27 Nov 2013

what’s working with writing

I’m pretty sure writer’s block is not a thing, but anxiety definitely is. Thought-consuming, brain-addling creative anxiety.

My Bad Brain. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls it KFKD, the radio station blasting in your ear reminding you how awful you are. I get that, yes I do, but I think my own breed of anxiety has grown even more insidious. My Good Brain says, “hey, here’s a shred of an idea.” My Bad Brain shows up almost instantly. “Well, if you use that idea, then XXX won’t work and it will be too YYY and then you might want to save that for ZZZ and you’d have to XYZ before you ABC so you might as well not.” Before an idea can exist, much less a word show up on a page, Bad Brain shuts the whole operation down.

A few years ago, I had a significant relationship revelation. I don’t remember the context of our conflict, but I remember feeling so upset that after years and years of being together, things were not getting easier. We were having the same arguments we had when we were 19, 21, 25. I wanted him to do something, to be something. He’d say he was doing that something. I’d say he wasn’t: maybe he thought he was doing that something, but he needed to do it differently, or better. He’d get upset because, from his perspective, I was calling him a liar. This kind of argument never gets resolved. It stays with you for days, that simmering post-argument angst, until it explodes again at some later point with a different “something.”

Later, alone, I worked myself up back into tears. I wanted him to treat me a certain way. He didn’t want to. He obviously didn’t want to because if he wanted to, he would have ABC’d or XYZ’d.

From somewhere in my stressed out, over-scheduled, grad school brain, a single, clarifying question appeared and completely shut me up.

What if you are wrong?

What if you are wrong about him. What if every awful thing you think he thinks about you is wrong. What if you think he isn’t trying, but you are wrong. How would your life be different if everything nasty you thought about yourself, that you believed about your body, your talent, your relationships, your future… what if it was all wrong?

I’m devoting significant attention to shutting up my Bad Brain when it comes to writing. I’m supposing that anything that keeps me from writing down words is Bad Brain. I am supposing that anything Bad Brain could be wrong. Even if Bad Brain is logical or persuasive, that does not mean Bad Brain is right.

This is a surprisingly powerful tool, and maybe the secret to finding a new way to write. It takes the focus off Everything That May Go Wrong with writing and puts it on the things that appear to be working. Even if they are small things. Even if they aren’t important things. Because maybe they aren’t small and maybe they are important. Maybe I’m wrong.

Things That Are Working With Writing

1. Doing really weird things with index cards.

2. Noise-cancelling headphones (50 dollars on Woot!).

3. Going slow. Stopping if things feel forced or wrong.

4. Books, blogs, and podcasts about storycraft.

5. Some strange writing things that are dangerously close to plagiarism, but aren’t really plagiarism.

6. Waking up at 5:30. Exactly thirty minutes of Skyrim with coffee, then only-writing until it’s time to leave for work.

7. A cappella albums on Spotify.

8. Getting into the story every day, lest your story start to feel like a strange, foreign place you don’t want to be.

9. Not shoveling audiobooks, podcasts, and TV shows into my ears 24/7. More like 18/7. Or maybe 21, on a bad day.

10. Saving up for a new laptop. With luck, I will have enough pennies before my current laptop cracks into two pieces.


  1. Amy wrote:

    Hello, fellow librarian! I’m just curious what type of notebook that is in the picture. I love graph pages and notebooks that lay flat!

    Posted on 12.11.13 · Reply to comment
    • jessica wrote:

      Hello! You were in my Linda Braun class, no? I recognize your little running girl.

      That would be a Moleskine Cahier. The ones with the paper covers that come in packs of 3. It’s a big one, 8 x 11ish. They just have a staple binding so you can bend and flatten them into submission.

      If you haven’t tried Clairefontaines yet, you should. They have lots of lay-flat options and most of them come in graph paper.

      Posted on 12.12.13 · Reply to comment
      • Amy wrote:

        Yep! I was in that class. I’m still reading your blog. 🙂 Thanks! I will check out the Moleskine and Clairefontaines.

        Posted on 12.13.13 · Reply to comment
        • jessica wrote:

          I just met someone from our class in person a few weeks ago! It was pretty weird, we were both like “I have no idea who you are but your name is really familiar…”

          Posted on 12.14.13 · Reply to comment

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