Posted tagged ‘embarrassment’

Blocking Writer’s Block – Hold Your Nose Perhaps (But Don’t Shut Your Eyes)

October 20, 2010

As a daily blogger, I probably don’t seem much affected by writer’s block.  (Even when I don’t have much to say, I seem to be able to get it onto the screen.)

Here’s a confession:  my writer’s block, which is intense, comes towards the end of the process.

Getting a major project  done to the point of being able to say–this is the best I can do, the final shape I want these ideas to have–is nearly impossible for me.

The closer I get to completion, the more my stomach turns.  My whole being becomes one huge wince.   Unfortunately, squinched-up eyes don’t copy edit.

In the midst of this ongoing wince, I tend to make one of three bad choices – (i) I let the manuscript languish; (ii) giving up, I simply send it off.   (When the recipient mentions that it’s not quite finished, I cringe more and let it languish.), or (iii) I change the manuscript so radically that it is once again far from completion.  (Then, growing tired of it, I let it languish.)

Some of these difficulties may come from childhood, the curse of precocity.  When you are a precocious child (as many writer/artist types are), you always have the benefit of a certain handicap.  (“So what if his monograph spells Nietzche wrong a couple of times?  He’s only four years old!”)

Precocity is a protective clothing, highlighting every good quality, blurring every fault, chafing, at times, sure, but other times cozy.  But when the precocious child grows up, he or she, like the emperor, suddenly finds that all that clothing has blown away.  Oops!  Embarrassment sets in big-time.

Since this is a truly difficult problem for me, it’s hard to come up with tips.  These sound promising:

  1. The classic advice is to get a little distance from a nearly finished manuscript (i.e. put it in a drawer.)  This does help you to see the manuscript more clearly, but do not expect it to make the process significantly less painful.
  2. Make yourself begin.  Hold your nose if you must, but don’t shut your eyes.  (Keep in mind that eventually some interest or craft will kick in and it won’t feel so bad.)
  3. Make yourself move along.   I really like the Apple software “Pages” because when I re-open a manuscript, it takes me right to the place I left off instead of back to the beginning.    (In Word, I tend to spend months and months snagged on the first twenty pages.)
  4. Make yourself stop.  At a certain point, you will be playing around with minor edits that do not make your manuscript better. Worse, you start making such major changes that you are really writing a completely different piece, one that is farther than ever from being finished.  Maybe your original concept needs these major changes, or maybe you are just sick of it.  Try to be honest.  Allow yourself to begin something new.  (So what if you, like Shakespeare, are using similar themes and characters?)  (P.S. when your ego’s in tatters, feel free to glom on to some  good old grandiosity.)
  5. At some point, you really should proofread the printed pages, and not just look at the screen.  My best advice for this–get outside help (i.e. a really good friend or, maybe, an M.D.)


Blocking Writer’s Block – Post-Partum Embarrassment

March 25, 2010


Circle of hell for one's own work


Embarrassment is not so much of a problem when one is writing as when one has written. Shortly after the piece is more or less “done”, the excitement, the satisfaction, the engagement, of doing the work peters out.

Okay, sure, there’s a moment of “whew”.  Maybe even “wow.”  And then, like carefully-cut fruit turning brown around the edges, the whole thing seems  tawdry, sour, over-ripe.

This feeling often sets in around the time you start showing your work to others. When you glance at the piece through their imagined eyes, you wonder how you were ever satisfied.  You feel exposed, ridiculous.

It’s worse than seeing one’s self in a bad photo, in a brightly-lit mirror, at one’s worst angle.  When looking at a depiction of one’s physical self, feelings of inadequacy are often tempered by surprise, even disbelief—( Is that really what I look like?)  Even as one cringes, one’s image is so different from the self one imagines it hardly feels possible.  Besides that surprise, we are most of us well trained enough in the idea of people not being able to help their looks to have some grudging acceptance of our physical aspect.  (Other than of our fat, I suppose.)

A special circle of hell is saved for the sound of one’s own voice, either heard or read.

This hell, this embarrassment, can make it almost impossible for a writer to get his or her work out in the world.

Despite the daily appearance of blog, I really do have some problems with this.  Nonetheless (with typical “do as I say, not as I do” bravura), I’ll posit some suggestions:

1.  Collaborate.   Share the work process before your work is finished so that it’s less of a struggle to share it afterwards.  There are many different levels of collaboration, which may or may not include co-authorship.   The simplest may just be doing writing exercises with someone—writing at the same time as they are, then reading your writing aloud to each other.    (This is like taking your clothes off absolutely simultaneously with someone else.  Easier if you both pull down the pants at one time. )

The frigid sea (of exposure) also feels better if you hold hands with someone and run into the surf together.  Meaning, if you want to try to read in public fora—poetry readings or slams—go with a writing buddy first;  make yourselves both sign the sign-up sheet.  No turning back.  Clap loudly for your friend.

