Tag Archives: Marwa Elnaggar

On Writer’s Block and Morning Pages

Writing

A friend of mine and I were recently chatting about writing, online writing courses, and our favorite writing books. Then she asked me a question: “How did you overcome your writer’s block?”

I tried to keep down that bitter laugh building up inside me. I could have answered her with one of my blog posts on writer’s freeze, but when I thought about it some more, I realized: I have never gotten past writer’s block, and it’s not really something you get through once and then you’re done with it.

Let me explain. Writer’s block, or the inability to get past one form of what Steven Pressfield calls “Resistance” in The War of Art, is something we writers are always complaining about. It’s debilitating, crippling, and a death sentence for a writer’s career. But it’s not a disease with a cure. It’s more of a condition. What I have found is that it is something you just have to grit your teeth and bear, and write through.

Easier said than done. If it’s a block, how can we write through it? One tool I’ve fallen in love with and have found to be indispensable is what Julia Cameron dubbed “morning pages” in The Artist’s Way. Every day, as soon as you get up in the morning, just sit down and write three or more pages. It will take you about 15 minutes maximum, maybe less, maybe more, but the effect on your writing and even your mind is almost magical.

But first, I have to admit something. The longest I’ve been able to stick to a morning pages routine is a couple of weeks. It’s not because they are difficult, they aren’t. It’s not because I didn’t see any effect on my writing, I did. It’s simply a case of lack of self-discipline, and a load of other mental baggage.

And when I did stick to the morning pages routine? I soared. All my mental loops, those trains of thought that go nowhere in my mind, were silenced. The cycle of being preoccupied in our minds is broken when we allow our minds free reign on paper.  The rules are: no editing, no stopping to think about what you are writing, and these pages are for your eyes only. Whether you decide to share any of them with the world later on (as I once did here) is your decision, but you should feel utterly safe writing them, no censors, no taboos.

And once those words start flowing onto your screen, or paper (Cameron encourages writing them longhand), your mind begins to adjust yourself to its new task: writing. The more you do it, the more you are able to do it. And the more excuses you give yourself, the more obstacles and “what ifs” you put in your own way, the more difficult it becomes to break through that Resistance.

So if you want to break through your writers’ block, or any other form of Resistance, start with morning pages. Advice I should take. Thank you for reminding me, Rahma, with your question.

Two excellent posts and a video about morning pages:

Have you ever written morning pages? I’d love to hear about your experience with morning pages, and if you have any tips about sticking to the routine.

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Confessions

  1. The Magic of Turquoise, written by Mai Khaled, translated by Marwa Elnaggar

    The Book I Translated. Refer to confession 5.

    I haven’t written a single blog post since December 2010.

  2. I haven’t written a single word in my work-in-progress since December 2010.
  3. I’m using the revolution that happened in Egypt in January 2011 as an excuse for not writing.
  4. I’ve considered using the hundreds/thousands of tweets I’ve tweeted during the revolution as my “See? I have been writing.”
  5. I did translate a novella, though. And it’s been published. And I’m proud of this achievement. So I’m officially a published literary translator as well as a writer.
  6. Sometimes I’m just too lazy and lack the self-discipline to write regularly.
  7. I regret writing that last confession because I’m ashamed of it.
  8. Sometimes I’m just too afraid of writing to write. What if what I write is garbage?
  9. I regret writing that last confession as well.
  10. I usually don’t wholly believe people who say good things about my writing. You guys are just being nice, right?
  11. I usually don’t wholly believe people who say bad things about my writing. You guys are just nitpicking, right? This is always true when you don’t tell me what’s wrong with the writing.
  12. I’ve started a morning pages routine about a dozen times or so. I’ve even converted other people to this ritual. Despite seeing and feeling a real difference in my writing when I stick to the routine, I still end up quitting after a few days or weeks. Is this deliberate self-sabotage? Should I get therapy? Am I a danger to society?
  13. Sometimes when I see a beautiful work of art, I get jealous, so I go paint or sketch. I feel the same when I read a good story, or even just a well-written sentence or phrase. Do successful writers and artists feel the same when they see or read someone else’s work? I want to know because I’m trying to diagnose myself (am I petty, or does everyone else feel the same way?).
  14. I’m writing this blog post while I’m at work. My job description does not include blog-post writing.
  15. I’m writing this while I’m at work because I’m pretty confident no one at the office reads my blog.
  16. I regret writing those last two confessions. I think they qualify as “stupid”.
  17. If you’ve read this far, let me tell you that I’ve missed your comments and would love to hear one or two of your own confessions (they don’t have to be embarrassing). Or you could berate me for not writing regularly. Or just send me a cookie.

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