The dreaded dry spell…blank pages blinking at you from your computer screen, deadlines not met, and a teeny trickle of doubt niggling at your spine….
Writer’s block is one of the most talked about phenomena in the writer’s world and probably the one most misunderstood. I’ve never really suffered from the condition until just recently, I would generally be able to sit down and pound out a few pages at a time, no matter what the conditions or subject were. Fiction or non-fiction, didn’t matter.
That all changed a few months ago when I committed to writing a novel and put my money where my mouth was, laying everything on the line. All of a sudden, my fiction writing meant something. It mattered if I was able to write one, two or no pages. And I found I was paralyzed, sitting at the computer, hands poised on the keys, ready to pounce on anything – any idea, phrase, concept. When nothing came I decided it was because I needed more information and launched into research mode, researching my topic ad nauseum. That didn’t work either.
This went on for more than a month before I realized that I wasn’t writing because I was afraid. I was afraid of making a mistake, of screwing it up, of writing something that no one else would want to read. And that fear handcuffed me. To put words on paper when it means something is scary. It’s kind of like stripping down and parading around in front of a bunch of strangers and leaving yourself open for criticism, comments, or – even worse – rejection. Writing a book is a huge time commitment…what if you put in all that time and effort and nothing comes of it? What if you’re nothing but a big fat failure? (my heart skips a beat just writing that sentence)
Fear of failure is like a ghost, you can’t see it, you can’t touch it, but you can feel it, deep, deep inside of you. And how do you exorcise that ghost? I was stymied by this. How do I find enough self-confidence to launch into something that I’m also deeply afraid of? To risk everything?
I was reminded of my son, who played lacrosse and hockey and was shy and a little nervous about performing in front of other people. I told him, when you put that helmet on, no one really knows who you are, you can be whoever you want to be, it’s like a magic helmet. Inside the helmet, your view of the world is limited to what’s right in front of you, you’re lost in the game, the audience is irrelevant.
Lacking a writing helmet (the tinfoil one I wear to keep aliens out doesn’t count) I latched onto the next best thing. I just need to write like I’m not me, I told myself, like I’m someone else. I have to believe that when I’m writing I can mask myself in the persona of anyone I want, I can channel Jesus Christ, Elvis Presley, whoever, and write with confidence.
My choice, naturally, was Michael Crichton. “Do you think Michael Crichton was afraid when he sat down to write?” I demanded to myself, “Or did he just sit down and do it?” By the time he passed away, Michael Crichton was a world-renowned author, having made millions from his writing. I would guess he sat down every day and believed that every word he was writing was a literary gem just waiting to be discovered.
So I channeled Michael Crichton and started writing and haven’t stopped. And whenever I start to feel a little queasy and uncertain I now just remind myself that Michael Crichton doesn’t need to fear anything. Sometimes we need to make believe in order to believe.