Writer’s block comes in many forms, but perhaps one of the hardest to deal with is that feeling that you can’t seem to say what you really want to say. You feel like there is a writer inside of you—the true writer that comes from the true you—but every time you sit down to write you end up writing something that feels like it’s just trying to get approval from others, instead of actually express the truth of what’s going on inside you.
I call this a hostage situation. Because the writer inside of you is not only held prisoner, but is also used as leverage to get something that the one who’s holding you prisoner wants. In this scenario the one who’s holding you prisoner might be known to you as the inner critic, the ego, or the ghosts of your parents or other family members, who you learned to please early on or suffer the consequences.
What makes this really difficult to deal with is that the writer is usually not fully conscious that this is going on. They sit down to write with the best of intentions, they genuinely do want to express themselves as honestly as they can, but then they either freeze or they go into task-completion mode and write something that will offend no one and win them the approval they subconsciously feel that they need in order to earn their worth.
During the actual writing session the writer usually feels:
Upset with themselves
Like they can’t get anything “good” out
This is because, since their inner writer is being held hostage, they feel like they’re being watched, and if they write anything that is “too true” about themselves or their lives, then punishment will swiftly follow.
This can happen with writers who are writing fiction, but it most frequently happens with those who are writing memoir, or any other type of writing that incorporates stories or scenes from their real lives. There’s this feeling that their family or the people they grew up with are just sitting in the background, waiting, and once they release their true feelings on to the page they will be shamed, mocked, or outcasted in some way.
Even if the writer is not writing anything controversial, or exposing any long-held family secrets, they might still feel this oppressive weight of the inner writer being held hostage if what they’re writing is imaginative, whimsical, or fun. For these writers, they were raised by parents who were on them all the time about being productive. Usually the parents themselves never took any time out to relax or have fun and the act of self-care was seen as an act self-indulgent laziness.
Many writers I’ve worked with who had parents like this tell me that they had to sneak off somewhere to read books, as reading was seen as them just “lazing around,” and that they always had to look busy in front of their family. The programming of “you must be constantly productive” is ingrained deep in these writers and so when they sit down to write, they feel that the writing has to have a definite purpose, plan, and quantifiable benefit to be worth anything at all.
No matter which specific set of circumstances is going on for you with your inner writer being held hostage, the core of the problem is the same. What’s causing us so much grief is not how productive or non-productive our writing is, but how the mental programming instilled in us by our families is ruining our creative lives, and our capacity to experience any real joy in life.
With most family programming, we don’t even really know it’s there, so we don’t question it. But even if we can’t see it, that programming goes on ticking along in the background, influencing our thoughts, feelings, choices, and outcomes. If we come from a family where everyone went to college and goes into professional careers, we will unconsciously follow that same path—IF we don’t question it. If we come from a family where everyone has “bad luck” and no one ever gets ahead, we will follow that path—IF we don’t question it. The key that will free us from these predetermined false family narratives is questioning, and luckily for us, questioning is something writers happen to be particularly good at.
Once you begin to examine and question the narrative handed down to you by your family, the ropes that are binding the inner writer being held hostage inside of you begin to loosen. You can start with small questions like: Is it true that I need to be productive ALL the time? Is it true that writing fiction is a waste of time? How do I know that’s true? Who told me that? Where is the evidence for it?
Then you can graduate on to large, deeper questions like: Why did my father choose the path he did in life? Was that truly his choice or was he following family programming? What about my mother? What kind of programming did she blindly follow? How did that play out for each of them?
A great place to ask these questions and get answers is your journal. The more you sit with yourself, slow down, and actively question why your reality is the way it is, who influenced it, and how much power you have within it to chart a different course or change things, the more power you reclaim. And the more power you reclaim, the more chance you have of freeing your inner writer from the chains keeping them locked up, forever.
Make a commitment today to ask yourself two hard questions this week about your family history and programming, and then take some time to ponder the answers and see how they link up with your personal patterns as a writer. You may be surprised, and uncomfortable at times, but I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, The INFJ Revolution, and the creator of YOU Are a Writer, a online video course for writers who struggle with self-expression, severe procrastination and perfectionism. She is also currently offering a free copy of her book on creative marketing for INFJ and INFP writers to anyone who signs up for her newsletter. SIGN UP HERE to get your free copy of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers.