I was looking for a perfect metaphor for this post and I decided on Kung Fu. Why? Because the word kung fu is basically the only Oriental, Martial-Artsy-ish, tough-guy sounding word I know off the top of my head. So sue me for being a WASP-y New Englander. I wanted to address how to deal with writer’s block and this would be as good a metaphor as any!
After I chose it, of course, I went to Wikipedia so that I could really run with this metaphor, and guess what I found?
Directly from Wikipedia: In Chinese, Gōngfu (功夫) is a compound of two words, combining 功 (gōng) meaning “work”, “achievement”, or “merit”, and 夫 (fū) which is alternately treated as being a word for “man” or as a particle or nominal suffix with diverse meanings (the same character is used to write both). A literal rendering of the first interpretation would be “achievement of man”, while the second is often described as “work and time/effort”. Its connotation is that of an accomplishment arrived at by great effort of time and energy.
Isn’t that AWESOME???? So when I say we should Kung Fu our writer’s block, then what I’m saying is we should fight it with “WORK”, “ACHIEVEMENT” and “MERIT”! I love this! This is far more interesting than the original kick in the groin I was going for.
So, now I want to put on my special Kung Fu footwear and kick writer’s block in the TEETH!
First! Let’s find out why we are blocked, shall we?
Are you blocked because you are emotionally damaged by your project? Be honest. Not every writing project is a barrel of laughs. Some, like term papers and college essays are kinda important and you need to plow through. Some though, we’ve signed ourselves up for because we thought we needed to. I do not advocate quitting, (let’s go back to the metaphor here, because if you quit, you aren’t Kung Fu). But I do advocate taking stock of your mental and emotional health. If your project is very stressful, causing emotional or physical pain (it happens) then get out of it if you can. If you can’t, then finish it as soon as possible, beating the deadline. I don’t have exact answers here, but I do know that severe negative feelings have a source from something and we owe it to ourselves to analyze what’s troubling us, figure out a solution and fix it. TRUE STORY: This very blog post was wearing me down. All I had was a working title writer’s block. And I moaned, not only at the dread of writing it, but at the obvious irony. But once I got my list down and then discovered the awesome metaphor, I had a BLAST writing it. Now it’s become one of my favorite posts.
Are you blocked because other things (besides writing) are messing with your head? You’ve just faced trauma, you’ve had a bad day, you’ve yelled at your kid. YUP. You can really shut down after an emotional event. Catch your breath and wash your face, but go write about it. Put down in words your feelings, your fears and your emotional ups and downs. Not only is this therapeutic, but you never know, gut level honesty can be good for your writing. Just because you write something down doesn’t mean you’re going to use it, oh my goodness, NO! But the exercise of expressing yourself, of dealing with stress, trauma or extreme emotions is good practice for whatever you usually write.
Are you blocked because you are self-sabotaging? This is a tricky idea, but sometimes we set out on projects fully expecting to fail. Something deep inside may be telling you not to try. As a result, you don’t want to write that blog post, make that tweet or even send that email. Try this instead: write five positive facts about yourself for every negative one that you’ve been ruminating over. Don’t just think them, write them. This also is therapeutic on many different levels and you’ll find, after a few minutes, that you’re emotionally ready to tackle the project. This may be a symptom of a much deeper problem and getting good advice from a trusted friend/pastor/therapist might be the best solution.
Are you blocked because your brain is tired? Just like your body, your brain needs rest too. Spend an evening or two (but not too many) watching television or playing video games. Your brain will recover with a little recreation. Then come back to your project and see if you can add to it.
Are you blocked because you are overwhelmed with the project? You have a deadline. It’s huge. It’s intimidating. What do you do? You eat the elephant one bite at a time. Break the task down into smaller ones and spend short increments of time on the project. (Hey! Ten minutes is a good start!) Then, as you get started, you’ll see that your momentum has kicked in and you can accomplish more and more.
Are you blocked because your inner critic WILL NOT SHUT UP? The inner critic, (that ALL WRITERS HAVE, BTW) is that nagging voice that won’t let you be free. It corrects, criticizes, makes you go back and fix little things that aren’t important, negates the smallest effort and basically defeats you before you even start. This one really needs a kick in the face. Fire, evict or murder your inner critic — at least in the drafting stages. All the things that inner critics worry about, like grammar and structure and spelling, should be addressed after the first draft is written, not before. It takes practice, but train yourself to write fast first drafts — so fast that your inner critic can never catch up. Then, even though the draft is ca-ca (Hemingway said so), at least you have a draft! Now you have something to work on later. Call that inner critic back in the room, keep him on a short lease, and put him to work.
Are you blocked because you are discouraged? You got the rejection letter. You didn’t make the first round of the contest. Your favorite agent hates your book. Discouragement is a tough. Take heart that every writer faces this. Then, go over any comments or feedback from these demons from Hell and see if their criticisms are valid. Then, write. Write about anything. Strive to improve. Ask your writing group or your critique partner what your strengths are and develop them. Then, when you’re ready, tackle those weaknesses. Much of writing is art — which is hard to learn. But much of it is technical! You can learn spelling, grammar and punctuation. You can learn technique. There are thousands of books out there about writing! Find one and do everything in the book. Be humble and teachable and work hard. Your dreams are worth pursuing and the hard work will be worth it.
Are you blocked because you are lazy? Sorry, but it had to be asked. The truth is there are a lot of wannabes out there who don’t want to put the time in, who don’t want to be taught, who think that book contracts fall out of the sky. They don’t. (Although mine kinda did.) You can flip channels all day and call it writer’s block, and your enabling friends will help you eat your pizza and beer, but that is not what successful writers do. They work. They get up and keep going. THEY ARE KUNG FU!
Are you blocked because you are afraid? This question is the one that is the closest to my heart. I was afraid for many, many years to pursue my dreams. My source of fear had far more to do with the messages I was told as a child than my writing goals. I spent most of my life in a constant state of borderline freaking out and it got worse when I became a mother. I was, in essence, blocked to do anything creative from the time I was 26 until the time I was 38. That’s 12 years of walking in fear! That was a lot of wasted time. (okay, I DID have five kids in less than eight years, so clearly I was busy with other things, but still . . . ) What was I afraid of? I was afraid of being laughed at, of being rejected, of failing, of succeeding, of taking time away from my family to pursue my dreams, of not being a good mother, of being thought a fool. What made me change was the realization that I had five precious children watching me. Would they say of me that I conquered my fear or would they say of me that I succumbed to it? I knew I didn’t want my children to be afraid of anything, especially my girls, so I kicked my fear in the teeth and got over it. It’s been eight years since that feeble effort to get away from my fear and ya know? It was hard! But I did it. And I’m so glad I did. I AM KUNG FU!
I will close with this, also from Wikipedia: “In the colloquial, one can say that a person’s kung fu is good in cooking, or that someone has kung fu in calligraphy; saying that a person possesses kung fu in an area implies skill in that area, which they have worked hard to develop. Someone with “bad kung fu” simply has not put enough time and effort into training, or seems to lack the motivation to do so. Kung fu is also a name used for the elaborate Fujian tea ceremony (Kung-fu cha).”
You can work your way out of writer’s block! SO DO IT!