Five Poisons That Paralyze Your Writing (and Their Antidotes)

Bill O’Hanlon has authored or co-authored 30+ books including Write is a Verb: Sit Down, Start Writing, No Excuses. Not only is he a prolific nonfiction writer, he’s an entertaining speaker who motivates his audience to follow their dreams. In the case of a presentation I attended a few years ago, he discussed five poisons writers often succumb to and the antidotes to neutralize them.

1. Perfection Poison (Everything-Must-Be-Just-So Poison)
Writers who fall prey to this deadly poison get lost in a desire to make everything perfect before starting to write. This might include acquiring various writing software (and the computer to go with them), designing/creating or decorating a writing space, waiting for the perfect time to write, acquiring writing skills, and amassing research.

Antidotes
• Give yourself permission not to be good (to write the worst book ever).
• Be willing to be radically edited, torn apart and made better.
• Start writing.

2. I-Don’t-Have-Anything-New-To-Say Poison
All the stories have already been told—this lie can stop a writer from penning the first word. But no one can write the story like you can. You have a unique style, voice, and slant.

Antidotes
• Everyone is profoundly weird—embrace your weirdness.
• Consider: Every musician is limited to the same 12 notes, yet the uniqueness of their compositions is amazing.

3. I-Don’t-Have-Time Poison
This might be the most popular excuse not to write. With so many demands on our time, it’s easy to let this poison keep us from our writing dreams.

Antidotes
• Do something writing-related everyday, even if it’s only sharpening pencils.
• Make a commitment, set your priorities. If you want to write, you’ll make the time—just 5 minutes a day can make a difference and prove to yourself it can be done.
• Consider: Maya Angelou wrote at her kitchen table (with children on her lap) before going to work.
• Consider: Bill O’Hanlon wrote 10 books in 10 years and had three kids to support and nurture.

4. This-Will-Never-Get-Published Poison
Understanding why you write is key to overcoming this poison. O’Hanlon believes a “Writer’s Energy” can motivate or fuel our writing. These four energies are being:
• blissed – you love to write
• blessed – you’re encouraged to write
• pissed – you’re angry enough to write (righteous indignation)
• dissed – (prove someone wrong and) turn that sensitivity into fuel for your writing

Antidotes
• Figure out how to write without a guarantee of publication.
• Try again, fail again, fail better.
• My suggestion: write to please yourself and for the sake of the story.

5. I’m-Not-In-The-Mood-To-Write Poison
You’re not inspired to write. Your muse is just not showing up. What if the muse never pays a visit?

Antidotes
• Show up and the muse will, too. Start writing, it will take care of those moods.
— F. H. Bradley: The mood in which my book was conceived and executed, was in fact to some extent a passing one.
— Madeleine L’Engle: Inspiration comes to you while you’re writing rather than before.
• Treat writing as a profession—do the job and you’ll find your groove.
• Remember: the more you write, the better you get.

Wherever you are is always the right place. There is never a need to fix anything, to hitch up the bootstraps of the soul and start at some higher place. Start right where you are. ~ Julia Cameron

Have you ever been paralyzed by these poisons? What antidote did you use to keep writing?

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Speculative Fiction Writer

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4 comments on “Five Poisons That Paralyze Your Writing (and Their Antidotes)
  1. This is my favorite line: — Madeleine L’Engle: Inspiration comes to you while you’re writing rather than before

    Thanks for this, Kathy.

  2. Great list of poisons, Kathy, and I love the antidotes. A clever post and humorous way to talk about the barriers to writing. Thanks for sharing.

    • KL Wagoner says:

      I’m glad you liked the post, Diana. I’ve been plagued by each one of these poisons to some extent over the years — and remembering why I write has always been the answer for me.

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