The Willing Suspension of Disbelief
Most people who struggle with writing are intense self-questioners: is this the best topic, is this the best way to open, am I asking the right questions, speaking to the right audience?
No wonder these people have such a hard time writing. Can you imagine trying to have a conversation with questions like these flying at you? Most of us would quickly be reduced to stuttering.
I realized lately that this was exactly what happened to me in college. I couldn’t even type one or two words without stopping and pondering: Is this the right word? Am I sure of what I want to say? Should I begin the sentence this way or that?
When we read a novel, we engage in what critics refer to as the willing suspension of disbelief. This means that with the very first page of a novel or short story, we suspend our belief in the distinction between true and false, fiction and reality, and as we turn the pages, we don’t question the story’s truth. We agree to enter the universe of the writer without second doubting this universe, without comparing it to the universe we are familiar with.
Writers need to practice a similar suspension of disbelief. But it is disbelief in themselves that they should to banish. They need to get out of their own way and let the words find their way to the page, without constantly questioning the validity and worth of what they’re writing.
The time for questions arrives only once the first draft is complete, after the writer has stepped out of her own way for long enough for the chapter, story, essay or poem to be born. Once she has birthed her piece, she can begin to weigh, clean it and fatten it up—with more information or details or dialogue–to make it a full and viable piece of writing.
If writers count on their readers to suspend their disbelief when they enter the universe of what they read, writers can learn to count on themselves to do the same. Not throughout the writing process, but certainly for the first draft. As soon as she begins putting words on the page, a writer should allow herself to dive deep, leaving questions, logic, readers–the ordinary world–behind.