Conscious Writing: The Reinterpretation
Building off yesterday’s post, today I want to consider how to reframe the toil and difficulty of writing into something more joyful and fulfilling.
This turn-around is as easy and as difficult as changing your mindset. When you change how you think about a task, a challenge, or a setback, you rewrite your own story. You shift from a person to whom things happen to a person who actively engages with and owns their creative choices and work.
Think of some of the challenges you face in your writing life. Maybe you’re stuck in the middle of a story and don’t know how to write your way out. Perhaps editors and writing peers point out the same weaknesses in your work and you don’t know how to fix them. Often, people are harsh or discouraging. Sometimes simply sitting down to write – whether or not you have a blank page in front of you – is a chore.
Practice reframing your view of whatever you find difficult. Change your interpretation and you might discover that your attitude shifts as well and your problem becomes not only surmountable but minimal.
Instead of saying:
- It’s 8 o’clock and now I have to write.
- I can’t figure out what to do with this story.
- My dialogue stinks.
- My writing group criticizes my work.
- No one will publish my work.
- It’s 8 o’clock and now I get to write.
- I can experiment with what to do with this story.
- If I work on my dialogue, I can improve this story 50%.
- My writing group wants to help me become a better writer.
- I haven’t found the right editor or audience yet.
You’re a writer. You control the words on the page and you can also control the words you think. Rewrite the parts you don’t like and you’ll feel your energies shift.
Conscious Writing: Are You Having Fun Yet?
Another day, another choice. Consider these two statements and see how each feels to you:
- I commit to having a good time when I’m engaged in my creative work and community
- I commit to joyless suffering and to discovering how much discomfort I can endure
I’ve written about finding the joy in writing before. While there is some truth to the negative adages about creative writing, too many creative people take them as gospel.
“You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway
“I hate writing, but I love having written.” – Dorothy Parker
“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.” – Virginia Woolf
“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.” – Isaac Asimov
Yes, three of these quotes are humorous and all are hyperbolic, but they also point to a philosophic vein that says anyone who pursues creative arts must be angry, depressed, or crazy, especially if they want to be any good at it. And modern students of writing often quote them without humor, as though their predecessors were providing advice on living, rather than commiserating about the occasional difficulty we experience in our creative pursuits.
And that’s not even taking into account that we live in a capitalist system that believes nothing is worthwhile unless it generates income for shareholders. Is there any hobby or expression that we can’t make joyless toil by converting it into a money making scheme?
Writing shouldn’t feel like we’ve gone ten rounds in a boxing ring. You’re not Rocky. You don’t have to take punches and come back for more.
Choose to have a good time when you’re writing.
Conscious Writing: Blooming
Here’s another choice between commitment and counter-commitment:
- I commit to hiding
- I commit to revealing, rather than concealing
Are you fully committed to being a creative human and to fully expressing your creative self?
We have lots of reasons to hide. Maybe you’ve been shamed or humiliated when you’ve tried to share your creative work. Maybe you’ve been harshly criticized or told you’re not good or worthy enough. Someone may have told you that you aren’t allowed to write a certain kind of story on a certain topic about certain kinds of people or experiences. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, maybe you’re afraid of upsetting someone or ruining a friendship.
Maybe this doesn’t apply to you. Good! Go you! We all deserve to express our creativity in any way we choose and should never feel shamed or embarrassed about talking about what we love. Whether this belief came easily to you or you had to struggle with it, good for you! You earned it.
However, this sometimes applies to me. If this applies to you too, take some time today to consider why you’re hiding your thoughts, desires, or talents.
Repeat after me: I commit to revealing my creative self, rather than concealing.
Conscious Writing: Healthy Responsibility
When we take responsibility for our creative choices and work, we find that we have power to control our outcomes and make any changes necessary to bring us closer to creative happiness and fulfillment.
Today, practice taking responsibility for your bad habits or what’s not working well. Have fun with it, and you might discover that your bad habits are kinda silly.
Here are some examples:
- I’m really into procrastination these days.
- I made sure I didn’t finish that story I was working on before I started a new one.
- I arranged to be too busy to go to my writing meet-up.
- I enjoy talking negatively about my goals and skills.
Conscious Writing: Empowering Your Community
As we did in yesterday’s exercise, let’s consider two counter-commitments again today:
- I commit to empowering people around me.
- I commit to holding back those around me, so that we won’t grow apart.
These questions may be harder to contemplate, but they’re important.
As a creative person, do you hold back because you don’t want to outshine someone else? Are you afraid that success will disrupt your writing group or the community you’ve built around the idea of wanting to be successful, rather than being successful? Do you dim your light because friends or family members have tried to diminish it before or because they have let their own die out?
