Today’s guest post is by Rebecca Hargreaves. Rebecca was a finalist in our contributor search. We loved her post, so we invited her to share it with us. Enjoy!
Sometimes, for no reason at all, I become aware of my breathing. I notice how my lungs expand and contract with each breath. I enjoy the sensation of cool air filling my body and the slow warm exhale that follows. I marvel at the wonder of it.
But then suddenly, I can’t breathe. There is just not enough air funneling through my nose. My lungs seem to have forgotten how to do their job and I’m suffocating. I don’t know how to breathe anymore and there’s nothing I can do about it. Somehow, becoming acutely aware of the intricate details of breathing has made me over-think it to the point that I am frozen.
The same thing happens with my writing all the time.
I will be typing away, enjoying the flow of words on the screen, when — bam! — I can’t remember how to write. Everything on the screen looks bizarre and out of place. I can’t recall the rules for punctuating dialogue. Passive verbs swim before my eyes. I see the plain, dull word blue and rack my brain for a more inventive word: cornmeal, indigo, azure, cobalt. Then I chide myself because — of course! — simple language is always better.
Part of being a writer, particularly an aspiring one, is studying craft, but all those rules and tips can become like shackles. It can create timid writers. Ones who are afraid to make giant awkward splashes and instead write safe, neat sentences that may conform to guidelines but are often uninspired. There is a time for rules in writing, but one should only cage the beast after it has been let free to run and wrestle and tumble in the mud until it is exhausted and ready to collapse, willingly, inside the cage.
Of course, like most things in life, this is easier said than done. So, when I find myself paralyzed in front of the computer, worrying over whether the “h” in “he said” is capitalized or not after the quotation marks of a dialogue line (see, it’s so silly!), I turn to these simple tricks:
- Speed things up – Timed writing is a writer’s strongest tool. It’s magic. Set the clock, set the word count, and write until your fingers hurt. No thinking! Just do it.
- Write something else first – Now is the time to pound out that blog post, write your grandmother a letter, or scribble a poem in your journal. Writing in another format, preferably one with lower stakes, will jolt you from that hyper-analytical state and allow you to embrace the simple pleasure of writing again.
- Stop writing and have fun – Getting too entangled with comma usage and –ly adverbs is a sure sign you are officially taking things too seriously. It’s time to shake it off. Go for a walk, play with the dog, turn up the music and dance around the kitchen in your socks. Blow off some steam, have a laugh, and then get back to writing.
Image by *theritesunderneath.