Wednesday, May 25, 2011


As an often-blocked writer and writing teacher, I think a great deal about process and the conditions required for us to write, keep writing, and write well. So much of writing (or perhaps any creative endeavor) is about ignoring, overcoming, or otherwise harnessing one’s basic personality flaws and/or neuroses.

For me, like many writers, it’s a fear of my stuff never being as good as I want it to be that sometimes stops me not long after I’ve begun. But as the inimitable Katherine Paterson said in her keynote address at the SCBWI winter conference a few years ago:

"I knew that if I didn't dare failure, or worse, mediocrity, I would never be a writer at all."

These words will stay with me always. But becoming a writer is not just about daring mediocrity. And it’s not just about hard work.

What it might really all boil down to is permission, the permission we give ourselves to:
·         Make a space (physical, emotional, time) that is reserved for writing and creating
·         Request our loved ones respect that space
·         Ignore the growing pile of dishes in the sink and the dusky hue of the usually pale kitchen floor  
·         Spend the money on the tools/equipment/memberships/conferences needed
·         Pull over on the highway when our characters begin to whisper, pull out our notebooks in the supermarket’s dairy aisle, stop and listen and take notes
·         Go for a run or a walk or a drive or a shower if that’s what it takes to get them whispering
·         Unplug the router, to turn off the phone/TV,  give the social media a rest
·         Put the research away in favor of the writing
·         Go to crit group and share
·         March to the beat of our own drums
·         Fail
·         Try again and again and again
·         Succeed
·         Enjoy it all

At some point in a writing career, the permission of others (agents, publishers, buying audience, etc.) becomes important too, but well before that it’s our own permission that matters. When you’re a person with a career and family responsibilities and all the things a modern person has to deal with, giving oneself permission can be extremely difficult. But really, aren’t we the only ones accountable to ourselves for the choices we make?

So if we don’t give ourselves full permission to be happy, successful writers and to undertake all that journey entails, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get anywhere.

How do you give yourself permission to write/create? How do you deny yourself permission?


  1. I love this post. Sometimes you just have to give yourself permission to be terrible. Thanks!

  2. Great post! I sometimes have problems giving myself permission to day dream, when really as writers, we must.

  3. The ways I deny myself permission are too many to list. They all come down to the same basic thought, "you're not good enough". It used to have a partner that I've managed to strangle, "you don't have enough ideas".

    That one was knocked off by diligently brainstorming and discovering that not only do I have enough ideas, I may have too many. Which is not a bad thing at all.

    I grant myself permission by allowing bad writing to happen. By reminding myself that even the things I've written that are good took revision to get there. Write it down, work it out. Just start writing and be surprised along the way.

  4. Telling myself that the first draft is all about making the material to work with is how I give myself permission to write. "Just get it out" is my mantra at that point. Once the material is out, it's a matter of holding on to my belief in this particular story, in honoring the story and doing the best I can by it.

    Basically, what I do is make it not about me, but about serving the work. I find it takes the pressure off me. It works for me.

  5. Glad I stopped by. I thought maybe the post was about permissionS--the importance of getting them when quoting other people's work within your own. Instead it turned out to be extremely relevant to what I'm going through now--which is, as usual, finding it very, very difficult to carve out the time for my own writing when paid freelance work is demanding similar time out of my week. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of permission!