Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Writing Out Loud

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This image is used with permission of (

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I have writer’s block. For many years I have struggled with the stereotypical fear of the blank computer screen, as I attempt to marshal my thoughts into something compelling and memorable.

People tend to assume that because I blog regularly and have published books and whatnot, I actually enjoy writing. As if. I’m not one of those writers who wakes up every day bursting with ideas, who can’t wait to sit down in an office chair, or who loses track of time while writing.

I do know some people like that, and it is a demonstration of my character that I still count them as friends.

No, I am one of those writers who procrastinates, then dutifully sets a timer for fifteen minutes, then sits for fifteen minutes wondering what to say; it is generally a painful process. I’m reminded of that scene in the movie Adaptation where Nicolas Cage’s character, a screenwriter, seems to be thinking Big Writerly Thoughts as he sits in his darkened room, thinking. But he’s actually wondering whether he should stop to have coffee and a muffin, and if so, what kind of muffin it should be. “Maybe banana nut. That’s a good muffin.”

Yeah. Minus the coffee part, that is me all over.

Until very recently. In the last month or so, since I purchased an iPad, I’ve had a little more success in writing fearlessly and on time. That’s because I’ve been writing out loud.

By “writing out loud” I don’t mean one of those inspirational find-your-voice mantras you hear at writers’ conferences. I mean it literally; I have been writing out loud, dictating my thoughts for blog posts, short assignments, and my journal into the Notes program on my phone. Siri’s voice recognition software has proven to be a godsend. I often dictate about twice as much material as I actually use, and then when I transfer it to my laptop computer, I edit it into something that is more streamlined.

Thank you, Siri!

I recently gave this advice to one of my editorial clients who also struggles with writer’s block and is (of course) on a tight deadline right now. It’s often when we’re under stress that the paralysis is at its worst. So I suggested that she try “writing” her chapter openings into her phone while she’s out walking the dog or waiting in the drive-in line at the bank—anywhere but at her desk in Serious Writing Mode. I hope it works for her, as it has for me.

At least for now.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • Jana, thank you for writing this. I am in the midst of one of those fearful writing moments with deadlines looming and this helps–or at least offers hope, which really helps.

  • My son Kevin Barnwell sent me your blog. I am excited about reading and catching up on your thoughts.
    I am about to publish my first book, and have excerpts in it referring to church stuff. The last 30 years, of a life living in the midst of adventure in Africa, some called it ‘running as far as I could from Mormon DNA’ …Thanks for your courage and transparency. Jeannine Antoniou Smith

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