Overlooking clouds

You’ve probably heard the story before. Ancient mapmakers painted in mountains, rivers, bodies of water, and all that they knew on their maps, but the information was always limited. At some point there would be lands or waters beyond which they had no idea what they might find. For them, this unknown territory meant probable threat and imminent danger. To show this, they drew in monsters or sea serpents, famously writing in the phrase: “Here be dragons.”

Writing can be a lot like that, except that sometimes—to continue with the same metaphor—it can feel like the dragons are right outside of your door, or more accurately, just on the other side of the period at the end of the sentence you have just started writing…

Not for the Faint of Heart

People often talk about writing as being hard, but what is just beneath the surface of that thought is that writing is really actually rather scary. I mean, okay, it’s not “Oh my God, I’m gonna fall” scary or “What was that strange noise down the hall?” scary, but more like that nightmare where you’re sitting for for a college graduates school entry exam and you suddenly realize you’re completely naked and you have no way to get out of the room without everyone else looking up and noticing.

Why do I say that? Because writing doesn’t elicit a scared-to-death sort of fear, but more of a fear of being exposed; the fear of people finding out how inadequate you really are creatively, personally, and professionally; the fear that the little voice in your head criticizing and backseat editing every word you put on the page might be right: you really don’t know what you are talking about and “Who do you think you are to be writing a book?”

There Is a Solution, Though

Confession time: even though I’ve written more than fifty books, I still I still hear that voice. It’s chattering way in the back of my mind at this very moment, in fact, right now, it’s telling me how stupid and obscure this metaphor is, how no one every really reads my blog, who do I think I am to be putting myself out there as knowing anything about writing, and a host of other things I’m too polite to repeat. It would be downright demoralizing if I hadn’t figured out a way to deal with it.

What’s the secret? How do you handle the cynical editor in your head who doesn’t believe in you and makes you fear being alone with a blank page or computer screen? It’s very simple: Stick a sock in it. Then walk that mouthy editor, very kindly, to the soundproof room at the back of your brain, say, “Right through here.” Then slam the door and lock it.

Understanding the Writing Process

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to talk about the writing process I use and that I used to teach my students when I was a composition teacher, but for now let me simplify that whole process into two distinct phases: 1) drafting and 2) editing. For the most part, especially if you want each phase to be effective, there should be little to no overlap between the two very different mindsets needed in each phase.

Next week I’m going to delve a little more into those mindsets, but for now I want you to know that facing the fears of journeying out of your comfort zone into the places of your mind where the words “Here be dragons” are written is what writing is really all about. It’s about breaking boundaries, going beyond yourself, shift paradigms, seeing things in a new light, and so much more. I believe that it is the part of writing that makes writing worth doing. And, my guess is, if you have read this far, it is the adventure you have been called to.

Have you ever experienced any of this while you were drafting something? How did you deal with it? Did you overcome your fears and press on, or are they what are keeping you from getting the first draft of your book done?