2.  Shut your eyes.  Get your piece as good as you can, send it into the world,  and then, if you can’t bear to face it again, don’t.  Don’t re-read it endlessly once you start circulating it (at least not for a while.)   If it’s published, and you can’t bear others to know, just don’t tell them.

3.  Understand that you are not your work.  It is, at most, a glimpse of your brain’s inner workings for one relatively short period of time;  a simulacrum of a synaptical dance.  If someone doesn’t like it, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.  If someone reads it, it doesn’t mean that they actually know you.  Distance yourself from the content of the work;  distance yourself from the feelings of exposure.   This takes discipline.  Don’t wallow.

4.  Don’t worry that everything you do may not be your best work.  People’s taste run wide gamuts.  Sometimes you/they are in the mood for brown rice; sometimes you/they are in the mood for whipped cream;  sometimes for oranges.   (i.e. you can’t please all the people all the time;  actually,  you can’t even please some of the people all the time.   And maybe, well, you should worry a little less about pleasing. )

5.  Be happy that you have completed some work at all.  Always keep in mind how wonderful that feeling was when you first finished, how wonderful to have just slogged through.

Person Blocks – “Pretending”

August 17, 2009

Thinking today of blocks other than writer’s block.  A person block is a big one;  the force that keep one from putting one’s true self into the world, that keeps one from being publicly one’s self.

When I say “being publicly” one’s self, I’m not referring to celebrity.  (Although, weirdly, the subject makes me wonder again about my fascination with Robert Pattinson.  If there is anyone who has a hard time being himself in public, it would seem to be him.  See e.g.  screaming girls and clicking paparazzi.)

But I wasn’t really thinking about Robert Pattinson.  I was thinking more about people like me, perhaps you too.  How hard it is for me (us) to take actions that might make us vulnerable to criticism.  How difficult it is to show openly the parts of ourselves which do not fit so well into a mold of other’s expectations.  (Or really, one’s expectations of other’s expectations.)

These kinds of pretenses are deeply ingrained, at least for me.  Even as a little kid—I was not an especially hip one—I felt the need to pretend I knew all kinds of rock bands that I’d never heard of.   For years afterward, a more complex camouflauge seemed to be called for.  I won’t go into the specifics.  I’m sure most of you know the types of things I mean.

What seems strange is that we actually live in a fairly tolerant society.  I compare my situation with my mother’s, for example.  A teacher, she happened to move shortly after I was born to a county where women teachers were only entitled to substitute’s pay (about 50% of the scale) during the full school year following the birth of a child.  It was a rule apparently motivated either by (a) a wish to keep mothers of infants at home; or (b) an assumption that mothers of infants would be at home, whether working full-time or not  (i.e. an assumption that women with young children were inherently unreliable.)

My mom, both reliable and unwilling to take a pay cut, spent the whole first year of my life pretending I didn’t exist.

My mother had a concrete reason for hiding a fairly big part of her life.  But for many people (me at least), the reason for the camouflauge boils down to the simple fear that if others really knew me better,  I would be deemed very very imperfect.  (Not just imperfect, downright faulty.)

Unfortunately, however, a failure to be openly one’s self can doom one to being less than one’s self.    (Even less perfect!  And much less happy.)

My ex- husband, an artist, gave me some good lessons in this area (though I am only beginning to follow them.)  He is a master of carrying out what sometimes seems to border on the silly.  (I admit, carrying out the silly is a whole lot easier in the art world than in the average professional arena.)

In an early performance piece, he played a violin with a loaf of Italian bread.  He does not play the violin.  His lack of expertise with the instrument wasn’t important, however, since the violin he used was broken.   Besides, the bread, though shellacked, wasn’t a great bow.

You can probably immediately intuit the piece’s potential silliness.  In fact, it was truly magical.

I am not extolling performance pieces.  Many are self-indulgent, and full full full of pretense.  (One reason my ex-husband’s violin playing was so powerful, I think, is that it was not a piece about himself, but about Paul Klee during the World War II.)

I’m not extolling confessional art either.  (Remember, you may someday wish to talk to your friends and family again.)

What I’m urging, I guess, is not to be afraid to risk some silliness.  The unabashed showing of ignorance.  (Sure, ignorance isn’t something to be proud of, but pretended knowledge is way worse.)  A lack of hipness.  To be, in short, more openly yourself.

Here’s a sonnet (unfortunately not terribly silly) about the long-term price of protective coloration:


After years, pretending to be what you’re not
becomes a nature;  a second skin
coating you like a heavy make-up, caught
in your pores, nestled in your grooves, a twin
of features, caked, you need not reapply.
But habits, faces, fail; pretense wears thin,
until, worn through, you can hardly try
anymore.  Too wary, weary–the word
“cagey” describes so much of what you’ve been,
the opposite of free-flying bird,
while unheard, and hardly there within,
is all you’ve been saving, what you hid, why
you did this, what wasn’t supposed to die.

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