Archives for April 2013

Dissipating Dark Fears: Busting Zone-Blocker #3

dark fearsZone-Blockers keep us from experience the joy and freedom of writing in the Zone, that wonderful place within us filled with clarity, creativity, and unselfconscious ease. The last two posts were about busting Zone-Blockers: #1, The Big Miasma, and #2, Grey Fuzz. Today we tackle Zone-Blocker #3, Dark Fears. You can read more about these and other Zone-Blockers in my e-book, Creativity on Demand: Write in the Zone.

Dark Fears can actually be part of the Grey Fuzz. Better to Fuzz Out than to look these gnarly fears in the eye! Some of these concerns are plausible, if I take a dark view–but most of them are nothing more than negative mental chatter. Some of these Dark Fears apply to many areas of life; others are specific to writers. Here are a few:

  • I can’t do it.
  • I won’t do it right.
  • People won’t like it.
  • I’ll be embarrassed.
  • I fooled people before, but I’ll fail this time.
  • They’ll reject me.
  • It won’t be perfect.
  • I’m not in the right mood to write.
  • I’m not organized enough yet.
  • What if I fail?
  • What if I succeed? What then?

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. You may have your own versions of this negative mental chatter. It can get very loud, and sometimes it surfaces only after I have de-Fuzzed and brought my cerebral cortex back to life.

The first step is always awareness. I need to recognize that I’m in the grip of the Dark Fears. Busting this Zone-Blocker is similar to blowing away the Grey Fuzz. We’re just dealing with another layer of mental machination. Here are the steps I take:

1. Recognize that the Dark Fears are Dark Fears, not reality. They may seem very real, but most of them are just wild worries that my mind has whipped up.
2. Make a list. Just as with Grey Fuzz, it helps to write down and objectify the fears. Then they are outside me, in the list, not racing around inside my head. If I can see them, I don’t have to be them.
3. Check out those Dark Fears. Are any of them valid? Maybe I do need to get a bit more organized. Once I’ve examined the Dark Fears to see if any are valid, I do whatever I can to set the situation right. I might clean up my desk, for instance. Then, no more excuses.

What do you do to bust Dark Fears when they block your access to the Zone ?

The Grey Fuzz: Zone-Blocker #2

grey fuzzThis series of posts addresses those nasty phenomena that block us from experiencing the Zone—and the wonderful space of clarity, freedom, creativity, and unselfconscious ease that we feel when we write from the Zone.

The Grey Fuzz is my Zone-Blocker #2. It is a cousin of The Big Miasma, Zone-Blocker #1, a looming sense of dread that I’m not writing what is mine to write. The Grey Fuzz is a floating, unconscious, sleepwalk-y state of mind that settles in after The Big Miasma has done its work and my brain has gone on overload with information and worry. It is diffuse, grey, and yes…

It’s as if my cerebral cortex goes numb, and my thinking sinks to the level of a gerbil—except that just beneath the surface, I feel a terrible anxiety. Somewhere deep in my lizard brain, I fear that if I un-fuzz, that terrible anxiety will come crashing to the surface. So I dig a little deeper into the greyness. The result, of course, is procrastination. Sometimes even paralysis. That produces more anxiety, then more Grey Fuzz, then more procrastination and paralysis, and so on.

Oddly, the Grey Fuzz only extends to my writing project. I am crystal clear about all the tasks I might do instead of writing: alphabetizing the spice rack, defragging my computer, calling my niece, grooming the kitties, even housework! In fact, I feel a desperate need to do these things and a crisp clarity about how to get them done.

When the Grey Fuzz strikes, my first line of defense is recognizing that I’ve been Fuzzed! If I don’t recognize that I’m in the fog, I will wander in it endlessly. Here are the steps I take to bust this Zone-Blocker:
1. Send out the Grey Fuzz Alert. I gently say to myself, “You’ve been Fuzzed, you poor thing! Have a seat. Take a piece of paper or open a file. That’s it. You’re doing great.”

2. Write down everything that’s going on. It might sound something like, “Yikes! I’ve been Fuzzed. I’m walking around without a cerebral cortex, with an obsession to change the dust bag on my vacuum cleaner. I feel slow, dim-witted, lazy, and I will do anything—anything!—to avoid the writing task before me. I’m afraid of the blank file, and not being able to write well. And procrastinating has made it worse!” Just writing about where I am does two things:
*  It gets me writing.
*  It puts the Grey Fuzz outside of me. I see it, so I don’t have to be it. It is an object of my observation, not me.

