As a writing teacher, I witness a lot of writer’s block. Some of my students are very vocal about their total lack of inspiration while others despairingly stare at their blank piece of paper. I tell them all the same thing: don’t think – just write.
Michelangelo is credited with saying that, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it, ” and we writers, like sculptors, have an irresistible curiosity about this deeper level of perception. The difference with writing is that we cannot always see what the whiteness of the page is hiding, but we have this nagging urge to find out. Maybe we even hear whispered poetry that no one else can.
The thing that blocks most of us is that critic standing at the tip of our pens, ready to judge our terrible efforts. Some days, I cannot even draw respectable stick figures. The best cure I have for writer’s block and pen paralysis is deciding to write even if the critic unleashes a whirlwind of fury that insults everything about me, from my haircut to my genetic misfortunes . At some point I have to say “screw you” to the judgmental voice in my head and get going. If your critic is especially powerful, you need to write even more rapidly than the rest of us. Turn off your brain, stop asking where this story or poem or article is going, and let your pen or fingers fly. As Anne Lamott points out in her excellent book, Bird by Bird , all that matters is getting the words on the page in the first place
Some of us drive ourselves crazy when we go on first dates (or strike up a conversation in a grocery line) and start imagining weddings, merged last names, and having kids a few minutes in. Writers and artists in general can drive themselves crazy asking questions like “Where is this going? What am I doing? Is this any good? Am I just kidding myself?”
Stop asking questions and let the words find their own way. Yes, there are always revisions, but Michelangelo did not stare at a block of marble and then walk away before even trying. If beauty is already present, whether inside of us or pre-existent in the world, we are the ones to merely uncover it and we have to do the work. There is no sculpture without the strain of the sculptor and there is no piece of prose or poetry that transcended the laws of physics and flew from brain cell to Word document.
Stop asking where all this is going and second-guessing your work. Clear your mind and do not question the words that come. Follow them like a trail of bread crumbs and try to keep up.
Don’t think – just write.