Spill Theory: Getting Free to Write
Do you want to write but there’s a critic in your head?
I’m not talking about critical thinking—the ability to look beneath the surface of things & weigh substance, complexity, & context. That’s an essential skill which can empower us profoundly throughout our lives. I’m asking if there’s a consistently negative literary critic who has taken up residence in your brain.
Take a moment to think about that voice, or it might be a composite of negative voices you’ve heard over the years—parent, teacher, boss, editor, ex, competitor, rejection slip, you name it.
I have good news. You’ve arrived at a safe zone. Take a deep breath. What I am about to tell you may be difficult, at first, to believe.
The critic has left the room.
In fact, the critic was asked to leave the building & is being escorted out the front door. The critic’s walking away, headed for a very long & much-needed vacation. Well-intended but misguided, the critic secretly longs to be a painter but won’t paint because she believes she doesn’t have the talent & time it takes to “really” paint. The critic’s in a cab headed for the airport. The critic’s plane just took off.
The critic is a fuzzy, fading white streak across the sky.
More good news: you are free to write now.
Ignore that expensive, empty, leather-bound journal you’ve been meaning to pick up. Instead, grab a yellow legal pad—or something that doesn’t demand excellence in a first draft. Forget about a pencil; you’ll be tempted to erase. Grab a pen that glides. If you prefer a computer, close every window except your word processing software (and possibly my Prompts page). Nothing else. Nothing.
Now start. You don’t need to know what you’re going to write about. Learn by writing.
Write without stopping, editing, or censoring.
Just keep moving your pen across the page. Just keep typing.
Let your body—your hand/s & fingers—speak. That voice, that movement, small as it is, gets to speak to the page & you get to listen.
You don’t have to share what you write with anyone. You don’t have to read it aloud. You can burn, delete, or shred it. You can hide it in a locked box. You can change the names to protect the guilty, including yourself. You don’t ever have to write again.
Just. Write. Now.
Or, you could check your email or surf the internet. But you’ve done that before. You know where that does & doesn’t lead. And at this particular moment, you have a choice. You don’t have to write. But you can.
You can dance the small dance of moving your hand across the page, your fingers across the keyboard.
If you just received a call from the critic, remind her that she’s on vacation & end the call. Turn off your cell phone. Consider changing your number.
Better yet, send her a paint brush.