It's not a technique problem, it's a sincerity problem
One of the delicious paradoxes of cognition is that I often don't know what I think until I write it down. I can feel that there is something off about an argument, or something interesting about a topic, but I can't tell what it is until I've committed it to paper.
On an entirely separate note my intuitions about the differences between work and labour are the exact opposite of yours. For me labour means something that is satisfying, productive in the literal sense, purposeful. Everything that work is to you. Work is the hollow thing I do for pay, the thing that leaves me exhausted and which I wish I could survive without. It is your labour. I suspect this is a UK / US two nations divided by a common tongue thing.
Gonna shill for a moment to point out that if the fear of being wrong (factually or otherwise) stops you from writing, it shouldn't. Embrace it, you'll have more fun that way. I only got around to starting my own substack once i decided to be wrong: https://bewrong.substack.com/about
"No one ever gets talkers block" - Seth Godin
Right on point. I feel like at least for me, "writer's block" is two separate problems:
1. Being uncomfortable with my thoughts, i.e. fear of being wrong, fear of sounding stupid, fear of going against the popular opinion.
2. Being uncomfortable with my writing, i.e. feeling that my writing sounds too boring, or too primitive, or too complex, in any case worse than what I have in my head.
Sometimes I struggle with both, sometimes it's one or the other.
I guess the solution to #1 is to embrace it, and the solution to #2 is to deliberate-practice it and keep improving. Writing from abundance, as David Perell says.
Such a lovely sentiment! Maybe framing it in confrontational terms isn't the *most* helpful way to guide people being comfortable with their own thoughts.
Great post, Sasha. Really opened my eyes as a writer and writing coach. I wanted to share my solution and a post from my new Substack. chipscanlan.substack.com. Lower your standards.
At first. I'm a huge believer in freewriting so you can turn off that "you suck" voice in your head. Here's the link. https://www.chipswritinglessons.com/2019/09/09/craft-lesson-how-to-tune-out-usuck-fm-and-free-yourself-to-write-2/ I hope you'll check out my site and if you like it perhaps give a shout-out, which would be huge coming from you. "Make Something Crazy" is just what I need for my memoir0n-progress. Perhaps if I sell enough books by then, I can take part. Thanks for your honesty and kindness to writers.
I completely agree that we should write what we think and what we feel - not the version of us that we think others may like. 100%. And we should always write under Cunningham's Law.
But I also think that if we have writer's block, we should *start* lying. But as we our truth, we shouldn't lie to be liked by others. Find the most outrageous lie. Lie big. And by all means say that you are lying. Lying gets a bad rap because people use it to do bad things. But lying is underrated.
I would take a novel about misunderstood teen gymnasts with pet magic lions over anything about sad suburbanites anytime!
Wish I read this back in 2004 or whatever it was. I started working at the university newspaper on the design team, periodically submitting zany fiction to my friend who worked the Culture section. I loved it. The next year I ended up falling into the editor-in-chief position. I suddenly had to write news articles about student politics and regular editorials about campus issues. It ruined me. I didn’t care! I felt like a total liar. And I didn’t really get back to writing until just this year, and this is the very lesson that’s been sitting nonverbal in the back of my mind. Can you please send this to me back then????
I keep thinking about and re-reading this essay months after first reading it, which is for me the distinctive difference between top-quality essays and the lower-quality ones. Thank you.
I see in my students that fear is often the biggest factor in writer's block: fear of not being perfect, specifically. Probably the best advice I've ever heard is the advice the poet William Stafford gave his students: "Lower your standards and keep going."
Fresh! Even works with technical topics, I have found. Once you're on to something it's just a matter of going with the flow.
I once had the chance to interview Dr. Agassi, one of Karl Popper's student, and he told me "My advice to you: try hard not to work. You'll find out - and people will find that parasetic - but if you look around you, you will find that only the people who did what they wanted to do contributed to society significantly."
Agreed. Writer's block is the inability to accept oneself. It's rooted in insecurity. A hostile mixture of perfectionism and lack of self-acceptance.
The problem, like so many problems, is to synchronize two systems that occasionally come into conflict: writing things you think are true (not adding to the noise and garbage of the world), and writing them well and in a way you think your audience is receptive towards. In most non-WEIRD societies the latter has actually been a life and death issue for genuine truth-tellers.
This is healing me as I read it. Thank you.