Ll: Low, Lower, Lowest
Lower Your Standards
Writer’s block is real. I’ve experienced it, and I’ve witnessed it in students. It stems from anxiety and then causes even more anxiety. From musicians to painters and writers, what appears almost universally true is that writer’s/artist’s block starts with expecting way too much of ourselves. We set such high standards, our beginning efforts look ridiculous and we’d rather not try at all (see Bb). The question is, how can we overcome writer’s/artist’s block?
There’s a writer I admire named William Stafford. He’s most famous for his poems, but he wrote essays, too, which are my favorite. He’s also famous for the way he lived the life of a writer and what he taught his writing students. His son, Kim Stafford, shares this popular advice from his father:
“People said to him all his life that he was too prolific,” Kim Stafford says. “He didn’t believe in writer’s block. He would say ‘if you get stuck, lower your standards and keep going.’ ”
This shocked me the first time I heard it. Lower my standards? Aren’t we supposed to be ever-striving to improve and achieve? Well, no. Not if your ambitions silence your words or stymie your vision.
Try it. It’s harder than it sounds. I already shared my example of the stick-figure bug I drew in my first painful attempts to get my creative groove back. That’s about as low as you can go, and it wasn’t fun, but it worked, it got me started, which ultimately felt better than holding in a bunch of ideas I felt too afraid to try.
Daily practice, especially in the first few months, can be challenging. You run out of ideas or energy or both. But rather than skip the work, lower your standards. Do something simple just to be engaged in the creative act.