Sent by Angie Noll
Little Red Riding Hood might have been afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, but writers are often terrified of something far more innocuous… a simple piece of white paper (or blank screen).
There have been times in my writing life when crossing paths with Little Red’s wolf would have been preferable to the task of committing words and ideas to the page. I know I’m not the only one.
As new writers, the first thing we often do is make a pit stop at our local stationary store to indulge our inner writer with a basket of lovely writing goodies. Armed with our new, sparkly notebook and special, easy-flow writing pen in hand, we proceed to write up a storm.
Then, one day, we notice how much we’ve written, and we realise, ‘I am a writer!’ And with these four little words, everything changes. The next time we open our notebook, we find ourselves staring at the blank page, unable to write a thing. What happened?
Why is it so often easy, right at the beginning, to fill page after page, but once we become aware that we’re actually writing, that creativity freezes up and the words stop flowing? The same phenomenon happens when we start off writing casually, but once we decide to take it to the next level, we lose the delicious abandon we had before.
The answer lies in our innocence. When we’re still new to the process of writing, we don’t know yet that writing is one of those tasks that we purposefully engage in while simultaneously letting go of any form of control over the process; that it’s a balancing act between control and surrender.
It’s when we try to control the writing process that the blank page turns from a friendly wolf into a snarling beast and, unlike Little Red, (who seemed to lack all common sense), we run away from it, screaming, “I can’t write!”
Before we self-identify as a writer, we’re naturally able to control and surrender in the right proportions – because we have no expectations of ourselves. But once we label ourselves as writers, that natural ability seems to fly out the window as all attention is now myopically focused on controlling the writing process.
So it’s not really the blank page that sends us fleeing from our writing desk. It’s the unspoken series of expectations that we place upon ourselves, as writers, which we now have to live up to. And, we believe, we can only live up to them by painstakingly trying to control the writing process.
Now, suddenly, we are expected to produce something of worth, something that will satisfy everybody who reads it.
Now, suddenly, we expect our story, our article, our blog post, to be flawless from beginning to end.
Now, suddenly, we expect ourselves to churn out new, excellent and perfect writing at every single writing session, because if we don’t, we tell ourselves that we’re not real writers anymore.
With such an impossible list of expectations that we imagine real writers live up to, it’s no wonder that our creative spirit goes into hiding every time we pick up our pen (no matter how glitzy and cute it is.) If we could surrender to the process of writing, like we did before we labelled ourselves as writers, we would see the folly of our expectations.
We would remember that no piece of writing ever has to satisfy anyone except ourselves.
We would remember that no piece of writing is ever flawless.
We would remember that no piece of writing is ever perfect after the first draft. Or the second. Or the third. Possibly not even after the fourth, fifth or sixth drafts.
The next time you find yourself staring at the blank page too petrified to pen a word, remember the following:
- Don’t compare yourself to anyone else – novice or professional. Ever.
- Writing is a journey that the writer goes on. Every time you sit down to write something, it’s like going on a treasure hunt deep into your Self, excavating what’s there and pouring it out into some form of writing. Sometimes you’ll dig up rubbish, sometimes gold.
- If you’re serious about writing, then be willing to write badly. Bad writing is your training wheels.
- There is no right way to write. Only your way.
Speaking of the right way to write… If Little Red had used a bit of creativity and found her own path to her granny’s house, instead of using the one that everyone else used, the Big Bad Wolf probably wouldn’t have found her at all. He was just hanging around, knowing there would always be travellers that choose to stay on the straight and narrow path because they’re too afraid to explore what else is out there. Easy pickings for him.
So skip along on your writing journey in your own, unique way. Find a path with scenery that you can enjoy, pick some flowers along the way, and take your time. Don’t allow generalised expectations of what writer’s are supposed to be, or the excessive control that this inspires, distract you from your journey.