This is Grumble.
Grumble’s my Writer’s Block beast, and boy, he’s a moody one. A real monster of a problem, especially when the delicate creation stage of a project begins. Grumble can smell the sweet scent of hope and acrid stench of fear from a mile off. He squares off with The Muse on my left shoulder, perching on the right, just inches from my ear, and an arm’s length away from the DELETE button. There’s no finer victory for Grumble than a day without a word on the page. He delights in looming over me with his hairy eyeballs and doomsday expression, squashing seed ideas and spitting on sparks before either can lift off.
Grumble can be pushy. He can be persuasive. I’m always telling Grumble to —
Shut your beak hole!
Quit Bossing Me Around!
Take Your Grumble Parade Elsewhere!
He’s a bit 4-faced. Here’s what I mean:
Grumble #1: Mr. Bully
- “Cross that out; it’s dumb.”
- “Quit being lazy.”
- “None of that sounds good.”
- “It sucks. Start over.”
- “You can’t write about something you’re not an expert on.”
- “You think people will actually want to read this? Don’t embarrass yourself.”
Grumble #2: Mr. Procrastinator
- “Forget it. It’s not happening today.”
- “Might as well stop now, since you have no good ideas.”
- “There are so many other things you could be doing with your time.”
- “No one else is working this hard. Just quit already.”
Grumble #3: Mr. Downer
- “You’re never going to finish this thing.”
- “It’s never going to come out how you imagined.”
- “You really thought you could pull this off?”
- “This is boring.”
- “This is the millionth time you’ve tried to write this. Just give it up.”
- “You have no idea what to say next, do you?”
- “Who’s going to even care about this anyway?”
- “Do you really think you’re the first person to think of that idea?”
Grumble #4: Mr. Micro-Manager
- “You’re not writing enough.”
- “Do you really need that character?”
- “That plot point’s a little too convenient, don’t you think?”
- “You’ve said that word ten times in ten lines.”
- “These are all placeholders, right? Make note of it.”
- “That dialogue isn’t realistic. Read it out loud.”
- “You’re just scratching the surface. Go deeper.”
- “You have to write for another hour, since you wasted the last one.”
Grumble is Up To No Good in the creation stage, all Crash, Slash, Crush, Dash. The Muse, she’s wispy and wonder-full, nimble and playful, wreathed in possibility. Every time I give Grumble too much ear time during the drafting phase, his words end up paralyzing me, while The Muse, her patience spent and spirit soiled, fades away. Then what course have I set for my story? Not a very productive one.
The only time when Grumble and I see eye-to-eye is when I’m Revising. That’s when Grumble’s audacious complaints and questions might actually be valid. As writer Uma Krishnaswami says, revising is the time when, “my inner critic and I can stroll around [a first draft’s] edges, studying it, figuring out what fits, what doesn’t and what was very definitely a misstep.”
12 Successful Ways to Quiet the Grumble Riot
1.) Pretend Grumble’s head is a giant volume nob. Crank him down to zero.
2.) Doodle, to keep The Muse dancing.
3.) Listen to music. Drown him out.
4.) Go for a walk. Get out of the house.
5.) Do something fun. Be kind to self. Addiction to responsibility breeds Grumbling.
6.) Breathe. Remind self that success is both in doing and in being quiet and still.
7.) Take a nap. Grumble’s criticism is sharpest when I’m too tired to defend myself.
8.) Reread the piece. Affirm what’s going right.
9.) Count and celebrate the words already on the page.
10.) Challenge Grumble to a duel. Better yet, let The Muse have a go.
11.) Ditch the draft for a spell and write what’s on my mind: email, list, journal entry.
12.) Think baby steps. Grumble’s voice gets a lot smaller when I break big tasks into littler parts. Then reward myself after finishing every task. Joy! Says The Muse.
What does your Writer’s Block look and act like?
How do you tame the feral wildebeest?
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