3. Do some very small part of the writing project. If I’m writing about my main character visiting her mother in the hospital, I only have to write about her getting out of the car. Doing even the smallest task usually blows away some of the Fuzz and I’m back on track, synapses beginning to spark and my brain waking up from its grey sleep.

Do you get The Grey Fuzz, and what do you do about it?

Busting the Zone-Blockers

sunriseI love the exquisite peace and focus that come of writing in the Zone. The words well up quickly, effortlessly, from a place deep within. Time and space disappear. I feel energized, clear, creative, and completely unselfconscious.

But then, suddenly, the Zone disappears!

I’ve come to believe that the Zone, like the sun, is always there—but that sometimes my brain gets cloudy. Clouds in the brain don’t always pass as quickly as deadlines approach. I can’t always count on the Zone to break through those clouds without my help.

Writing is magic, but it can take some work. That has been my motto over forty years of making a living as a freelance writer. More often than not, the work consists of cloud-busting. Or as I call it, busting the Zone-blockers.

We all have our own shapes and colors of clouds, our own unique set of Zone-blocking dynamics. In Creativity on Demand, I talk about my most virulent Zone-blockers and how to bust them. First among them is The Big Miasma. (Coming soon, Zone-blockers #2 and #3, The Grey Fuzz and Dark Fears.)

The Big Miasma starts when we realize that we have a book, or any piece of writing, inside us—but that we don’t quite have time to start it today. Or tomorrow. But if and when we do start it, it will be the making of us. We may get fame and fortune. We will certainly get a huge infusion of self-esteem, and we’ll know that we are doing what we’re here on Earth to do.

But week after week, we don’t start it–and we begin to feel guilty. Before long, we start to arrange everything in life around that book. Friends, other projects, vacations, even children sometimes take a back seat. We don’t go places or do things because we’re going to work on the book, but then we don’t actually work on it. All our thoughts and feelings about not doing the project–none of them too pretty–swirl around and around, and eventually devolve into a mystifying, impenetrable Big Miasma.

This is no way to live, and no way to work—especially when the Zone that makes everything easier, faster, and more fun is right at our fingertips.

There is a terrible simplicity to busting this particular Zone-blocker. Nike said it first: Just do it.

I know! That’s awful! Especially for my transformational friends who want to investigate the underbelly of it. But it’s the only way I know to beat The Big Miasma.

Schedule writing time every day that is inviolable, even if it’s only ten minutes. Write something, even if it’s terrible. Keep writing, even if it gets worse.  This is the time to remember Anne Lamott’s advice in Bird by Bird: Write “shitty first drafts.” It doesn’t matter where you start. Write something. You’ll have something to edit, and what you write will get better.

I feel so much better about myself when I actually start working on the project that I almost don’t care how it turns out! I had been thinking about Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption for twenty years before I actually started it. Just creating a file for my “shitty first draft” was worth tens of thousands of dollars in therapy.

What is your #1 Zone-blocker and what do you do about it?

How You Tell Your Story’s not the story you tell—it’s how you tell the story.

How often have we heard that? Many people say that there are only ten basic plots in all of literature. Or seven. Or twelve. Anyway, we human beings tell the same stories over and over, but we keep reading them because they are told differently.

That’s why when student writers wail that Shakespeare already told “their” story about star-crossed lovers, teachers often respond with slitty eyes and a curt, “Don’t worry about it.”

What if we added another layer to this dictum? What if the “how” didn’t refer only to the style in which we wrote the story, but also to the state of mind in which we wrote it?

When I was writing Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption, I often stopped to work on ghostwriting or book doctor projects in order to keep the roof intact and a steady steam of broccoli and kitty food coming in. I would throw the back of my hand against my forehead and moan that I would much, much rather be working on my novel than doing this writing chore, which was really just the means to an end (the mortgage, broccoli and cat food). Poor me!

Then, when I eventually had time to work on the novel, I would often get crabby. I’d wish I had some clear, straightforward writing project in which I knew what I was doing, instead of this morass of possible story arcs, errant characters, and mystifying plot points (or lack of them).

Finally, I realized that my enjoyment really had less to do with what the project was than with the mental state I brought to the project. Was I in the Zone, or not? Was I focused and giving my full energy, attention and interest to whatever project was on my desk?

It’s not so much about what I write, as about how I write it! I can write happy or a grumbly, appreciative or judgmental, clear or complainy. Zone, or no Zone.

Just food for thought. What do you think?