Excerpted from Overcome Writer’s Block by Beth Barany
The Garden Within
Who you are as a writer has grown from your lived experiences, your passions and your frictions, your soil. Your fertilizer, your weed pulling, your garden. Your writing won’t be like anyone else’s nor will your career, nor will your daily routine. This may appear self-evident, but don’t we all compare ourselves to others, especially the best-selling writers? We want to be like them, successful, book in the front of the store, and great story tellers. So we think we need to emulate them, their routine, their stories, and their style. But we are not them; we didn’t come from the same root stock, soil or climatic conditions.
To grow the unique writer within, we need to look inward, and then take steps to cultivate our writer self. Use the following questions and tips as guides.
Question #1: Where do you come from? What is your background, family, education, your dreams, your cultural influences, that thing that happened to you, that thing you overheard, those family expectations, the whispers of your imagination? Be specific, be general, be wacky, be curious about yourself. Spill out the contents of your mind and breathe. Stare off into space. Then look to see what you’ve written, and smile, or frown. These are your inspirations, your fertilizer, your individual quirks and quarks, interests, curiosities, knick knacks of the mind and heart. Your individual pattern, rhythm. Where you come from.
Question #2: What kind of writing do you want to do and do now, and why–what is your true motivation? Know why you write and don’t take the first answer you come up with as the only answer. Dig deeper, listen harder, be truthful with yourself. The more you know your true motivation the better your writing life, in that you can make excuses, but you can’t lie to yourself anymore.
Question #3: What is your voice, your style, and what are your strengths, your weaknesses as a writer? As above, be as truthful as you can with yourself. No one will no these things but you. You are on a voyage of discovery and affirmation. Accept who you are. You are beautiful.
Tip #1: Goal Setting Set reasonable goals for yourself, challenging enough to keep you interested and motivated. And attainable so that you can actually have progress. For some that’s 100 words/day, or 500 or 1000 or 3000. You decide.
Tip #2: Tracking Grow discipline day by day, word by word, page by page. Track your progress. “Winners keep score,” a friend of mine said, a successful small business owner. Tracking increases awareness and encourages accountability. The biggest bonus is that it signals your subconscious that you mean business: writing is not a whim but a daily habit that you are coaching yourself on. Go Writer!
Tip #3: Compassion Above all be gentle, have compassion for the writer within, the writer you are growing, especially if you are starting out. And especially if you’ve been at this for years. We tend our gardens day in and day out with care, giving the plants what they need, even if that rose bush has been there for years, or if you just planted it. Treat yourself no differently, especially if you’re having a bad day, week, or month.
Tip #4: Trouble-shooting Are there unhelpful pesticides–other people’s ways, thoughts, ideas, beliefs that are not your own, or fatigue, overwork, not enough play—invading your garden? You can change many things that affect adversely your writer within—learn to say “No”. What hobbies can you give up to give yourself time to write? Yet the sun and rain, other people, world events, are factors beyond on your control. Accept that. If the soil needs amending, find the missing ingredients. Do you need to aerate—get out and do something new, something to expand your heart, mind or soul? Do you need to move your body to counteract an overactive mind?
Tip #5: Patience The garden does grow itself. We don’t stand by it every minute of every day and say, “Go roses! Go lavender! Grow!” It happens because of the proper conditions–the soil, the sun, the rain, and the seed. We shape the garden by our hand. We watch out for the dangers or bugs, and over feeding or underfeeding. We care. We nurture. Regularly. As with gardening, so with writing. Show up for yourself. Honestly, why do you write? Could you not write? Probably not. In that case, make peace with yourself, and write. But be gentle. Plants do not grow faster if you pull on them. That would kill them. The most you can do is write regularly, with compassion, with awareness (tracking), and don’t give up.
c. 2006 Beth Barany