Elizabeth Herman has been helping and supporting writers of various backgrounds and ages and in all stages of the writing process since 1998. She completed her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition in December of 2008. Vital Writer Services is her new business offering coaching, tutoring, editing and proofreading to writers in various genres and with a variety of possible issues. Five percent of each fee will be donated to non-profit educational service projects around the world, which are described on the ‘supporting others‘ page of this blog. Contact her at 618-559-1641 (cell phone) or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Forgetting to Practice
“If you want to get to Carnegie Hall, there are only 3 ways to get there: practice, practice and practice.”
This old saying may have come from vaudeville, but it is no joke. In order to stay with it, writers must keep going back to their blank notebooks and produce the kind of writing that nobody will ever publish.
Ignoring your audience not only allows you more comfort and ease in how you present yourself on the page, it necessitates self-acceptance. In the long run, self-acceptance assumes greater importance than this or that publication or this or that reader.
Your writerly voice sounds genuine when you have gained your own respect, not when you write only for others. Others’ opinions constantly shift and change, like the winds and the sand on the ocean’s shoreline surface. The depths do not.
In your notebook, you will always be the only inventor and the only critic. Your own understanding and pleasure take precedence over all others, and your own mind becomes the grist for all you produce.
Writing Outside: A Pleasantly Distracting Environment
What do you do with a wandering mind?
As peaceful as the outdoors may be, the transcendent beauty of natural surroundings that smell, look and feel great can often distract as much as an unwelcome, unpleasant disruption.
I remember writing during college, how I would sit outside in the sun, and feel the cool breezes and watch the leaves moving in the trees. My thoughts wandered almost uncontrollably, and forcing words onto the page simply didn’t work.
Back then, we didn’t have laptops or iphones or ipods, or even cell phones for texting. A notebook, blank journal and a pen sat motionless on the picnic table where I sat, enjoying the day along with me. My head would only feel comfortable when I lay it on its side, with my hands and forearms as pillows, or when I leaned it back to stretch out my neck in the refreshing breeze.
The homework assignment would have to wait until I could re-situate myself indoors. A desk, electric light, and a closed door took on the role of necessities for my writing process.
I’ve also tried writing on the beach, and yes, “trying” turned out to be the full extent of what I got done. I would lie on my stomach on a towel with a book in front of me, a pen in my hand, and what would happen? I started feeling drowsy, laid my head down, and slept until I got sunburn.
Working in a Disruptive Environment
If you have pets in your room and papers strewn chaotically all over the floor and other surfaces, you will feel less centered and ready to produce quality written work in that space. It’s just that simple!
Need I say more? At the risk of harping on the obvious, an important element of successful writing processes must include freedom from disruptions that stem from the environment in which the act of writing takes place.
Taking the time to organize your space will make you a better writer. You may not want to agree with me! You may decide that your pile of unused papers comforts you, along with the cup of stale coffee that you’ve spilled on it several times already!
Still, when something moves unpredictably in that space, often chain reactions occur, and everything you’ve been working on comes crashing down around you to the floor. Like a maze of dominoes standing within centimeters of one another, one problem after another starts to take over that special time that you set aside so carefully for writing.
Just like on the streets of your city, if the infrastructure meant to support the physical act of writing hasn’t been supported and kept in good repair, accidents become much more likely.
Such disruptions only manifest an inner malaise, in other words disrespect for the act of expression via the written word.
Many factors can contribute to the problem known by scholars as “writing apprehension.” In my last blog post, I identified ‘over thinking’ as a definite factor. In addition, memories of past, possibly frustrated writing experiences, difficulties with spoken communication, insomnia, etc., all may play a role.
In any case, what causes the problem doesn’t change the fact that this is an emotional tendency on the part of the writer. Many techniques may work to provide a solution, not the least of which is an environment, or context, designed to remove the anxiety from particular writing situations.
As scholarly experts on the problem of writing apprehension state, in an environment more conducive to writing, “the apprehensive writer will be allowed to view writing as a successful experience” (Daly and Miller, 1975). Sometimes, the context can provide a different perspective on writing tasks at hand.
