A MAGAZINE writer’s life is one of ebb and flow, and for many weeks my ideas have not been flowing. I need a story idea and I need it now. As a result, I’ve been spending my time rooting through Web sites and placing random phone calls, but at the end of each day I’m as empty as I was at the start. I’m stalled on the creative highway. I need to jump-start my muse.
The fact that this has happened with maddening regularity for nearly 20 years does not make it any easier. Each time I run dry, I become absolutely certain that I will never write anything ever again. And the fact that my writing appears on newsstands while yours might appear in ad copy or grant applications or staff memos does not make you immune from these panic attacks either. The muse can stall any time you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard; any time you use your brain to create something that was not there before.
Jonathan Foust is the president of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Mass., and whenever his words won’t come, he quotes his Uncle Dave, who taught creative writing at a local community college for many years. ”When you find yourself writing below your standards,” Uncle Dave liked to say, ”lower your standards.”
It is bull’s-eye advice. There’s nothing as intimidating as the high bar, and rather than jumping on the first try, it sometimes makes sense to work your way up. ”Set short-term goals,” suggests Lynn Robinson, a management consultant in Boston. ”Nothing restores your confidence faster than achieving a goal.”
To that end I follow the advice of the writer Anne Lamott and keep a one-inch-square picture frame by my computer as a reminder that I need to write only an inch at a time.
When Uncle Dave doesn’t work for him, Mr. Foust turns for advice to Albert Einstein, whom he quotes as saying, ”You cannot solve any problem by the same consciousness in which the problem was created.” In other words, concentrate on something, anything else. READ MORE