One way to quiet him is to create/find a “zone of concentration” or a space away from our family, friends and co-workers and their request and expectations.
Sometimes this can be a physical space like a café or library.
If you are easily distracted, a busy café may not be the right place for you.
If you have trouble with quiet, the library might not be the right place.
Sometimes this space can be metaphorical.
For example, the NEU Writing Center recommends creating a soundtrack (or playing a type of music) that sets the mood and lets you focus on writing.
Sometimes even when we break away, we remain preoccupied with work and family obligations. This can prevent us from creating a “zone of concentration.”
Cengage blogger Tami Strang’s suggests going for a walk after your work day is over.
This helps separate us from our normal obligations and our need to write.
If you are still having trouble to beginning, Strang suggests using a line from a book or article as a starting place.
Concentrate on your own ideas and how the build off the line you are using. (*But make sure you have citation information before you begin.)
She also suggests, keep a note book of “excerpts and quotations” use these words and ideas as inspiration for future writing projects.
(*Just make sure you are also keeping the citation information when you do this.)
But make sure you take a notebook and pen in case any ideas pop up while you are out.
When you feel inspired to write, then go with the flow.
If you feel blocked, find a way to write through the block. As always the key is to start and then keep writing.
Emerson, Robert W. “Editor’s Corner: Preparation, Procrastination, Production, and Perfection.” American Business Law Journal 52.4 (2015): V-X. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Lamott, Anne. “Shitty First Drafts.” Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. Print.
Rieck, Dean. “Bathtubs, Lightning Bolts and Writer’s Black (Or, How to Sart Being Creative by Not Being ‘Creative’—Part 2).” Direct Marketing. 44-46. ABI/INFORM Collection. Mar. 1997. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Rudin, Sherwood. “Banishing Writer’s Block from Letters, Reports, and Memos.” Personnel 64.4 (1987): 46-53. ABI/INFORM Collection. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
Strang, Tami. “Overcoming Writer’s Block: Tips for Getting Yourself Started.”Cengage Learning Blog. Cengage. 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Take a moment and make a list of all of your helpers.
Think about people you could ask to help but have not.
Take a moment and list the things you do instead of writing.
This will help you recognize when you are being tricked.
What project are you working?
Take a few moments to mind map ideas about the project.
You can come back to this later to help flesh out your ideas.