Ways in which I avoid writing:
Check air pressure in tires.
Hunt for lost socks.
Fear of facing the blank page delights in disguise. The Mask of Procrastination loves to do its dirty business in my subconscious. I intend to write first thing, yet when I’m paying attention, I recognize a few troubling warning signs. Why am I ironing, cleaning the refrigerator, or snoozing for five more minutes?
As if every day were Halloween, writers may glimpse a few masks that hide the fear of writing floating about in subterranean lairs. Writers, being creative sorts, can come up with a mob of them.
In addition to procrastination, you may notice:
Self-Doubt Mask – Who do you think you are? There’s nothing new under the sun. There’s nothing you can write about that hasn’t been written before by better writers.
White Rabbit Mask – I’m late, I’m late for a very important date! Arrive at work early to jump-start climbing mountains of tasks, and hurry, hurry, hurry all day and all evening. No time to say hello, blank page.
Mr. Excuse Mask – This writer rationalizes away writing time as if it were a commodity to be bartered, making elaborate excuses. I would write now if I could, but I can’t because . . .
Flawless Mask – I produce perfect manuscripts. Maybe I’d better wait to share this poem-story-novel in case I missed a mistake. I’ll just polish it again.
Shine the powerful tool of awareness on them and their true identities under the masks can be uncovered. I’ll share a trick to reveal them in a moment, but first, boo of what?
Boo of Moo comes from a chapter in my handbook, The Moo of Writing: How to Milk Your Potential. The chapter looks at ways we writers unknowingly impede ourselves.
Moo of Writing is a process centered on the writer as a ruminant, digging down into the subconscious to pull out—voila!—creativity. It’s also meant to conjure mu, a Zen koan whereby you find your work by getting out of your own way.
The dairy cow symbolizes the process because while she stands in the meadow peacefully chewing her cud and swishing her tail, she produces five gallons of milk every day. She’s relaxed, and she’s productive.
I don’t think she’s beset by the Boo of Moo.
But the human ruminant—gnawing on his virtual pencil and sensing something is not quite right—faces a formidable opponent that rings his doorbell most days dressed in the mask of the moment.
What lies beneath?
Consider how closely writing is tied to your identity. When I’m producing, I feel centered and grounded. I know who I am. Conversely, when I question my worth as a writer, a pall settles over me, and placing words on a page seems futile. Fear of unworthy writing threatens my raison d’être, a heavy burden to place on words.
Living in the Information Age, peace seldom settles lightly beside us. We have become a society of scurriers. I’m late, I’m late for a very important date! Hence, the popularity of quick-fix escapes such as beer, movies, whodunnit novels (my personal favorite—just one more chapter, one more chapter), the elsewhere of smartphones. We have kids to raise, livings to earn, appointments to keep and toenails to clip. Writing deadlines challenge us. It’s easy to morph those into stress. The White Rabbit Mask usurps focus.
If a desire to escape butts you relentlessly on the backside, take stock. Something is amiss. Try some quiet time to meditate, ground yourself and restore balance.
Rationalization is a tricky mask. When I find myself in a logic labyrinth, rationalization is the culprit. To recognize it, I must step off the path and observe my thoughts. For instance, I have no time to write tomorrow because I must do this and this and this. What? Wake up earlier? That would be unhealthy. I need my sleep. Can you spare 10 minutes? Stupid! What can I possibly accomplish in 10 minutes? I must get into the flow.
Rationalization, especially when played with the topic of time, can leave you trudging on a circular path forever lured by the carrot, I could write this except for . . .
Perfectionism kills even the desire to write because it forever leaves us tilting at windmills of illusion.
In Moo of Writing, I suggest an exercise to help writers identify masks and uncover fears:
· Gather drawing tools such as, crayons, pencils, markers, colored pencils, scrap paper, or sketch paper. If you’re comfortable with a drawing program on your tablet or computer, use it. Relax. Visualize yourself in safe space. Invite your mask into your vision. Without thinking, sketch it. Again, without thinking, write its name. You have named your fear, and when you name it, you own it.
When I did this, I drew a long, red rectangle-shaped face. Two black horizontal slits slashing across the page became eyes. The nose was a red, backwards comma. I interpreted the down-turned partial black arc mouth as aborted self-expression. “Hopeless” popped into my mind. Hopeless because? A moment’s thought and I had it: The mask showed me that I’d been letting rejections get me down. When I peeked beneath the mask, fear said, “What’s the use? The path ahead is strewn with rejections.”
· Write an affirmation to resolve your fear. Make it short, specific, and use the present tense. Examples: I acknowledge my fear of ________and move forward. Or, I write even when I feel fearful. Or, fear, I recognize you behind that mask of ________. I enjoy writing.
Affirmations are powerful tools that help you overcome fears you have dragged into the light. I wrote, “I choose hope” and placed it on my nightstand. “Hopeless” hangs in my writing room as a reminder that if I value my work, that value may be mirrored back to me by editors and readers. Poor “Hopeless” actually amuses me now, he’s so pitiful.
The Boo of Moo concept has been helpful to me. I hope it is to you. May you happily wander about in creative pastures wearing unmatched socks, sketching fears in your notebooks.
Please excuse me now, my computer screen needs dusting.
my thanks to thewritewaycafe.blogspot.com for first publishing boo of moo: how to unmask your writing fears
Find more about Moo of Writing and hear free Moo meditations at www.nanlundeen.com.
Also, find Nan at facebook.com/nanlundeenauthor.
Follow Nan @nanlundeen.