I am a Writer Who Doesn’t Write

Elaine Broe
4 min readDec 22, 2015

I think about writing a lot. I own almost every book on writing, from “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, to “On Writing” by Stephen King. In a last ditch effort, I shamefully added “Creative Writing for Dummies” to my collection. I figure the dummie route was my last resort as I continue to avoid writing anything substantial.

I have all the aspirational clutter, ranging from how to books, fancy pens, and a multitude of ideas kicking around in my head. Even my clutter is mental and getting dustier by the moment.

Basically, I am dedicated to not writing. Each year I add a writing goal to the list of things I want to accomplish. 2010, sign up for a writing course. Nope. 2011, write one descriptive sentence a day. Whoops, didn’t happen. 2012, write three articles. Damn, time ran out. A well-meaning friend finally suggested I didn’t want it badly enough. She said, it was time to retire my aspirations. Literally pack up the goals, guides, clutter and all. I stubbornly refused (which is rare because I avoid failure like the plague).

Ann Patchett gives similar advice around dedication and writing. As usual, she does not tread lightly.

I tell them to give this great dream that is burning them down like a house fire one lousy hour a day for one measly month, and when they’ve done that — one month, every single day — to call me back and we’ll talk. They almost never call back.

I could provide a list of quotes from famous writers to inspire you to write, but that hasn’t done much for me. I’m more interested in the reasons that hold us back from the aspirational desires which we refuse to let go. Other than the obvious choice: delusion.

The Perfection Curse
Brene Brown wisely identifies shame as the birthplace of perfection in “The Gifts of Imperfection”. She says, “perfectionism isn’t about how can I improve, it’s about what will they think.”

I’m a pretty confident person in many aspects of my life, and as I read her words, I gather my library of writing books and slink off to a corner. I do not want to suck. Worse, I do not want others to know I suck. Even as I type this I think, semi-colon? Too many commas? Am I rambling? I’m not waiting for the right time to write, I’m avoiding it because I know it won’t be perfect. Which in turn means I might open myself up to feedback, criticism, or (gasp) vulnerability.

Although I don’t personally know Ann Patchett, I’m certain she’d reply, “Well, no shit.”

Paralysis
Not laziness. Not procrastination. Paralysis; the inability to act or function (in my case expressing ideas and emotions through written words on a page). I’m not quite clear what my brain fears, but it seems committed to me talking about wanting to write without ever taking action.

Even as I type this, working out the flow of ideas, I keep stopping. Someone else has written this. It’s already been said. Another month goes by and this article sits in my drafts. Inability to act or function indeed. If a paralyzed man can move his legs following spinal shock treatment, I have got to be able to hit publish on this freaking post.

After typing the previous sentence, a lovely combination of paralysis and nausea settles in.

Meet Biff the Inner Critic
When it comes to writing, my inner critic reminds me of that overbearing high school boyfriend. You know the one, protecting me from mostly imaginary things to make himself feel more important. My inner critic is an impotent, overly muscled teenage boy with an insecurity complex.

“Baby, Don’t write, you don’t need to write. Writing is a bad idea and besides, you’ve got me. Your inner critic keeping you all safe and uninspired. Writing is hard, honey. Do it later, let’s go make out in the back of my Chevette.” Bastard. And I should know better.

Inadequacy Reaffirmation
The opposite of positive affirmation, this is an especially depressing skill when it comes to being a writer who doesn’t write. It occurs when my ideas don’t seem meaningful enough. When flashbacks to edits on my 2009 thesis surface. Like a scene out of CSI, red markings exclaimed, “no one cares what you think, back it up with research from credible people”.

Halfway through a blog or article, I start to waiver. I need a link. I need someone smarter to express what I want to say. The internet, the black hole of procrastination looms. I eagerly dive into research that makes me feel inadequate and reaffirms Biff along with my desire for unachievable perfection. There are other perfect people out there, they’ve already said what needs to be said. By the end of the night I’m so far gone into the bowels of “what made me think I could express an original thought” I can barely remember what I was looking for in the first place.

I am a writer
Maybe I’m not the world’s best writer (clearly, Biff mutters). If Stephen King has a look at my use of adjectives he’d scream at me until I was deaf. Regardless, the reality remains, I have to start somewhere. I have to start. I started.

Sitting and staring at my screen afraid of what I can never achieve (especially if I never start) is one thing. Reading other people’s writing and thinking I could have done that or why didn’t I write that — is a whole other layer of unacceptable. Perfection, inner doubt, and inadequacy are weapons I’ve used against my creative self for a very long time. Luckily the unanswered question stuck around long enough for me to want to seek an answer.

What if I was a writer that wrote? The gauntlet has been thrown, Anne.

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Elaine Broe

I am the founder of the Leadership Collaboratory where I design and facilitate experiences that inspire new ideas & challenge old patterns. elainebroe.com