A while back I had a huge and hideous writer’s block. My inner critic was really strong and it encouraged me to do so many things that were anything but writing. So to counter this, for a while I tried not to be a writer, but it turned out that the writer part of me was just as strong as my inner critic, so here I am. But of course, there was a series of events that broke the spell of my writer’s block and most of those events are linked with women and books (two of my favourite things).
The first thing that happened was getting a job at an art school and talking to the woman who I initially shared an office with. We were talking about writing and, being an amazingly creative person, she encouraged me to read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her encouragement was very practical, she put the book on my desk and said ‘Read that.’ She was brilliant.
So, like I said my block was rather hideous. The Artist’s Way is supposed to be a twelve week workbook, but I took me a lot longer. I’d just moved to a new country on the other side of the planet and started a new job, so I had a heap of stuff going on alongside the not being able to write block, so I was gentle with myself. I figured as long as I was doing something pro-active, I didn’t need to worry about the time. I wasn’t after a quick fix, I wanted to sort my shit out long-term.
The first thing that really struck me about the book was the artist’s dates. They made me realise that even though I spent a huge amount of time on my own (moving country is hard), I didn’t really spend any of that time actually on what I wanted to do. I had neglected myself. So that was the first thing I changed. This fitted beautifully into the practice of journaling and actually reviewing what I was doing. Starting The Artist’s Way was really useful as it got me back to listening to myself.
My favourite task from The Artist’s Way was looking back over my journal pages and working out my patterns and issues. When you first start doing the daily pages, you’re not allowed to go back and read what you’ve written. You just keep going, so going back and seeing what I’d said was fun. When I re-read my first entries, most of my stuff was moany, moany, moany, with the occasional ‘Okay, how do I deal with this?’ section. As I flipped through the pages, I could see how I got bored of writing (and living) the moany stuff, and by raising the issues with myself, I would action a plan to deal with it, or let it go.
Through journaling, I started to make friends with myself by starting a dialogue with my needs. After all, I’m the one who knows what I really want and the one with the best ability to act on them. The first two major needs I found were: making time for myself and getting a bike. For me, cycling is such a beautiful space. It’s where I can clear my mind and just use my body. It keeps my heart pounding and that’s so good for my body and soul. So my first two actions were making Dane-time and getting a bike.
So I worked through The Artist’s Way, but despite finding journaling and reviewing my thoughts really useful for my general sanity, and for getting back into the practice of actually writing, I still didn’t feel any closer to being confident with my creative writing (This is despite having gained a Masters in Creative writing!).
Then I happened across another book called Writing with Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser. What she does is help you to understand the power of your inner critic. The way she does is just beautiful. Rather than working on ways to banish your inner critic, she encourages you to become friends with it. It appeared that my inner critic was most kindly protecting me from some deep feeling of negativity around my writing by distracting me and encouraging me to do anything but write. It was looking after me by saying, ‘Hey you don’t have to write, you can do all these other millions of things instead’, or ‘Go to sleep, you feel tired’, etcetera, etcetera. (We all know that voice.) Writing with Both Sides of the Brain helped with the procrastination and the distraction, but I realised that if I truly wanted to write again, I needed to deal with that negative feeling, because after all, the nasty inner critic was just me.
Luckily, my partner at the time was exploring neurolinguistic programming (NLP). Together we played with the circle of positivity, and stuff like that, and then we stumbled across the flicking exercise. Of course this is me making up names for all this stuff, but you’ll get the idea. The flicking exercise is where you picture your block (or negative feeling) as an image and flick it away. So, you visualise the feeling you want to get rid of and put it on the end of a pen which the other person holds up. Then they move it around whilst you keep the image on the end of the moving pen. Then after they have dislodged it from its place in your brain (by moving it around), they flick it away, out of sight, and literally out of mind. One flick and it is gone. And it worked, like strange but beautiful magic.
For me, the important thing in doing the ‘flicking exercise’ was that I had to really conjure up and focus on a visual image of my block. I had to really feel and visualise why I didn’t want to write. Once I looked for the feeling, I could see it so clearly, the specific time and place. I was living in a scary haunted house, working full-time, studying part-time, and in a shambolic relationship. I was tired, unhappy, stuck in a tenancy with someone I really didn’t like, and I was forcing myself to write something I didn’t really like (a 30,000 word story for my Masters). That was my dark feeling. It turned out that whenever I thought about writing, I felt the negativity from that time and place. When I visualised it, I could see me sat at a dark wooden desk, huddled over in a corner, utterly sad and hideously overworked. Realising that was the feeling behind my writier’s block was brilliant. Of course, why would a person want to write if that was how they felt? I wouldn’t encourage someone to write if it made them feel that bad, and it was true, I was discouraging myself. But visualising what I was feeling and bringing it out into the open, I let it become what it was: just an image from my past. I was in a completely different situation, with so much more choice and freedom; if I was to write again, it would not be like that at all. Bringing how I felt about writing into the world and looking at it logically, I managed to flick that feeling away. Gone.
So, now I am writing again. I use what I know about me to my best advantage; I know how to keep me motivated and inspired. I’ve set up a writing group at my workplace, with monthly deadlines and critiques, and I am getting to know people in the writing community in Wellington. I use the planning and reflection process and I journal. I make lists and I write nonsense. I’ve discovered I’m very good at nonsense. I find if I start with nonsense, then later I can let my inner critic go in and edit and tidy it up. My inner critic loves a challenge. So now when I write I’m happy.
I love words. I love to talk, to read, to listen, and to write. I love how words can create feelings and sensations, thoughts and new ideas, how they can record or imagine. They reflect our minds and let us dream, and that’s pretty incredible, right?