[This post originally appeared on Grub Street's Grub Street Daily]
If you are a writer, you know about magical thinking. About the power of procrastination. About the very attractive, rational idea that if your pencils - OK, my pencils - are lined up by descending size, and if I've placed my garbage safely on the curb each Monday night, and sorted the recyclables according to the City of Somerville's strict regulations, and if I've had that one extra, perfect cup of [insert beverage of choice here] - but not TOO much, of course - now, yes, only now, at last, under these special conditions and only under these conditions, will the dark clouds finally part to reveal a clear view to Mount Olympus, Asgard, Nirvana, or the god-home or muse-home of your choice.
If and only if ... then, and only then ... the writing can begin.
Ah, that kooky reason of the writerly mind. I barely scraped by in my math classes and never took logic, but this OCD-borne, ADD-driven hocus-pocus makes perfect sense to me. It always does.
Because, you see, sans these magical, mystical or practical conditions, writer's block rules with a dark chocolate fist. (I was going to say "iron fist," but my students' Cliché-O-Meters would go through the roof and they'd rightfully nail me for not practicing what I preach, i.e. being a lazy writer and relying on received language. There's also a better reason for this odd image: Only a dark chocolate fist could truly lord over me. I would laugh at all other fists. Except maybe a mithril fist. But I digress.)
Back to writer's block, from which I suffer. Of course, writer's block is a fabrication. It's balderdash, malarkey, baloney, bunk, hogwash, bull, hokum. To quote Woody Allen, "It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham." Because anyone can write. Yes, even you. Now.
Here: I'll give you an assignment:
There's a wedding cake smashed on the side of I-93. After what chain of events did this come to pass? Take 10 minutes to write. Explain the backstory. Oh, you want more time? You're not done yet? See - writing is easy.
Oh, you mean write something great?
It's under these conditions of greatness, the desire for greatness, that writer's block truly thrives. Because, of course, writer's block is fear. Cold, blue-white-lit, MacBook-fueled terror. Paralyzing, blizzard-white dread, wrought in 8-and-a-half-inch-by-11-inch rectangles. Sharp, deadly, cruel. Aye, cut you to the core, they will, matey.
As we talked about in my recent class "So You Want To Be a Writer," this fear can strike at any time, at any hour in a writer's day or week or career. I think it's partly fear of failure. And partly fear of success. As Sonya Larson recently and so wisely wrote in the pages of the Grub Street blog (the writing center in Boston where I teach), "So long as my novel lives with just me, I'm okay ... But once it's out in the world, I can't help it anymore, I can't make it better. What if people think, ‘Really? You spent five years making that?'" [In the place of "novel," insert "poem," "essay," "story," "book idea," etc.]
Ipso fatso: That overwhelming urge to not write, to slink into the den for another night of baseball and reality TV and one-bite brownies, is fear of exposure of being a fraud. Of risking greatness.
So how do you prevail? You learn to live with that fear. You learn to not pay attention to the voices that strive to defeat you. I can tell you, after more than 23 years of trying to take myself seriously as a writer, these petty panics, agitations, trepidations, consternations, distresses, anxieties, worries, angsts, and uneases never quite, well, ease up.
Like a loud neighbor living in the third floor of your Somerville triple-decker (whostill stomps around like a six year old), you learn to live with it. You say to yourself, "Oh yeah, I know you." You think, "I've seen and heard you before." And you grumble to yourself, "I know you're going to make me feel lousy. Ha, I already feel lousy. So there."
You hear, but you don't listen. You slip in your ear buds. You cast a spell.
You keep writing.
And maybe not worry about greatness so much, OK?
Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of the award-winning book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, his travel memoir investigation into fantasy and gaming subcultures the Huffington Post called “part personal odyssey, part medieval mid-life crisis, and part wide-ranging survey of all things freaky and geeky," National Public Radio described as "Lord of the Rings meets Jack Kerouac’s On the Road" and Wired.com proclaimed, “For anyone who has ever spent time within imaginary realms, the book will speak volumes.” Follow Ethan's adventures at http://www.fantasyfreaksbook.com.