Being Good with Okay: Breaking the Block

Self doubt doesn’t have to be debilitating. So why do we let it conquer us?

Being Good with Okay: Breaking the Block
Stranger Than Fiction | Source: Columbia Pictures

Karen Eiffel peers around an emergency room corner. Deep rings hang under her eyes. She twiddles a pen in her hand as a team of doctors and nurses rush a patient on a gurney past. This displeases Karen.

“Excuse me, where are the dying people?” Karen approaches a confused nurse. “Most of these people are sick or injured — which is great, don’t get me wrong. But they’re going to get better which doesn’t really help me. Is there a way to see the people who aren’t going to make it?”

Karen Eiffel is impatient. The nurse stares at her in disbelief. “Excuse me?”

“I’d like to see, if at all possible, the ones who aren’t going to make it.” Karen Eiffel is relentless. “You know, the dead-for-sure ones.”

The nurse’s frustration shows. “I’m sorry, are you suffering from something?”

“Just writer’s block.”

I can relate to Karen Eiffel. I’m not hanging out in emergency rooms but I am suffering from the largest bout of writer’s block I can remember.

Fighting Doubt

Karen Eiffel is a character in the underrated film, Stranger Than Fiction. Played by the brilliant Emma Thompson, Karen Eiffel is a beloved mystery novelist. Throughout the film, Karen cannot kill her main character, Harold Crick (played by Will Farrell). Karen spends months agonizing over ideas unable to put words to paper.

I’ve written fewer than 500-words in months. This isn’t long in the totality of my life, but for someone who manages a major publication going months without writing feels like an eternity.

It’s also embarrassing. Look, I get that most writers suffer a block at some point. I also understand life gets in the way and makes finding time to write difficult. But for months I’ve lacked a desire to write. Ideas don’t come. Motivation doesn’t exist. It’s like the skill vanished. Maybe you can relate.

There were brief moments where inspiration struck. Though, because the writing muscles atrophied, doubt crept in. An idea might pop into my head but that place deep in our brains where doubt hides would crawl to the surface. I’d convince myself I couldn’t do the idea justice, so why even bother trying? If I somehow set the doubt aside, I’d write a sentence, look at it, and know it was the worst sentence a human ever wrote. Why continue writing when you know it’s all just trash?

Since the words wouldn’t come and the doubt persisted, I busied myself with writing-adjacent projects. I’ve sent dozens of interview requests to authors for future Write Now features. I spent countless hours working on a major new initiative for The Writing Cooperative (details coming soon). I explored new writing apps and tools, worked on my website… anything remotely creative to jumpstart my brain. Nothing worked.

Then I watched Stranger Than Fiction for the first time in over a decade.

Throughout the film, Karen Eiffel makes many attempts at jumpstarting her creativity. She visits the emergency room. She watches cars cross a bridge in the rain. She consults an assistant. Nothing worked. Little did she know it would only take an apple falling from a fruit stand to trigger the proper ending to her novel.

As I mentioned above, I relate to Karen Eiffel. She tried everything to shake the words free, yet nothing worked. Then an innocuous moment caused the final tumblers to fall in place and turn the lock in her brain.

Creativity struck when Karen stopped looking for it.

Finding Okay

At the end of the film, Karen Eiffel shares her manuscript with professor Jules Hilbert, played by Dustin Hoffman. He’s not thrilled with her ending.

“It’s not the most amazing piece of English literature in several years,” he says. “But it’s okay.”

Karen looks at Jules and says, “I think I’m good with okay.”

I need to be good with okay, too. Chances are I won’t write the most amazing piece of English literature in several years. In fact, most of what I write probably won’t capture anyone’s eyes but my own. And that’s okay. Putting words on the page is the first step through the block.

I know the little voice in my head is waiting to say, “these words aren’t good enough.” This time I am ready to counter with, “these words are okay, and I’m good with okay.”

Are you good with okay?

A version of this article also appeared on Medium.