Looking back over the last few days, we’ve talked about examining qualities that have been subject to criticism or shame, embracing them, and challenging them.
As you considered those qualities, you might have discovered that you have taken on the job of criticizing and censoring yourself.
If your parents thought certain subjects were shameful, you might avoid them. If friends or spouses appreciated your creative work only when it had financial value, you might shy away from starting a project that might not pay commercial dividends. If someone criticized your skills, genre, or ideas, you might unconsciously choose projects that help you avoid similar criticisms.
For today, think about how you censor yourself. What do you do when confronted with ideas or concepts other people have criticized or diminished?
In writing, as in life, we tend to protect ourselves by sticking to safe waters – the creative skills we’ve already mastered, the tricks we know, the topics that won’t offend.
But is safety what you’re truly after?
Writing safe might earn you good critiques and prevent you from being criticized for being controversial or confrontational. But on the other hand, you won’t learn nearly as much and you won’t grow into the best version of yourself.
Mastering new skills is difficult and time-consuming. Writing boldly about social issues or your personal life can expose you to public scrutiny. However, you’ll also have the opportunity to experience incredible creative joy that is unknown to the person who never tries.
Today, think about some aspect of writing or creativity that feels too bold for you now. Maybe you’ve never written confessional poetry or explored a social issue that’s important to you. Maybe you’ve written short stories but have avoided writing a novel or poems. Do you stick to the same genre? Do your stories always end happily?
There are positive aspects to leaning into your strengths as a writer. You shouldn’t drop them simply because. However, do consider whether you should take a vacation from playing it safe. What’s the boldest creative endeavor you might undertake?
During your writing practice, you are going to make mistakes.
From small typos to major plot disasters, to spending years on a novel that ends up locked in a file drawer never to be seen.
Good for you!
There is only one path to becoming the writer you are meant to be and it will be riddled with your mistakes. Your crappy first drafts, the cliché dialogue, the underdeveloped characters, the premise that’s a bit too close to that bestseller everyone has already read.
Mistakes aren’t evidence of failure, but of your repeated attempts at success. Mistakes show that you are brave enough to try and optimistic enough to try again.
For today, embrace your mistakes. Take some time to think about your writing disasters, what you learned from them, and how you picked up and started again.
The great danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. —Michelangelo
That’s a juicy quote and one I see played out over and over among my writer friends. While they achieve their near-term writing goals, the bar is so low that it would be almost impossible to miss.
You probably know a few yourself – the writers who tell similar stories in the same genre, on repeat. The writers who finish a novel on Friday and self-publish on Sunday. The blog posts peppered with typos. The back cover blurb that raises an interesting question, and the novel that fails to explores it.
There’s no shame in writing whatever you want, even stories you create by rote. But if you’re here, reading this, you may want more. I do.
Today, ask yourself what creative goals would inspire you every minute of every day. What would you create if you spent your life writing at your highest level? Think of your biggest creative dream and how it would feel to commit to fulfilling it. Then think of a dream bigger than that.
How does that feel to you?
Inside us, we have two competing factions. Not wolves, but inclinations.
Most of us have both the desire to fit in and the desire to break the mold, the instinct to follow the rules and the drive to think for ourselves.
You’ve probably faced this in your writing, in various ways. When we start writing, we want to know “the rules” – the methods and techniques that make a successful story. What to do and what not to do. We also want to learn the magic formula – the tricks and tips that transform an unknown writer into a bestselling author.
But at the same time, we want to be recognized for our unique talents. We chafe when someone suggests we write to formula. We don’t want to be merely successful, but respected. We want to be known for our creativity, the originality of our writing, and our keen insights.
We have to understand the rules of grammar, spelling, and syntax, or we risk looking foolish. But also, we admire the writers who take risks, who play with language, who fashion new words from old, who break molds.
Today, take a few moments to appreciate both sides of your mind. Appreciate the fact that there are rules of good writing and repeatable steps to success, as well as your soul’s desire to color outside the lines.
Culturally, we are prodded to monetize our lives. Every hobby can be monetized. Our leisure time should be dedicated to the side hustle.
Writers are not immune to this mindset. We could fill a library with books on marketing, finding your audience, leveraging social media, and creating multiple income streams. These aren’t bad things – we all need to eat. But it’s also ok to write for the joy of it. Creative work can and should be its own reward. For many of us, the work will be our only reward.
Regardless of your goals for your writing, take today off from financial motives. Appreciate your creativity. Follow your curiosity and rambling thoughts and see where they take you. Ignore your word count and self-imposed deadlines and have fun creating. Write as though no one will see your work.
