Friday Speak Out!: How to "Fix" Your Writing

Friday, May 08, 2015
by Noelle Sterne

You're writing along like butter. Suddenly a stomach-wrenching jolt slams you against a concrete wall. That harpy in your head rebukes: "THAT'S THE WORST, MOST HORRIBLE, STUPID PHRASE SINCE . . . ."

Take heart. Such a message doesn't have to plunge you into a full block. Recognize it for what it is--merely your old programming decreeing you shouldn't be writing, you'll never be a writer, and you might as well go sell burn phones (if that's not already your day job).

When I first heard that deafening, dismissive voice, it stopped me cold. First I sat staring at the blank screen. Then I wandered hopelessly around the house, like an orphan in a canyon. My current project lay abandoned, drafts yellowing and flashdrives demagnetizing.

I longed for a savior on a white laptop. Then I realized that only I could gallop to my rescue.

The next time the dread voice intoned, as usual I almost froze. But from some subconscious forest, the noble steed appeared. It charged me to type one more word that calmed, commanded, and cut through the hailstorm of criticism: FIX.

This innocent three-letter word triggers a palliative magic that renders the monstrous screamer powerless and keeps me writing.


1. It tells me that what I've just written isn't typed in cement.

2. It reminds me that this is only my first draft, or fifth, or fifteenth.

3. It assures me I've got as many drafts as I want.

4. It admits that this might not be my finest hour, but so what?

5. It reassures that the writing process is one of trial and error, coaxing and courting, boldness, patience, and courage.

6. And, most miraculously, it shows me I can trust my mind.

How? Typing FIX mysteriously releases my imprisoned creativity.

After I type the word, two seconds or two minutes later, as I'm deep into the next paragraph, my eyes flit back up the screen. With hardly conscious thought, like apples bobbing up in water, new words surface. They're invariably better than those in front of me, and sometimes even the right ones.

For example, a few lines back, the orphan simile came rather easily. But the words directly before it ignited that shrew's abuse:
I mope around like an orphan . . .
I feel like an orphan . . .

I wanted to run for the coal cellar. Yet, holding on, I pecked out FIX. Three lines and barely five minutes later, the right phrase popped up, and I wandered hopelessly no more.

Even if you’ve developed your own methods to tame your personal harridan, remember this. The next time you hear that frightful condemning voice, just type that one magnificent word. You'll be astounded at your greater editorial sharpness, confidence, and creativity. You'll see that you can FIX anything.

* * *
Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne publishes writing craft and spiritual articles, essays, and fiction in print and online venues. A longtime academic editor, she assists doctoral students to complete their dissertations (finally). Her Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to show readers how to release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Her forthcoming book helps doctoral candidates deal with often overlooked or ignored but crucial aspects that can impede completion: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015). Website:

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Unknown said...

Love it. One difference - I began using the phrase so much, so many years ago, that it's my "go-to" (for example, as I peruse my current draft for a big revision) before any negative language even shows up. Neutral and positive language is a great preventive tactic.

Margo Dill said...

Thanks for giving us a strategy to use with that insistent inner critic!

Marcia Peterson said...

From the post's author:

Thank you, Carol and Margo. I need to use FIX regularly too. Noelle

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