A Cure For WAWPAT by John Holton

So, you’re blocked. You can’t get any words on paper. You’ve tried writing something else, reading a novel, going for a walk, having coffee and chocolate, taking a nap, and you’re still blocked. What’s the problem? Why can’t you make words flow like they always do?

Well, we all talk about the internal editor preventing you from writing. We speak of this internal editor as though it were someone or something outside of us that’s standing there with its arms crossed, tapping its foot and giving us dirty looks, saying, “ah, ah, ah!” every time we try to write. Nice image, but we all know who and/or what the internal editor is, right?

It’s ourselves. Your internal editor is you.

And, whatever it is you want to write, you won’t let it happen.

Why not?

WAWPAT. Worrying About What People Are Thinking. You might think something, but heaven forbid you write it and put it out where people you know, love, and respect can read it. They’d never speak to you again. Someone might report you to the authorities, and they might arrest you, or put you under surveillance. Your parish priest could read it and excommunicate you. Your boss might read it and fire you, and you might never get a job again, and you’ll have to live in a box in the alley. Your bank could foreclose on you…

Ridiculous? You’ve heard the stories about people losing their jobs over things they posted to Twitter or pictures on Facebook. Maybe not as ridiculous as you think. WAWPAT is a powerful meme.

Let’s say, though, that you work up the courage to put your disgusting, violent, obscene, illegal, profane, politically incorrect, and/or gross thoughts into words and then put those words on paper (or the screen) and share them with your friends, relatives, pastor, boss, co-workers, banker, etc. And let’s say they read them and get all bent out of shape, and do all of those things that I mentioned before. What do you say then?

I say, screw ’em if they can’t take a joke. It’s your story, you can say whatever you want. If they don’t like it, tough bananas.

Consider this: Where are you most likely to run into writer’s block? My guess would be when you’re writing your first draft. Who sees your first draft besides you? Maybe a critique partner, who probably knows you well enough to let it pass. She’ll probably get a kick out of it. Now, since all writing is rewriting, how hard would it be to extract that piece and leave it in the first draft, where you worked out the story in your head and got a chance to see it on paper for the first time. By the time it gets to Babushka and Father O’Malley and your boss, there might be no trace of it.

Or it might still be there. Think about Deliverance with its rape scene, Lolita with the intimate relationship between a middle-aged man and a twelve-year-old girl, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (I know, it’s a movie; it’s also a book) with its fantasy sequence involving Brad (Judge Reinhold) and Linda (Phoebe Cates). I’m sure James Dickey, Vladimir Nabokov, and Cameron Crowe considered removing those scenes, but didn’t. And let’s not limit it to sex scenes: Salman Rushdie is still on the run for The Satanic Verses, Nikos Katzantzakis still has some Christians angry for suggesting that Jesus was a man with men’s desires in The Last Temptation of Christ. And what about the movie Saturday Night Fever, where not only sex scenes but scenes with bigotry and violence had to be removed to give the film a PG rating?

So, if it’s WAWPAT that has you blocked, do this: write the scene you want to write. Be as graphic as you like. Picture those people you’re afraid of mortifying sitting there, chained to chairs, watching you write. Fun, isn’t it? Have fun with it. If you aren’t having fun writing, you’re not doing it right.

I wrote the first draft of this at Starbucks. By the time I finished, I was laughing so hard that everyone in the place thought I was nuts. That just made me laugh harder. You won’t believe what I had to cut out.

And no, you can’t see it. Just know that it helped me write this.

Straight ahead!

~*~

John Holton

3 comments

  1. John, thank you for this very healthy dose of reality. I’m with you at Starbucks. I’m laughing at my fears. I’m writing. Maybe not THOSE scenes. And that’s not my inner critic’s fault. But your post reminds me that we need to dig in — no matter what — and write.

  2. ‘Those scenes’, in this current WIP, are more than a little horrific. I quailed, and resisted, but the characters insisted that I write them anyway.

    It’s a story with some deep, ugly shadows…kind of like life…and the resolution promises, at best, a murky sort of sunlight.

    I’m glad i wrote them, and that I’m near tears, with the raw emotion of the aftermath scene I’m currently in the middle of…

    But, you, sir, are a tease not to show us what you cut out!

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