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Getting the Writing Going: Overcoming Page Fright

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it.”

--editor Maxwell Perkins’ advice to a novelist

By Wilma Davidson, Ed.D, Pen Woman in Letters

Does the following scene sound familiar?

Your mouth gets dry. Your palms sweat. Muscles in your legs begin to twitch. You get up, pour yourself another cup of coffee, poke about your papers, then stare at the screen, begin to type, delete, swear—and start all over again.

For many, these paralyzing moments repeat themselves each time you start to write. Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, forced himself to write by disrobing and giving his clothing to his valet with strict instructions that it not be returned until he had written the allotted pages. The Greek philosopher Demosthenes took another tact by shaving his head, thus forcing himself to stay inside to write—until he could reappear without shame in public. (My, how times have changed!)

Your procrastination might not be so dramatic; yet it must be reckoned with. Writing is an amazingly complex act that requires several, often conflicting skills. To write well, it’s helpful to understand them.

Two skills most commonly in conflict are the ability to generate ideas and the natural tendency to edit them the moment (or sooner) they appear on paper or screen. Like siblings, these two skills often get into a tousle—largely because the editor in your head is a ruthless tyrant, unsympathetic to your struggle to produce words. But to generate quickly requires freedom—freedom from the pressure of your critical editor who is too ready to pounce on your writing and correct it in the very early stages.

So give yourself permission to say it the wrong way before you say it the right way. Only then, invite your editor back in to help you out.

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