David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Persistence”

Motivation and the Writing Life (Part 6 of 8)

THE MYTH OF WRITERS BLOCK

 

Speaking of brick walls, what about writer’s block? Personally, I don’t believe there’s any such thing. I’ve heard horror stories about writers cut off from the flow of their creative juices. Karin Mack, Ph.D., author of Overcoming Writing Blocks, describes writer’s block this way: “You’re paralyzed. You feel panicky, terrified, your mind is blank. You put a fresh page in the typewriter . . . and then you freeze. Nothing happens. Zero. Zilch.” Come on. Did your fingers freeze up? Did you get bitten by an Amazon arachnid, shutting down your central nervous system?

There’s a simple way to break this supposed writer’s affliction, and that’s to simply write! Jot down anything that comes to mind—anything! Write about your goals, your hopes, your aspirations. Write about your dreams, your past, your hurts. Write about your fears. Make up a character. Make up a character that starts to talk to you. In complete sentences. Out loud. Play with the words. Write a simple poem, write a complex poem, write an epic. There’s no such thing as writer’s block as long as your fingers are moving and words are spewing across the page. Even if it’s the same word over and over again.

When I lived in Los Angeles back in 1986 and 1987, I took a continuing education class through UCLA Extension. The teacher, whose name I’ve long forgotten, taught us a simple but extremely effective way to warm up before a writing session, or to unblock a constipated muse. Called the Ten-minute Timed Torrent, you merely write for ten minutes whatever pours out of your mind through your fingers and onto the computer screen or paper. Just set a timer and time yourself. This is a brainstorming technique which loosens the grip of fear from your creativity and gets it moving. It allows the creative artist to come out and play while your internal editor twiddles his thumbs in the background, waiting for his turn.

We writers actually suffer from MPD, containing within us at least three separate personalities critical to our writing success: the artist, the critic and the business person. The key is to get all three of these guys working together for your good, and working when they’re supposed to.

The first personality, the artist, is the free-spirited child within each of us, the side of us created in God’s image, the personality that creates. This is the aspect of our personality we most like to hang out with, the poet, the dude sitting cross-legged on the beach and staring at the sunset with a journal and pen lying next to him. Left alone, what the artist can achieve is boundless, inspirational and life-giving. To unleash the artist and participate in his creative ability is why we write.

The second personality is the critic, the editor, the old schoolmarm who growls, “A preposition shall never be used to end a sentence with.” This is the personality that gets on your case while your fingers are hammering the keyboard and the words are zooming across the screen. “Oh no! That verb does not agree with that subject. And couldn’t you think up a better transition than that? C’mon! This is horrible! What happened to your point of view? Tsk, tsk, such lazy writing.” The editor must be taught to keep his mouth shut until the artist has finished spitting out the story, then he can be allowed to go hog wild with his red pen. The editor’s catch phrase is, “Writing is not writing, it’s rewriting” (Thanks, Dennis Beck).

The third personality is the business person, the salesman. This is the one who takes the artist’s creation, polished by the critic, and peddles it to agents, publishers, editors, and swarms of art festival and craft fair enthusiasts.

There’s a saying that writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration (and, according to Lucky Stevens, 50% procrastination). Writing is a lot of work. Most of the time, if we’re actually paid for it, our writing may only be worth pennies per hour, hardly a wage worth bragging about. But most writers I know would gladly give their writing away if they were promised publication. There’s a sense of accomplishment in seeing your name in print, standing proudly above an article, poem, or short story in a book, magazine, or newspaper. All it takes is doing it.

(Next up: Developing and Sticking With the Writing Habit, Part 1)

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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Motivation and the Writing Life (Part 5 of 8)

PERSISTENCE AND DETERMINATION ALONE ARE OMNIPOTENT

In the Bible, Jesus told the following story of the persistent widow: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” (Luke 18:2-5 NIV®).

Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, once said during a memorial speech, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”[i] If you keep at this craft, if you answer the muse, satisfy the craving, whisper, cajole, and scream at the world on paper and online, and if you keep doing it over and over despite the rejections, despite the failures, despite the slow days, despite your fears and disbeliefs, despite yourself, you will succeed. Believe me. You may be your biggest critic, but you can also be your number one fan.

Now, you may have to change your definition of success. What do you want? To be a best-selling novelist? What if you don’t achieve that? Is your life a failure? I once saw a coffee cup proclaiming, “There’s no such thing as failure, only different degrees of success.” As Norman Vincent Peale said in his book The Power of Positive Thinking, “Set your goals, then aim ten percent higher.” But if you don’t hit your goals, so what? How’s that Ralph Waldo Emerson quote go? “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Each day is precious—live each one to the fullest on this journey to who we are. As Confuscious said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Take your step today, and don’t stop until you draw your last breath—then become a human interest blogger in heaven! Who said your career had to end when you hit the grave?

Years ago I was inspired by two gentlemen who spoke at a Freelance Writers Network meeting in Fort Worth. John Posey, editor and publisher of The African American Literary Review at the time, had been writing seriously and steadily for only four years. In addition to his successful magazine, he’d had numerous book reviews and articles published, and was working on a play. Dan McGraw, an associate editor for U.S. News and World Report at the time, had been writing for only three years. Prior to that he was a cab driver in Cleveland, and it had taken him two months to write his first 800-word story.

The day I listened to both of those guys speak, back in 1995 at the age of 31, I’d already been writing for eighteen years, since age 13. By 1995 I’d sold nine articles, I was writing a monthly newsletter column, I’d won two short story contests, and I’d co-written, illustrated and self-published You Might be a Writer, and had been asked by two agents and an editor to submit book proposals for both my novel and my non-fiction book. Since then I’ve established a blog, written and published two books, and am currently working on six more. At the same time.

What if I’d have listened to the world and had given up? I’d never know what I could have done, or how far my writing career could have gone. Og Mandino, in his book The Greatest Salesman in the World, said, “The prizes of life are at the end of each journey, not near the beginning; and it is not given to me to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach my goal. Failure I may still encounter at the thousandth step, yet success hides behind the next bend in the road. Never will I know how close it lies unless I turn the corner.” I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep taking those steps, turning those corners, even if they lead directly into a brick wall. Someone may come along and give me a boost over it.

[i] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Calvin_Coolidge

(Next up: The Myth of Writers Block)

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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