A wise man named Bill Kenower (editor-in-chief of Author magazine) explained writer’s block to me so clearly that it changed my life. Everything I’m about to say comes from his empowering book called Fearless Writing, which you should go out a buy and read a little bit at a time every day before writing. In my own words, here’s what he said:
Your powerful imagination will answer any question you ask it. Why did the bank robber choose this profession? What is distracting the guard? Why won’t the teller take the robber seriously?
That’s why writing stories feels so amazing—because your imagination can surprise and astonish even you with its quickness and originality.
But your powerful imagination will also answer this question, which is so tempting and so inevitable that every writer stumbles onto it eventually: What if nobody likes what I’m writing?
That’s the question that will provoke your imagination into revealing an apocalyptic landscape of failure and rejection that will freeze your fingers on the keyboard. And once you’ve asked it, it’s impossible to imagine anything else. Suddenly, the thing you love, the thing that has given you so much satisfaction and pleasure, your powerful imagination and the flow of words it powers, has turned against you.
But once you realize the mechanism at work—that your imagination will show you whatever you ask to see—you can start asking different questions.
That simple realization is surprisingly empowering.
Bill recommends these two questions instead: What is it that I want to say? Have I said it?
These questions shine the light of your imagination back on the project at hand, which you can control, and not on terrifying visions of a sad future, which you can’t.
The simple realization that the self-doubt you felt when confronted by your powerful imagination’s mental picture of rejection can be dispelled simply by asking a different question is life-changing. Try it.