Just yesterday I heard a rebroadcast of NPR’s Terry Gross interviewing Jack Black on “Fresh Air.” Black discussed his high anxiety levels before his high school musical performances to his movie roles of today. In fact, Black almost turned down his breakthrough part for the movie High-Fidelity because of his anxieties.
However, before deciding to turn down the role he harkened back to his high school stage fright days where he learned to harness that anxiety and “act his ass off” (Black), which is exactly what he did in High-Fidelity. I think this is common for actors, but it can also be common for writers.
Writing the first words are often the most difficult. Writing anxiety is normal. I’m here to say that it is O.K. I would even argue that without a little paper-fright you might not be doing something right.
There is a way, however, to harness that anxiety in the way Jack Black does, and not in a way that is detrimental to the author and the work.
Just like acting, with writing most of the work comes before the show. Black had to memorize his lines before hitting the stage, even in high school. He had to consider his approach, his audience, where to stand, and the tone of his voice.
Writers have to do make these decisions as well, in a sense. But, unlike actors, writers do not have to memorize their lines or even their thoughts when considering a paper. We have the amazing luxury to write ideas down and come back to them later.
For example: If a teacher gives the assignment of writing your own obituary, you may find yourself experiencing a massive writer’s block the day before the assignment is due.
However, had you completed just a little pre-stage work and kept a thought journal from the moment the assignment was given, you may have a wealth of ideas. In fact, your first thought after learning about the assignment may have been, “This will be easy. This class is going to kill me!” This idea may seem irrelevant at first, but keeping records of ideas may lead you to a creative take on the assignment, say “Death by Composition.” By keeping a thought journal on this very idea and jotting down brief ideas of your approach, your audience, and your stance, by the time due date rolls around, writers’ block is avoided. All that is left to do is to “[write] your ass off” just like Jack Black!