These are natural – and probably very common – fears, but they aren’t healthy. The world is full of frustrated artists and creatives who’ve never tried.
If you have these fears, take some time today to consider what you’re afraid of. Do you fear losing friendships or leaving someone behind? Are you afraid of being left behind yourself?
How can you let go of these fears and commit to empowering yourself and your creative community?
Conscious Writing: Where is Your Commitment Focused?
Generally, we think of commitment as something affirming. We choose to do something positive and make a commitment to stick to it. Even when we choose not to do something, the outcome is positive, such as choosing not to smoke cigarettes, drink too much alcohol, or overeat.
However, sometimes we commit to bad habits. We commit to not engaging in activities that will help us become happier and more fulfilled. We commit to not quitting smoking. We commit to holding back.
Which of these sounds better?
- I commit to my complete creative development.
- I commit to holding back my talent and energy and to not expressing my creativity fully.
Take a few minutes to say each of these out loud. Which one feels better in your soul? For today, you don’t have to decide which commitment to make. Simply sit with the emotions they rouse and see how that feels. It should be obvious which one will bring you more happiness.
Conscious Writing: Is This as Good as It Gets?
In today’s exercise, Gay Hendricks quotes from the film As Good as It Gets, in which Jack Nicholson plays a curmudgeonly recluse whose mental illness makes it difficult for him to relate to other people. However, when he makes emotional connections with his neighbor, his neighbor’s dog, and a waitress at his favorite diner, he realizes that his attitude prevents him from fully engaging in life. He asks himself, “What if this is as good as it gets?”
Are you holding back from your creative work and our community? What if what you have is “as good as it gets”? Is this enough for you? Are you creatively fulfilled by the life you have now?
If not, take some time today to examine the barriers you’ve erected. What do they look like? Why do you have them? What are they protecting?
Conscious Writing: Reaffirm Your Commitment
Throughout this year, many exercises will focus on commitment and recommitment, both to our creative practice and to having a fulfilling relationship with our work.
It may feel repetitive, but affirming commitments is important, especially as we look for deeper connection and meaning in our creativity.
This series isn’t about being published or financially successful as a writer. I’m focused on tapping into deeper needs and wishes, and finding the joy in creative expression, learning, and communication.
For today, renew your commitment to living with a sense of wonder and exploration, to embracing your feelings and failings, and to jumping into the unknown.
Conscious Writing: Are You the Tall Poppy?
For creatives, success can seem random. We watch as less talented writers or artists achieve success when people we admire work in relative obscurity. Sometimes, a writer hits a home run novel, releasing a best seller or selling movie rights to a book very early in their career, providing them with financial security most writers can only daydream about.
But success is also in our hands and sometimes we limit ourselves. Some of us have the fear of outdoing someone else and leaving them behind. Therapists call this “tall poppy syndrome” because you don’t want to stand out from the crowd.
Maybe you fear outdoing a mentor. Maybe you worry that finding a publisher would create jealousy in your writing group and force you to leave it. Maybe your friends or family members struggle financially or toil in jobs they hate, and you don’t want to remind them that you love the freedom of self-employment.
You might even have friends and family who don’t enjoy creative work or don’t have the confidence to pursue it, despite having talent. Even celebrating smaller wins, like finishing a draft of your novel or reading your work at an open mike event, might be hard. You don’t want to brag. You don’t want to stand out.
As you might guess, this is a bad reason to not achieve the success you desire. Big wins like blockbuster sales or movie adaptations are generally out of our control, but much of our creative success is in our hands. It would be a shame for you to miss out because you’re worried that others would be diminished by or resentful of your success.
If you think this applies, take some time today to consider who you are trying to protect by shrinking yourself down. As you protect this other person, how are you damaging or limiting yourself? What can you do to reframe this situation and free yourself from these limitations?
This also works as a character exercise. Is your protagonist holding on to the status quo because they feel like they might outshine someone? Are they afraid they will lose friends or family if they commit to the personal growth they need?
Conscious Writing: Own Your Success
I’ve written earlier about taking responsibility for our creative work, as well as for the obstacles that can make it harder to reach our goals and feel fulfilled.
However, it’s equally important to own our successes.
Today, take some time to celebrate your successes and create intention around repeating them.
- Pick one or two of your creative successes. Maybe you finished a short story, joined a writing group or class, started a blog, or were accepted for publication.
- Identify the actions you took to make this happen. For example, you kept to your writing schedule and goals, you researched writing groups and showed up, or you joined WordPress or Substack, and started posting. Good for you!
- Now identify something new you want to accomplish. Maybe you want to repeat your current success or perhaps you have a stretch goal in mind.
- Looking ahead, what will you do to make this happen? You’ve already seen how your choices and actions brought you to the finish line on one goal. You can choose to reach this one, too.