I recently had one of my writing students tell me that the things she’d long considered her major stumbling blocks weren’t that bad at all once she was able to face them. I think writers, all creatives really, often have such vivid imaginations that it’s easy for us to turn a tiny, mysterious creature into a gigantic, unknowable beast.
Depending on where you are in your path as a writer, the simple act of sitting down and writing on a consistent basis can feel overwhelming. The self-talk often goes something like this:
“I know if I got up 20 minutes early I could use that time to write before the kids wake up, but I went to bed late last night and then didn’t sleep well. The dog got me up in the middle of the night. I think it would be better to sleep, and I could write after dinner, maybe while the kids watch tv.”
After dinner tends to lead to, “I’m so tired. How could I possibly come up with anything interesting to write? Sure, I could sit in front of my laptop and look at the blank screen, but what good will that do anyone? Maybe I should just watch tv with the kids. It’s good bonding time. Maybe I’ll even be inspired by something I see and I could write tomorrow.”
Then tomorrow leads to more excuses, mostly rooted in insecurities. Writing feels like a risk. The more you want to succeed at it, the bigger the risk feels. What if you try to write and can’t come up with any good ideas? What if you start a story and don’t know how to finish it? What if everyone you know hates what you write? How can you go from writing nothing every day to writing for 20 minutes every day? It feels like a lot.
Facing the Monster
So, how do you tackle the monsters that are taking up space in your mind? Just like any other project, you do it one small step at a time. I’ll save the break a big goal into smaller goals solution for another time. (Super solid advice, by the way.) Instead, I suggest you spend some time asking yourself why your block seems so big. Define it.
- What do you see as your problem?
- Why is it scary or overwhelming?
- What do you think will happen if you face it?
Taking 20 minutes to journal about it could reveal some interesting insights. It’s tough to solve a problem you can’t even define, so work on defining it.
It is fairly likely that whatever you come up with will be about your own fears and anxieties. That makes sense, but leaves out something simple and important — your future readers.
Writer Tim Denning recently wrote a piece dealing with how and why he is able to write prolifically and honestly even when it’s potentially embarrassing or controversial. His answer is simple, elegant, and priceless, “It’s not about me.”
Wow. Think about that.
It’s Not About You
There is a lot written about why writers write — because they have to, because they need to tell a story, because they are creating a world they want to live in…etc. Those are all valid reasons, but puts the focus on the writer. Flipping the focus to the reader might be a more useful model for some of us.
I remember in college learning that in the process of communication it’s the message received that matters, regardless of the message sent. Writing is a form of communication. We write to provide the reader with information, or entertainment, or inspiration, or a sense that they are not alone. We write for the reader.
Keeping that idea in mind when feeling caught up in your own fears might be a way past the monster. Take the focus off of yourself and think about others. You are writing for a future reader that might need to hear what you have to say, or might be inspired by your words, or might simply love escaping into the world of people and places you create.
Have you considered that not writing is an act of selfishness? What if your favorite author got caught up in his or her insecurities and never wrote the books you love? Do an experiment. Experiments are easier than new habits, right? Put an appointment on your calendar to write — it only needs to be for 20–30 minutes. When the time comes, move beyond the chatter in your own head and sit down and write for someone else.
Share a story that might make someone going through a break-up or job loss feel a little better, or tell about a time you were embarrassed to show you lived through it. Your words don’t have to be profound, just think about being helpful or making someone smile. You might even write in the form of a letter. This makes it even easier to shift your focus from yourself to someone else. If the experiment goes well, try it again, and again.
Often vanquishing our internal monsters just means showing up to face them with enough regularity that they get bored and move on.
More from Dakota…
Are you a writer or dream of being a writer?
Do your internal monsters keep you from being the productive writer you want to be? I’m an author and I also help people overcome self-defeating habits so they can work towards becoming the writer they dream of being. Click on the link below to find out about the video course that I am currently offering for free.