There’s nothing as sure to derail your train of thought as a perfectionist.
When you write or speak, you are engaging many parts of your brain and other functions that communicate ideas, usually with a rapid and fluid performance. If you accidentally say “me and him” and someone interrupts in order to correct your grammar (as if there could not possibly be anything more important in that moment), you may forget what he and you were up to. After asking yourself, “Now, where was I?” you may be able to refocus and carry on, but it won’t be with the exact same trajectory.
When your inner perfectionist stops you during your writing, it interrupts your flow, stifles creativity, and tempts you to just give up. When in the flow, stay in the flow. This is what I think Hemingway was referring to with his advice, “Write drunk. Edit sober.”
In The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, best-selling author and philosopher Ayn Rand provides insightful observations and invaluable teaching. She discusses the psychological aspects of writing and the different roles played by the conscious and subconscious minds.
Our conscious mind, for example, is engaged when we are planning an article, or writing an outline for a book. Also, when you are editing, the conscious mind directs the process. The subconscious is not absent, but is drawn on for its understanding of the topic; it’s not leading the effort during outlining and editing when you need focus and clear direction.
Rand asserts that when it comes to writing your draft, however, your subconscious must be in the driver’s seat. She says that it is impossible to write with only the conscious mind engaged. You would have to think so hard about every single word that constructing a paragraph could take months because of checking the thesaurus so often and always “losing your train of thought.”
I believe that one cause of what people call “writer’s block” is what happens when one becomes too “self-conscious” and hyper-focuses on the words instead of one’s larger purpose.
Usually when we speak or write, there is an automatic integration occurring; our conscious and subconscious both help us to communicate, not stutter. I’ll oversimplify here to bring in a brilliant example—in the movie The King’s Speech, a speech therapist proves to a hopeless stutterer that he does speak fluently when he is not being “self-conscious” (because he is wearing earphones with loud music playing while he is reading aloud, and thus not hearing his own speech at all).
Are you being too self-conscious AS your write? Could your struggles with writing or completing a piece of writing be due to your editor having First Chair position when it’s not their turn?
Conversely, I had quite a challenge coaching a first-time author who failed to engage her conscious, linear-focused part of her brain. She wrote and wrote and wrote pages for her book, enjoying the gush of words and ideas pouring forth—until she went back to it the next day and read over those pages.
Confused, she sent them to me.
That is when I learned that using an outline is not just a good idea, it is imperative. Stream-of-consciousness writing should be called stream of un-consciousness writing. It is impossible to follow, and is prone to redundancy—what you write about your topic on Friday may cover a lot of what you wrote about the prior Monday. Gush writing cares nothing about reviewing everything already written.
Before you write one page, you must engage your conscious mind to think through and plan the key points and basic organization of your book. THEN when you sit down to work….WRITE AWAY!
You can write to fill in each part of your outline and never get lost or repeat yourself. You can skip around and write a story example that illustrates a point in Chapter 3, just because it is on your mind and you can let that train of thought race along the track you’ve already laid out. The next time you have a chance to work on your book, you may be drawn to work on Chapter 6. That’s all good, because your conscious mind gave you the road map, and your subconscious mind can creatively navigate the journey.
Albert Einstein put it like this, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
The left side of the brain is associated with conscious thought, and the right side with subconscious and creative thought. Respect both. Use your unstructured side to generate a fountain of ideas, and each may become a jumping off point for further creativity.
The next time you sit down to write, be intentional about letting the creative juices flow and having your conscious editor wait his or her turn.
Recommended reading: The Innovator Next Door by John McCarthy, PhD. I am proud to be John’s publisher, as his book is reaching a very wide audience. Everyone needs to be reminded why and how to tap into their own creativity.
Have an idea for a book? Barbara Dee has your game plan. Click here.