Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Real Reasons You Can’t Get Past Writer’s Block: Part 1

I am not a fan of labels. Really, I am not a fan of debilitating and limiting labels. And even more than that, I am not a fan of labels that are just applied without any real analysis. A defeated shrug, followed by, “It is what it is,” wrecks my brain, and I just want to yell, “No, I don’t accept that!” With writer’s block, we get stuck on a writing project and say, “Aw, man! I've got writer’s block.” We treat it as if it's some nebulous, undiagnosable disease! Writer’s block is a group of issues, concerns, or conditions that cause you feel like you can’t write what you need to write when you need to write it. And we kind of leave it at that. No inquiry. No challenge. Only remedies for the symptoms. But I think we can do better.

Writer’s block is a bully. What I know about bullies is that when you face them down with courage and truth, they back down. So if you’re ready, we’re going to stare down writer’s block and tell it who’s boss.

Throughout my education and career, writing has always been there. Yes, I’ve been editing books for more than a decade, but I’ve also been writing books, articles, marketing pieces, blog posts, essays, research papers, and the like, for twice as long. With that, I have had my share of encounters with writer’s block. And if you want to know a little something extra, I’ve also had my bouts with editor’s block—when you know a sentence, paragraph, chapter, or line of logic is grammatically wrong, unnecessarily redundant, somehow unclear, or out of place, but you can’t seem to work out the resolution. Ugh! I’ve also had no choice in many of these situations—writing or editing—but to work myself out of whatever rut I was in. Deadlines do not care about any kind of blockages.

The main thing that has never failed to help me is facing what’s blocking me head on. Chocking it up to writer’s block is not enough. If I leave it there, I won’t be able to set up an effective offense. I want to be able to sense it coming and have a plan in place to evict it before it tries to set up residence in my creative space.

In addition to my own struggles with getting words on a page, I've also seen it rear its ugly head when I am coaching authors through their writing process.

What I’ve discovered is that writer’s block comes down to these ten general causes:

  1. Tiredness, physical or emotional exhaustion
  2. Topic is too intimate or traumatic
  3. Not interested, unadmittedly bored with the topic
  4. Not enough information
  5. Information overload
  6. Perfectionism
  7. Fear
  8. Undisciplined, easily give in to distractions
  9. Incorrect assumptions about the writing process
  10. Uninspired
Now don’t get all wiggly in your seat and don’t click away because these ten causes reveal some things about yourself you’d like to keep hidden. The writing process—and, really, any creative process—done well requires a high level of self-awareness and honesty. So take a quiet moment and focus in on the piece that has you stumped at this moment. Ask yourself, “What is causing me to stop right here?” “What am I expecting from myself that I can’t give right now?” “What do I need?” “What don’t I need?”

You need to know what you need to be creative and flow with ideas. Consistent, quality creativity demands that you know yourself. And even if you think you know yourself, the creative process has a way of revealing deeper depths of who you are, and you must be courageous enough to go there. You won’t be sorry when you see what this journey into yourself brings to your creative work.

Creativity is a fickle little bird and can be welcomed or shooed away by the slightest things—the volume of music you play while you write or that the music has words, an open window letting in the sounds of rush-hour traffic... But then there are things that are a bit deeper that deal with you facing truths about yourself that you may not have thought you’d uncover. Listen, don’t be afraid of that. Push pause on the self-inflicted pressure to perform. Allow room for exploration. Get support. Face the thing. Reevaluate. And come back to the table. You’ll get through it.

One of my favorite sayings right now regarding writer’s block comes from Ernest Hemingway. In his book A Moveable Feast—which, if you want to know how the father of modern writing moved through his writing process, is an excellent read—he writes about a point where he was struggling to write. He was blocked. He had this sweet way of pep-talking himself. He said, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.” I say the same thing to you now: don’t worry. You have always written and you will write again.

Over the next couple weeks, I am going to break down each of these ten disruptions to the writing process, giving ideas on how to overcome them. I’d love for you to share your thoughts and experiences with writer’s block here in the comments section or on my Facebook Page when one of my posts speak to you. And, please, chime in with what you do to keep writer’s block at bay.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Book Talk: The Book Itch by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

I am on the book selection committee for Scholastic Book Fairs, and last week we had our weeklong review of the more than four thousand children's books publishers are planning to release this Fall 2017. I also had a chance to give a book talk on a special book that I recently read--The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore. It's book that represents my desire to see publishers publish more diverse books to more fully represent kid readers of various backgrounds. It is also a book that touches on my favorite period of American history--the Harlem Renaissance. And it represents one of my favorite places to hang: the local indie bookstore.

The book...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2016: Reading in Review

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity....The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Danger of a Single Story

My personal reading this year has been specifically targeted toward reading more ethnically diverse books. I am on a mission to figure out who I am going to be as a book publishing professional in light of what I see in our American culture. (You can read more about my mission here.) With all the gathering of stories, characters, platforms, ideologies, and perspectives, I don’t have words yet for how I feel like I have been shaped, emboldened, or propelled by what I’ve read.

Friday, August 26, 2016

You Think It’s Easy for an Editor to Critique Your Work? Think Again.

It may come as a surprise, but it is not always easy for editors to give critical feedback on manuscripts. While I believe the editorial mind is geared toward quickly noticing what's missing, wrong, or out of place, there's also a human on the other side of that mind who knows what it is like to receive criticism on creative work. We understand how delicate the creative process is, so not many of us are excited about delivering what some may feel is bad news. I mean, not all of us are sadists. And all the adults in the room know that constructive criticism delivered in the right way is a blessing, a life-saver, and a gift.

Monday, August 8, 2016

To Be or Not to Be Politically Correct—A Consideration of Words and Language

Not too long ago, I was editing a book in which I chose to use the words enslaved people instead of slaves. A person reading over the material asked, “Why not just say ‘slaves’?” I thought it was a good question, though I didn't imagine being asked about it. I know why I chose it. It was not a second thought to me. I also understood why the person asked, and it was completely innocent. But it got me thinking about how some people would actually take issue with the word choice—enslaved people—thinking, "Here we go with all this political correctness."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Books!—A Personal Way to Learn More About What’s Stirring Black America

"The Library" by Jacob Lawrence

What would it be like to be constantly disbelieved for your own experience? To never ever be validated, with or without proof? How does it feel to be dismissed, denied, and rejected? To have your tears and frustration met with responses like, “I don’t believe you. You are lying.”

Monday, March 28, 2016

Follow-up to Guest Post by Sheridan Davis: A Note about Colorism

In a previous post, I hosted guest blogger and indie author Sheridan Davis who shared her inspiration for writing her newest book, Pretty for a Dark-Skin GirlI realize some who may read my blog may not be all that familiar with the concepts and issues she uncovered, so I wanted to provide additional comments to the post to provide a bit more context.

A Brief Context for How Colorism Exists in Our World and History

Skin-color discrimination happens around the world, and not just to those whom society has classified as black.