Move the Pen to Save Your Life

I’m no expert.

I have used that statement to justify taking no action and not writing or publishing or creating anything for most of my life. I believed that only experts could talk about things, or create things and so I devoted myself to becoming an expert. One day, I thought, I would be worthy of writing and creating.

Meanwhile, I was paralyzed by writer’s block and couldn’t even practice becoming an expert, let alone realize that expert status was completely unnecessary.

Eventually I found a marvelous key that solved the problem for good.

I hope it’s the only key you’ll ever need to get started doing something that could become the ultimate thing you’ve ever done.

The key is this: move.

That’s it. Just move.

At its core, everything is about movement. It sounds ridiculously simple and I think it’s the simplicity that makes it work.

See if this sounds familiar…

It’s time to write something and you don’t know what to write. You’re thinking and thinking and the harder you try, the more frustrated you become. Your mind is as empty as the page and neither is about to change.

Some people call this writer’s block.

Others have said there’s no such thing as writer’s block and I tend to agree.

You don’t get talker’s block, so why would you have writer’s block? Swimmers don’t get swimmer’s block and pilots don’t get pilot’s block.

It’s  just your mind interfering and judging unworthy every thought you have before you can write it.

One reason you don’t get talker’s block has to do with the nature of talking itself. Talking is an action, a movement of the mouth and throat and it involves a fast-paced information exchange with another person. There can be no delay from thought to transmission. You have to say it now or there’s no conversation.

It’s the action of talking that saves you from any possible blockage. Same thing with swimming or piloting a plane. It’s the act of doing that leaves no room for not doing.

So, if you just start moving your pen across the page, or typing words onto the screen, you’ll quickly solve the problem of being blocked.

Here’s the Thing That Saved Me

I have rarely published or created anything over the last 14 years because I’ve had a lifetime case of creator’s block. I felt I had to imagine a thing perfectly and then create that thing perfectly and fully formed the first time I took any action.

This is a perfect recipe for a permanent blank page. I recommend you not cook this dish. It is not tasty.

In November of 2014 I revisited an exercise I had once tried long ago when I lived in Chicago. It comes from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.

I started writing three pages, longhand on a legal pad every morning. It’s a variation of a technique called Proprioceptive Writing™. I also listened to binaural beats with a background of a forest with chirping birds and rustling leaves.

But the key was my promise to myself that I would not stop moving my pen for any reason during the time it took to fill three legal pages with handwriting.

That meant that sometimes I would have nothing to write and so I simply wrote, “Move the pen. Move the pen. Move the pen.” over and over again. It would only take a few repetitions of the phrase before a thought I really wanted to write down would occur to me and then I wrote that instead.

Almost as important as never stopping, I also gave myself the freedom to never edit.

I never edited a single word and, while I judged the crap out of it, or sometimes scribbled or crossed something out before I could stop myself, I kept going. I kept writing, no matter how “horrible, lame and ridiculous” the words felt as they filled the page.

Eventually I came to crave these morning pen-moving sessions. It’s actually a moving meditation that has helped kickstart my day and my ability to take action and “move the pen” in other areas of my life.

As of this post, it’s been 112 days and I’ve only broken the chain twice; once on Thanksgiving day and once again on Christmas day. The most marvelous thing that has come from this exercise is a sense of accomplishment that’s pulled me out of depression and a creative paralysis. I now have a sure and absolute knowledge that I will never struggle with a blank page again.

Until you get started, until you move the pen, hit the keys and make atoms dance, you are forever lost in a flurry and whirlwind of thought and infinite possibility that will never coalesce into your wildest dreams. Never, never, never; until you move.

Move the pen. Start now.

About the Author

Zack Zen

I'm just here to write a bit about what happened when I suddenly realized this whole sentience thing was harder than it might have first appeared. I've been exploring neuroscience, health, fitness, food as medicine and the nature of mind and body for over 30 years now and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these same subjects as I recon and report.

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