Five Poisons That Paralyze Your Writing

chemistBill O’Hanlon was the speaker at the SouthWest Writers first Saturday meeting of 2014. O’Hanlon is the author of Write is a Verb: Sit Down, Start Writing, No Excuses and has authored or co-authored 35 other books. Besides being a prolific writer, he’s the kind of speaker who makes you laugh and think and get motivated to follow your dreams. In the case of his January presentation, he suggested five poisons that many writers succumb to and the antidotes to overcome them.

1.  Perfection Poison
Writers who fall prey to this deadly poison get lost in their desire to make sure everything is perfect before starting to write. This might include acquiring the right computer and the programs to go with it, fixing up a writing space, waiting for the right time of day or night or season to write, acquiring writing skills, amassing research (everything must be known before starting).

♦ Give yourself permission not to be good (to write the worst book ever).
♦ Be willing to be radically edited, torn apart and made better.
♦ Start writing.

2.  I-Don’t-Have-Anything-New-To-Say Poison
This is another lie writers might tell themselves, and it can stop them from penning the first word: All the stories have already been told. But no one can write the story like you can – you have a unique style, voice, and slant. Every musician is limited to using the same 12 notes, but listen to the uniqueness of what each produces.

♦ Remember that everyone is profoundly weird – embrace your weirdness.

3.  I-Don’t-Have-Time Poison
This is probably the excuse writers use most often not to write. With so many demands on our time, it’s easy to let this poison take over and keep us from our writing dreams.

♦ Do something writing-related everyday, even if it’s only to sharpen pencils.
♦ Make a commitment, set your priorities. If you want to write, you’ll make the time – even just 5 minutes a day.
♦ Consider: Maya Angelou wrote at her kitchen table before going to work, with children crawling on her lap.
♦ Consider: Bill O’Hanlon wrote 10 books in 10 years and had three kids to support and nurture.

4.  This-Will-Never-Get-Published Poison
Understanding why you write is key to overcoming this poison. O’Hanlon believes four things motivate or fuel your writing: being blissed, blessed, pissed, or dissed. He calls these a Writer’s Energy:

1. blissed – you love to write
2. blessed – you’re encouraged to write
3. pissed – you’re angry enough to write (righteous indignation)
4. dissed – [prove someone wrong and] turn that sensitivity into fuel for your writing

♦ Figure out how to write without knowing you’ll get published.
♦ Try again, fail again, fail better.

5.  I’m-Not-In-The-Mood-To-Write Poison
You’re not inspired to write. Your muse is just not showing up. What if the muse never pays a visit?

♦ Show up and the muse will, too. Start writing, it will take care of those moods.
—  F. H. Bradley: The mood in which my book was conceived and executed, was in fact to some extent a passing one.
—  Madeleine L’Engle: Inspiration comes to you while you’re writing rather than before.
♦ Treat it as a profession – do the job and you’ll find your groove.
♦ Remember: the more you write, the better you get.

Wherever you are is always the right place. There is never a need to fix anything, to hitch up the bootstraps of the soul and start at some higher place. Start right where you are. ~ Julia Cameron

What have you found to be the best antidotes for the poisons that paralyze your writing?

Image “Chemist With Test Tubes And Flask” courtesy of cooldesign /


4 thoughts on “Five Poisons That Paralyze Your Writing

    • I think recognizing what tends to keep you from writing (or following any dream) goes a long way toward avoiding it. For me, making the time to write and showing up take care of my poisons.


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