Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jane Anne Staw's book Unstuck

I recently read Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working Through Writer's Block, by USF adjunct professor Jane Anne Staw. Having worked with numerous 'stuck' writers, Staw draws from her own experiences and that of her clients to uncover the reasons behind our resistance.

As I mentioned in my post on The First Draft, my writing style is to edit as I go - so that churning out that first completed work is a meticulous process. So I took comfort in Staw's assertion that she used to get stuck there too: "reviewing over and over again those first words, rearranging them, substituting alternatives, striking them, rearranging them yet again and again..."

But Staw has come to terms with her perfectionist approach. She accepts her desire to revamp each sentence while moving through to completion. For me, staving off the need to revise before it's revision time is like resisting a bar of chocolate before dinner. You acknowledge the craving, and you keep cooking dinner.

In her "Try This" exercises that end each chapter, she offers the following advice [my abridged version] for combating those critical voices:
  1. As you write... keep a record of what they say. (Quote in the body of the text or in a notebook.)
  2. Try to identify each voice and the role he or she played in your life.
  3. Ask yourself questions like, "Is the voice of my sixth-grade teacher relevant to me today?"
  4. Respond to their criticisms with something like: "Mr. Diver, I really don't think I need your help anymore. You taught me a lot about history when I was eleven years old. But my dissertation has nothing to do with history or with me as an elementary school student."
To learn more about the author and the book, check out Christi Phillips's blog interview here.

Dear Reader:
Who do your critical voices belong to? How have you addressed them so you can continue on?


lakeviewer said...

I'm new to writing, but an old teacher at editing. I found a solution to the constant editing when I put my memoir on a blog and slowly rewrote and rearranged each piece knowing what my audience was saying at each step.

Perhaps we need to put away our work and get that critical distance before presenting it to anyone else, at which point we too can see it through many lenses.

Leilani said...

I love this exercise and plan on using this in one of my writing workshops. I believe my critical voices come from a combination of experiences throughout my life. They seem to rise from a generalized fear of failure, of being mocked, rather than from a specific person from my past. This is such an important topic for us to address as writers, and I always appreciate strategies and tools for addressing that potentially debilitating inner critic!

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