A writer’s career, more than any other career I know or can imagine, is dependent on our having a friendly relationship with our own brains.
Sometimes in my life as a writer that friendly relationship is just there. It requires neither thought nor effort. The project I am working on itself creates that friendship. The work is a gift I return to day after day with full energy.
That kind of experience is, I presume, what is referred to as being “in the zone.”
Then there are other times, other projects, that I struggle with from the first paragraph. Books where I start and stop, start and stop, where I find myself reimagining and starting over at the point I expected to be done.
“Why,” I ask, in the midst of this kind of muddle, “can’t I just write the blasted thing? What’s standing in my way?”
I have always avoided the term “writer’s block.” It seems an easy excuse to quit trying. But I have come to understand something. The what that is standing in my way when my work falters is always, always me!
In fact, it’s my own brain and the unbidden, often barely noticed conversation I’m having with myself.
These days that one-sided conversation goes something like this:
“Marion, can’t you see? You’re old. You’re losing it. Do you remember how you used to be able to hold an idea, with all its complexity, in your mind from the beginning of a long work to the end? Now you can’t even remember that inspired idea you came up with yesterday! And if you bothered to take notes when the idea came, you’ve probably lost your notes.”
That kind of self-talk, I’ve discovered, is powerful. Really, really powerful. And when I get caught into it, guess what? My time at the keyboard turns into a struggle.
Awhile back I sailed into a new novel without quite sorting everything I needed to know about my story’s foundation. “It will come,” I told myself. “After all, I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know what I’m doing.”
(That’s another kind of self-talk entirely. Too much confidence based on assumptions I know better than.)
And some of it did come. But some of the story’s foundation remained elusive. All the way through my work, it remained elusive.
I am fortunate to have an editor interested enough in my work to read this almost novel and respond with, “I think it has the potential to be a very very powerful read, but it also puzzled me a bit . . .”
Then she spelled out her puzzlement.
And I sighed, knew she was entirely right, spent a few minutes feeling sorry for myself—and very, very old—and then said to my brain, “Okay. Time to go to work. Time to do what you told yourself you didn’t have to do.”
And I have gone to work. And I can do it. New ideas to resolve the puzzlement are flowing.
All inside my head still. Inside my enthusiastic brain.
But the work will begin to hit the page tomorrow.
New ideas, new words will come out of this old brain of mine as long as I feed it the right kind of food. And the right kind of food is positive expectation.
“Okay, Marion. You know how to do this. In fact, you’ve been doing it for a long time. Now sit down and, without trying to skip over any steps, use what you know!”