Breaking Down Your Wall

I recently listened to a great master class with the writer Ruth Ozeki (this class is one of many, MANY reasons I strongly recommend joining Story Is A State Of Mind). In it, she talks about struggling with wanting to write magical realism but not knowing how. The writer Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club; We Are Completely Beside Ourselves) told her, “Just do it.” And so she did.

She describes the experience as falling through her wall, landing on the otherwise and not knowing that’s happened. It didn’t matter in the end if that first draft was any good. Just by writing the magic, she identified her wall and knocked it down.

Knocking down walls is one of the themes in my SSM class this week. I’ve challenged my students to identify their walls and how they can go about destroying them. Walls are another way of describing resistance. All writers feel it—that tug that holds you back from what you really want to say. In some cases, the wall might be the fear of writing something too personal. Or the fear of writing about a character whose experience is completely foreign from your own. Or the fear, simply, of just not writing well enough.

My wall is definitely my inner critic. She and I battle it out all the time. Sometimes she manages to add bricks to the wall faster than I can knock them down. Other times, I’m karate chopping them away, and if I’m lucky, kicking her in the face while I’m at it.

But no matter the foundation behind the wall, I think the remedy is the same: Just do it. You cannot tackle any resistance in writing without picking up the pen and battling with your words. As I have found, the more time I spend I writing and the less time I spend thinking about writing, the quieter my inner critic stays.

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