Got thinking paralysis? Write with a pen

Aah, the oldie-goodie of writing on a piece of paper with pen. It brings me back the memories of being a student, jabbing essays after essays, exams after exams on paper, for two hours or so. The wrist gets tired. But the flow you’re getting pushes you all the way to the end of your essay, fast. It’s a bit more unimaginable now to think of pulling out an essay, handwritten, on a topic you may not love, within just two hours. I’d get nervous! So cheers to that Flow. Because this ecstatic flow isn’t something that comes by as easily now that we have the more convenient option of a laptop, delete, and move.

People are coming up with questions such as how can I write faster. Because you know, now we have to write content for the web. The more the merrier. Forget thoroughly researched a topic. All you need is a solid idea and an authoritative tone and an article published once a week.
But what if, instead of writing on a laptop, we just take our pencil and scribble an entire essay on the paper. I remember how easy it was for me in high school to focus, my mind just instantly alert on exams days when I had to finish writing essays after essays in just 2 hours. Knowing you have to reach the end within just hours, your mind instantly focuses and form the main ideas. Your essay comes into shape almost immediately before we write.

Writing on a laptop helps when you are writing long-form things, but it is also much easier for you to delete that second sentence that feels incomplete. The ease becomes a hindrance especially for people who think too much, like me. So I retreated on writing on the phone, escaping the 10-finger writing sprint to a more moderate two-thumbs jog, in an attempt to slow down my own pace.

And recently, I retreated back to an even more traditional writing, you know that old-fashioned ink and paper style of writing. It’s tough. Writing a coherent piece of writing on one go is hard to do. We or at least I am perhaps far too accustomed to the comfort of writing on laptops where moving sections and deleting paragraphs can be done in just one click. This can take 5 minutes on paper.

But there’s a thinking paralysis syndrome (or perhaps more precisely, writing paralysis, because you probably enjoy the thinking part, not the writing part), happening when you have far too many options your mind can process, and you just froze. Maybe this is the situation writers are facing nowadays; the inability to suspend and organize ideas immediately because there’s always the next drafts.

For years I’m guilty of this. I love thinking. And I can be quite ambitious to pour them all into sentences, believing there’s a magical way to fit them all together. And yes, two weeks would be enough, I said. But of course, it wasn’t. The empty white Word Doc would constantly get scratched with delete buttons and multiple rewriting. If it were a piece of paper, it would have torn up.

Tim Ferris said, “The last thing a writer wants to do is to write.” Isn’t that funny? We giggle at this statement because it teases this paradoxical side of us. We love to write, but we lament it. We love the idea of pouring out our ideas into words, yet we are scared to do it. And we’re in this constant battle of questioning, hesitating, and doubting. But we do know that we will write better if that desk lamp can be just a little bit dimmer. And the window. Those stains have been there for a month now.

Perhaps the best way to overcome this is to assume writer’s block doesn’t exist. Or call it a different name, something closer to what it actually is, such as laziness. Seth Godin, for instance, doesn’t believe in writer’s block. Maria Popova, sole-writer of Brain Pickings, too, doesn’t believe in writer’s block. If this leap of faith is a bit too challenging, then taking your pen and drawing the lines and curves of your words, might be one way to massage that brain, soothes it, tells it to take it slow, take the time, and not wandering too far unnecessarily.

There’s a sense of freedom and also more refined creative juices produced within restrictions; a sense of focus and confidence are sharpened when our environments are more limited, whether in time, word length, or the tools we use in writing. And writing on paper with a pen might give more breathing space to that freedom. A dash of believing that writer’s block doesn’t exist, a push to write within restricted boundaries, are ways to limit yourself without actually limiting yourself.

So, shall we take our pen and paper out?

P.S. I write children’s story for adults about the moon. See it here. Or email me to purchase.

Brain Pickings writer Maria Popova. Photo by Anna Wolf.


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