You have within you a gift of words. There’s zero possibility that you have nothing to say, or that what you have to say is not enough. An ecosystem of stories, insights, explorations, confessions and jests lives in you wanting to be shared. This is true whatever fields you write in, or wish to write in. To be human is to embody gifted language, although it’s only one dimension of who you are. There’s no such thing as writer’s, or speaker’s, block.
“But when I try to write my mind freezes. I feel wretched, tense, ashamed even. The stuff that comes seems chaotic, nonsensical. Or maybe it’s pretty good, but never quite what I sense wants to be said. I spend months not writing, years even, and it hurts me not to. When I do start up it never lasts. When I put it out there, I feel naked, under judgement.”
Well, yeah, all that can come up.
When we face a blank page a lifetime of pressures kicks into action behind our eyes, deep in the unconscious, deep in our body tissues. All our shadow intentions come into play. The drive to stay small, invisible. To please everybody, make everything ok, prove mum and dad wrong, suck love, prove our worth. To keep fighting or fleeing events that ended long ago.
That’s a whole fuckload of impossible tasks to give one poor little piece of writing. A monstrous burden for our wounded inner child. It’s also a game our true, freely gifted, self cannot play. The place inside of us where unconditional creativity comes from does not understand these shadow intentions and cannot serve them.
So, we usually follow one of two paths. We shut down and avoid living our gifts, because our true self refuses to prostitute itself to false impossibilities. Or we keep creating but become hollowed out, burned up inside. For most of us, it’s not so dramatic maybe. We hop on and off these paths, play tug of war over them. Have times where creation flows sustainably through us, but drift back to shadow games and burnout again. Spend more time feeding our stories about our creativity than actually creating. I often have.
It’s not enough to keep mugshots of our shadows safe on the bookshelf. To ‘know’ our fears intellectually. It’s in the nature of trauma to confuse us, make us forget. We have to keep facing the shadows, letting them move through our bodies.
Every day, for as long as you need to, you could make a list of all the things that your writing cannot achieve, and does not need to.
This writing doesn’t have to stop the sky from falling in, or score me a place in imaginary heaven. This writing does not have to make every kind of person purr like kittens. This writing does not have to be perfect or complete…..
Every day, for as long as you need to, you could make a list of all the people you’re not writing for.
I am not writing this for my parents and teachers. I am not writing this for all the people who will never get it, who don’t want to get it. I am not writing this for my exes, my enemies or my friends.
Every day, for as long as you need to, you could make a list of all the things your writing does not need to be.
This writing does not need to be some puffer-fish of blown-up language, or stick to the stiff rules I learned in school, or imitate the unique greatness of others.
When you make these lists, feel what comes up in your body. Maybe feelings of disgust, rage or grief. Maybe giddiness and relief. If you keep excavating the shadows you’ll get wave after wave of the full spectrum of feelings. You have to keep letting it all come through. If you need to tremor, shake, make sounds, curse the sky or cry, perfect. Burn the lists, give them to the waters, or leave them on a bus going far way. But keep excavating again and again. Our inspiration is trapped in the same places in our body as our suppressed emotions. The way to recover full creative courage is to release, regularly, all the built up distress chained around our gifts.
When you come to the page you want to bring more of yourself, not less. More scary truth, more weird playfulness, more hard edges and soft insides. Without even realising it, we often show up straight-jacketed, writing for some faceless tribunal. Again, it’s a whole load of head-fuck to bring to that open, inviting thing, a blank page. It’s the things we’re not saying, and not feeling, that contain the treasure we have to bring to the page.
Let’s get some more things straight.
1) In order to write anything good, you also have to produce vast reams of garbage. Successful writers write more crap than others, not less. You’ve got to allow through exponentially more failed attempts than others do. This is true of every area of human endeavour. Those who do wondrous things fail far more frequently than everyone else, not less. You don’t get one without the other. That’s the deal.
2) You don’t need to feel inspired in order to write. Waiting to feel inspired before writing is like waiting to feel fit before you exercise. Yes, inspiration sometimes comes as a lightning bolt or a new river springing up from nowhere. But mostly it’s a muscle. You have to show up over and over again. Welcome whatever comes. Demonstrate your commitment by finishing things the best you can. Do this enough, and your muse will come to fully trust you. Like a lover that’s put up with your ambivalence, avoidance and abuse, it doesn’t take your come-ons seriously. Your muse will always want you in a ‘throw me on the floor and take me now’ kind of way. But it will never give you the full gifts until it sees you keep showing up, loving and receptive to whatever it brings. Unconditional welcoming, genuine gratitude for the garbage, the failed attempts, the days where nothing comes. You don’t need to believe in yourself or your gifts, you need to teach them to believe in you.
3) All writing is graceful failure. It’s impossible to capture life in language. We only ever help others remember something they already know, like maps pointing home. The writing itself is the map, not the home. Great writing embraces its failure, and thus holds nothing back. No single piece of writing ever can, or should, try to say it all, or even pretend to do justice to a single simple thing.
4) Writing is mostly re-writing. You may need to edit and re-write a piece a dozen times, like an archaeologist brushing dirt off a bone, or a potter collapsing a vase and starting again. The need for rewriting isn’t failure, it’s where the magic happens. Are you willing to keep facing what wants to hide, resuscitating language, tearing down the scaffolding that your shadows, your ego and your habits put up? To keep going over the same piece until you want to set it on fire and jump out the nearest window? Or at least until you want to give your laptop a good spanking? And then let it go and put it out there?
5) All writing happens through the body. Even the miracle man who wrote a book by blinking wrote it with his body. How do you hold your body when you write? Most people hunch, embodying the opposite of inspiration. Chances are you hold yourself a certain way when you’re in flow. You can create that from the outside-in, embodying flow until you find flow. When I get in flow I start spontaneously waving my arms about in between paragraphs, like I’m milking clouds for lightning bolts. Knowing this, I use the gestures to generate flow when I’m not feeling it. DBC Pierre, Booker prize winning novelist, says no one knows how to write a book until we’ve done it…but…we all hold embodied knowledge of how to do something difficult. He knew how to karate punch through blocks of wood, so he used that embodied strength as his way into writing. Your body knows how to do something scary and hard, or fun and flow-y, already. You know how to dance or climb, or how to nurse a child, plant seeds, build something. That embodied knowledge can be your guide to how you write. What things does your body already know how to do? How can you write like that?
Keep letting it all move through. Keep excavating. Keep showing up for your muse.
Thanks for reading!
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