During the times you’re not writing, observe how your mind creates even while you’re not actively creating. Appreciate the flow of thoughts, ideas, and observations that come to you.
Enjoy the journey.
There is another element that holds us back creatively – the ghosts of our creative past.
In many cases, these ghosts arise around creative shame – the times we were teased for loving to write or draw, the criticisms and rejections we’ve received, and the very bad advice about whether our work is worthwhile.
What you might not consider is that compliments are their own kind of trap, as well. Do you have fans of certain kinds of stories? Has some of your work sold better than the rest. Have your writing group peers told you they love certain elements of your stories, style, or voice?
All these things – good and bad – can hold us back from trying something new. We might be afraid of rejection, criticism, or failure. We might believe we should stick with the familiar, rather than try that new style or genre we’d like to work in. We might lean into the qualities that others like best, such as lush description, fight scenes, or comedy. After all, we don’t want to drive away they very people that are encouraging us today.
The good news is that we don’t have to live with our ghosts.
For today, take some time to think about what people have said about your writing and ability, either positive or negative.
Do you agree? Are you satisfied with those observations and judgments?
How have those opinions defined you? Have they held you back from trying something new?
For today, identify one of your creativity-killing habits. It might be procrastination, failing to complete a story, or adding so many tasks to your schedule that you leave little time for writing. If you’re feeling bold, think about what others may have commented upon or ask your peers what they think is holding you back.
Take some time to think about where that habit came from and what purpose it serves in your life. You may have to sit with that one for awhile, as sometimes our bad habits seem to serve no purpose at all. But they do.
I’ll go first.
I add writing workshops to my calendar, but don’t publicly commit to attending and then I don’t show up. I have lots of excuses – it’s too cold out, it’s too hot, I’m too tired after work, I haven’t written anything this week – but no good ones.
What purpose does this habit serve? It keeps me from confronting my social anxiety about meeting new people. It keeps me from feeling imposter syndrome, because I don’t have to talk about what project I’m working on. It keeps me from feeling judged because I don’t share my writing with my peers.
It feels good not to feel judged, not to feel like an imposter, and to avoid situations where my social anxiety kicks in. But does that support my writing goals? When I avoid those feelings, am I becoming the writer I want to be?
In previous exercises, we’ve talked about adjusting our present course and altering our futures by making conscious choices today.
If your writing isn’t going the direction you’d like or as easefully as you’d like – which is why we’re here, right? – take some time today to redefine yourself and your story.
What has held you back from becoming the writer you imagine you can be?
- The lack of your family’s support?
- Your friends’ indifference?
- A hectic job and home life that leave you little time to write?
- Publishers and agents without the good sense to work with you?
- Social media?
- That television show that’s too good to miss?
You might see where we’re going with this.
For today, embrace what holds you back, take responsibility for it, and make peace with it.
What might that look like?
- Ask if you really need your family’s encouragement to write.
- Do you need accolades from your friends?
- Who is responsible for setting boundaries on your time and commitments?
- Is a publisher responsible for making your work fit their publication?
- Whose hand is on the remote control?
This exercise isn’t intended as a punishment or an opportunity to judge yourself. It is a chance to accept that you are in control of your choices. When you realize and accept that you have that power, you can exercise it in any way you choose.
You can give yourself the encouragement and support you need for your writing. You can set boundaries that will allow you more time to create. You can turn off the tv and close your internet browser.
Of course, your mileage may vary, depending on your circumstances. Sometimes, life takes so much time to manage that we don’t have much left for ourselves or our writing. But keep this concept in the back of your mind and make conscious choices every day about how you spend your time.
If you can, start with a small creative goal – fifteen minutes a day or an hour a week. Give yourself the gift of consciously choosing your creative time and see how it feels.
Yesterday, we took some time to express gratitude for someone who has brought joy to our life. For today’s exercise in Conscious Writing, continue this practice of feeling and showing appreciation.
You don’t have to wait for something to happen to show appreciation or wait for someone to do something for you.
Today, set aside a few moments to find something to appreciate. Start by appreciating what you have, even if your circumstances are not ideal.
Take some deep breaths and appreciate yourself, for no good reason. Practice saying “I appreciate you” to yourself. I suspect you work hard taking care of your household, your health, your creative practice, and possibly family, friends, and pets. Give yourself some love.
Finally, think of one thing you appreciate about someone else and let them know about it.
To add a creative context, spend some time appreciating your creativity, even if you don’t have all the skills you wish you had. Appreciate your curiosity, your good habits, and your current skills.
Appreciate your ability to set aside time for your writing, to learn, and to do the work.
Finally, show gratitude for someone who supports or inspires your writing.