However, eventually writers must become responsible for creating their own relaxed writing environments, not always relying on academic institutions, which provide writing centers and other extrinsic inducements to prolific composing. Where do writers find the intrinsic inducements? In other words, isn’t it just as important to create the internal environment necessary for writing, as well as the external environment?
Through internal work involving relaxation, meditation, focusing, turning off the inner critic, etc., the outer settings in which writing is done can become less and less relevant to the question of whether or not the writing task turns out to be successful.
Overthinking: To Plan Without Executing, Including Whatever Mental Activity Blocks a Writer from Writing
“Writer’s Block” signifies a series of mistakes, which, in combination, lead to an inability to put words on a page. One of the mistakes involved in creating the syndrome known as “writer’s block” involves too much cogitation, also known as “over thinking.”
Often, this hyperactive, cognitive problem of thinking too much about writing leads to the emotional difficulty known as “writing anxiety.”
Writers dream about what they plan to write. I have dreamed of writing a novel since the first time I read J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” during my high school years, but I have never gone ahead and created a full-length novel.
But that’s not to say I didn’t write or become a writer. I wrote my dissertation for the context of an educational goal, penned numerous other academic essays, etc., but never encountered a situation in real life that propelled me to create another “great American Novel,” as writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Salinger can claim to have done, and as most aspiring writers dream of early in their authorial decision making careers.
As frustrated writers all over the world will tell you, they think about writing so much, with great imaginings, that sometimes their vision of a written piece exceeds their will to produce it.
Or they find themselves so busy with other pursuits that actually putting words on the page escapes them.
For this reason, I have chosen to advocate for meditation as a solution to the over thinking problem. One of the purposes of quieting the mind into a meditative state is to eliminate extraneous thoughts, or mental chatter, which often consumes more energy than it’s worth.
The problem of mental chatter and uncontrolled thinking plagues the human mind regardless of circumstances. In other words, it isn’t just us writers who need to stop “over thinking” and start acting in our own best interests.
Techniques of meditation, practiced consistently over the long term, can be so effective at thought stopping that they can alleviate cases of anxiety and resulting depression. People who meditate have more energy for pursuing their goals, including those goals that involve composing and executing texts for various public and private purposes.
Not only do regular meditators find that writing comes more easily, but sleep, relationships, relaxation, and achievements in all lines of work also happen more naturally.
Writers who don’t take risks often wind up not saying much of anything. The writer plays it safe by sticking to imitations of previously successful authors. The result often sounds like strings of clichés, overused phrases that most readers have heard thousands of times before.
Creativity on the page can rivet readers’ attention to the progress of any story, essay or poem. The words come across as original, never seen or heard by anyone, and the readers become transfixed on the newness of them.
In order to make sure you have no clichés, re-check your writing again and again. Combine words, ideas and concepts in radically different ways, without worrying about the fact that this has never been done before, and may not work as well as what you’ve already read.
If you put your name on an original work, make sure that it belongs totally to you! Don’t claim something that has been re-hashed again and again. Even if your writing doesn’t become popular right away, at least you will be able to stand by it as your own, and not just a faded imitation of someone else’s brilliant work.
Originality and integrity interweave, creating close connections for writers. Maintain your integrity by doing your own thing…
Verbs Should Not Agree With Objects Rather Than Subjects
Having already talked, in previous posts, about making sure that verbs agree with their subjects in both “person” and in “number,” I believe it’s worth noting that many mistakes in writing occur when verbs agree with an object instead of a subject.
A key step toward having proper verb form consists of knowing the difference between subjects and objects well enough to identify them automatically in sentences.
Here’s an example:
My response to your emails lack a certain direct acknowledgement of your points.
What is the subject of this sentence? “Response.” What is the object of the prepositional phrase modifying the subject? “Emails.”
But the author’s verb form “lack” seems to agree with “emails,” which is an object, rather than “response,” which is the subject!
Here is my correction of the mistake:
My response to your emails lacks a certain direct acknowledgement of your points.
I’m very glad to see that my Word program points out this mistake on my document, with that squiggly green line that automatically shows up under the series of words that are pertinent to the problem!
Thankfully, word processors can sometimes help, after all (actually they help a lot)!