Catherine Mulvany
Catherine Mulvany

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TIED UP IN “NOTS”
© 2009 Catherine Mulvany

If you’re like me, you’re never really happy with anything you write. Or at least, you’re never happy for very long. You may experience a brief period of euphoria as you type “The End,” but the bliss never lasts. And I think that’s normal. But normal isn’t necessarily good.

A little dissatisfaction can drive a writer to improve, but a surplus can bring the creative process to a screeching halt. You start thinking you’re not clever enough. You’re not talented enough. You’re not prolific enough. You’re not original enough. You’re not savvy enough. You’re not smart enough. You’re not connected enough. You’re not relevant enough. You’re just plain not good enough, so what’s the point of trying?

Negativity is a trap that snags some of the best writers.

But how do you avoid it?

First, if you find yourself tied up in “nots,” avoid negative people. They’ll only bolster your negativity, and the last thing you need is a stronger trap.

Don’t give in to writing paralysis. Say your current work-in-progress is going nowhere. You know where the story’s supposed to end up, but whenever you try to get from Point A to Point B, the words you write sound, trite, stupid, absurd and/or boring. So what do you do?

You have several alternatives, actually.

You can give up, of course, but that means the negativity wins, and I, for one, vote no on that one.

Or you can give yourself permission to write boring drivel. Now, some of you might object on the grounds that writing boring drivel only proves that all those "nots" nagging at your subconscious are true. But the thing about drivel is, you can always fix it during revision, and once you start flexing your writing muscles, once the words begin to flow again, you may find that drivel’s not as boring as you feared. In fact, after a little tweaking, it’s pretty good.

Only maybe the situation’s even more serious. Maybe you don’t have a work-in-progress. Maybe you don’t even have a glimmer of an idea for a new book. If not, don’t despair. Just start listing “what if” scenarios off the top of your head.

• What if your heroine wakes up in the wrong body?
• What if the neighbor’s dog is really a werewolf?
• What if an earthquake destroys Los Angeles, Tokyo, and every other major city on the Pacific Rim?
• What if a new strain of flu decimates the world’s population?
• What if...?

Well, you get the idea. Let your imagination run free. You might be surprised at the results.

Or then again, you might be appalled. It doesn’t matter. That’s just the negativity rearing its ugly head. Don’t listen. Instead, pick one of your “what if” scenarios and go brainstorm it in the shower. Yes, in the shower. I don’t know what it is about running water, but I invariably get some of my best ideas in the shower. Walking can be helpful, too. That’s why they invented treadmills, you know, to give writers time to let their ideas percolate without feeling guilty. I mean, it beats staring vacantly into space, doesn’t it?

Once you have your idea brainstormed, you should be on your way. Start writing some of that fixable drivel. Once you untie the “nots,” who knows? You may end up writing something quite wonderful. Good luck.

June 2009

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