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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Do You Know How to Walk Away from Writer’s Block?

Stop trying so hard.

The only thing that can create writer’s block faster than an expectation of being good is a demand to be good.

Surrender your expectations of writing something good and just write.

Quality vs. Quantity

In Art & Fear, Ted Orland and David Bayles tell the story of a ceramics teacher who told his class that half of them would be graded on the sheer quantity of pots they created and the other half would be graded on the quality of the pots they created.

Students in the first group would receive an “A” for fifty pounds of pots, a “B” for forty pounds and so on. Those in the second group would receive an “A” only if their one pot was perfect, a “B” for a nearly perfect pot, and so on.

As you’d expect, the group being judged on the quantity of their work produced more. Unencumbered by the expectation and demand that they do something great, they were free to make lots of pots – to throw them and see where they landed, if you will.

What you may not expect is that the students who made the very best pots were not in the group being judged on the quality of their work, but those who were going for quantity of work.

Surrender Makes You Free

In the process of making lots of pots, the students made some bad pots and some good pots. They made mistakes and learned from them. They tried new techniques, experimented and played around. They made some truly awful pots and the very best pots in the class.

If, at the beginning of the day, you asked students what quality of work they would create, the group being graded on quality probably would have said something like “Well, I may not make anything today, but when I do make something, it’ll be really impressive.”

The group being graded on quantity would probably have shrugged and said “I don’t know. Doesn’t matter.”

It shouldn’t matter to you either. You never know what you’ll produce on any given day. Writers, like any artist, always hope and intend to do good work, but if we expect and demand good work, we’re most likely to create nothing at all.

Really good work is almost always happy accident.

So since you can’t predict when you’ll do write really good stuff, the best you can do is to create a lot of writing.

Make mistakes and learn from them. Experiment, try new techniques and play around.

In the process of all that creating and playing, you’ll make some bad work and some good work, some truly awful stuff and the very best stuff you can write.

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  1. Free Your Writing with Limits « The Bane of Your Resistance - May 11, 2012

    […] the previous post, Do You Know How to Walk Away from Writer’s Block?, I suggested you free yourself by surrendering expectations — now I’m going to propose […]


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