One Phrase at a Time

When you’re faced with a writing project, how do you deal with that paralyzing sense of overwhelm glaring at you in the unforgiving light of the blank screen?

Somehow you have to come up with an article, essay, story, blog, novel, screenplay or whatever — and you wonder how the heck you’re ever going to get past that mean little flickering cursor and come up with something intelligible, never mind brilliant. You’re not the only one who feels this way. Maybe it’s an undeclared dread of The Other, The Great Unknown, The Abode of the Damned that leaves so many of us avoiding our writing project du jour — or worse, eternally distracted by endless emailing (which I am convinced is a disguised hell realm).

I’ve been writing for a living for-ev-er and I still struggle with cursor-phobia. The famous Gene Fowler quote — “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” — is not hyperbole. It’s my life.

At my choir‘s recent dress rehearsal for our Christmas concerts, our director, Gail Suderman, pointed out that we were looking like deer caught in the headlights in our collective dread of our three performances this coming weekend. “Here’s the deal,” she told us, “When you’re singing, all you have to keep in mind is your next phrase, and then your next will follow. Keeping your focus on each breath, on each phrase, will carry you beautifully through all three performances.” Hearing this, we all relaxed — and we sounded one heck of a lot better as well.

One phrase at a time. It’s comparable to what the great meditation teacher, Stephen Levine, author of A Gradual Awakening, refers to as “just this much.” It applies to singing, to writing, to all creative undertakings — pretty well everything, in fact. We don’t have to upload the whole thing in one go.

And so the next time you boldly suit up for your writing session, just take it one breath, one word, one phrase at a time. Each phrase will lead to the next, which will lead to the next, and before you know it, you’ll be done!

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