You’re writing along like butter, and suddenly a stomach-wrenching jolt slams you up against a figurative concrete wall. The thunderous voice in your head rebukes: “THAT’S THE WORST, MOST HORRIBLE, STUPID PHRASE SINCE . . .”
Such a message doesn’t have to plunge you into a full block. Recognize it for what it is—merely your old programming, maybe residue of parental strictures, telling you that you shouldn’t be writing, you’ll never be a writer, and you might as well go sell burn phones (if that’s not already your day job).
I’ve experienced this forbidding voice many times. But its fearsome fireworks, like those of the Wizard of Oz, mask its instability. And, as Dorothy and her friends proved on the yellow brick road, the terrifying presence is vanquished when we take one step after another and trust that we’re on the right path.
When I first heard that deafening, dismissive voice, it stopped me cold. First I sat staring at the blank screen. Then I wandered hopelessly around the house, like an orphan in a canyon. My current project lay abandoned, drafts yellowing and hard drive ossifying.
I longed for a savior on a white laptop. But I realized that only I could break my catatonic state and pierce through my paralysis. So, cowering, I sidled up to the keyboard again.
Staring at the offending passage, I heard again the dread voice. As usual, I almost froze. But then from some subconscious forest, the Excalibur appeared. It charged me to type one more word that calmed, commanded, and cut through the hailstorm of criticism: FIX.
This innocent three-letter word, I’ve found, triggers a palliative magic that renders the fiend powerless and keeps me writing.
Why FIX It?
Here’s why this FIXing technique works:
- It tells me that what I’ve just written isn’t typed in cement.
- It reminds me that this is only the first draft, or fifth, or fifteenth.
- It assures me I’ve got as many shots as I want.
- It lets me admit that this might not be my finest hour, but so what?
- It gently confirms that the writing process is one of trial and error, coaxing and courting, boldness, patience, and courage.
How FIXing Works
Miraculously, too, FIXing shows me I can trust my mind. And it releases my imprisoned creativity. I recognized the curative powers of FIX from the wise observations of writer and illustrator Jennifer Paros. She places our blunders in the wholesome context of creativity. “In creating a story, a picture, or anything, it is almost impossible to delineate between mistakes and process. Mistakes are an integral part of the process; they’re drafts, attempts, and experiments” (“Put a Line Through It,” Author Magazine, May 2017).
What we label “mistakes” are part of our creative process. Joan Didion said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” Other writers have echoed this thought (Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, E. M. Forster). How do we know what we think until we write this, and then that, and then maybe that other?
Our “mistakes” are part of our writing evolution and lead us, eventually, to what we do think so we can experiment and correct. After I type FIX, as I’m deep into the next paragraph, my eyes often flit back up the screen to the horrendous phrase I tagged. Like apples bobbing up in water, new words and thoughts surface. They’re invariably better than those on the screen, and sometimes even the right ones.
For example, a few lines back, the orphan simile came rather easily. But the words and thoughts directly before it ignited the ogre’s abuse:
I felt like a waif . . .
A stray, I moped . . .
I moped around like an orphan . . .
I wanted to run for the coal cellar. Yet, holding on, I weakly picked out FIX. Three lines and barely five minutes later, the right phrase popped up, and I wandered hopelessly no more.
The more I write, the more I refine the FIX method. Other codes help maintain that precious writing Flow. So, I type REP when in the current draft I can’t help repeating a word too close to the previous use. And W for what I know deeply is a bad, bad word. And D for Decide whether to follow a particular line of reasoning, flesh out a certain character, go down a tangential plot path, or indulge in profound introspection.
All such codes (or admitted tricks), especially during early drafts, contribute to our awareness of writing and refinement of what we want to write. Using the codes sharpens our editing skills too—we’re moving closer to the right words and phrases, even if we haven’t yet corralled them.
So, the next time you hear your own version of the frightful condemning voice, just greet it with a FIX, a REP, a W, a D, or your own variation. Your work will go smoother and with fewer slumps, stalls, halts, and outright freezes. You’ll gain greater confidence in your writing mind, your abilities, and your creativity. You’ll know that in your writing, you can FIX anything.
© 2017 Noelle Sterne
Author, editor, writing coach, writing workshop leader, and spiritual counselor, Noelle has published over 400 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and short stories. Publications include Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Coffeehouse For Writers, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, New Age Journal, Pen & Prosper, Sasee, Story Monsters Ink, The Write Place At the Write Time, Unity Magazine, Writer’s Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. Academic editor and coach, with the Ph.D. from Columbia University, she helps doctoral students wrestling with their dissertations and publishes articles in several blogs for dissertation writers. Her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Her book Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) further aids doctoral candidates to award of their degrees. As part of pursuing her writing Dream, Noelle’s mission is to help other writers reach their own and create the lives they truly desire.
Author, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams. Unity Books, 2011.
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