Every year, hundreds of new books on productivity are published on Amazon. Out of all these books, a significant slice is dedicated to productivity for writers. Many of the titles promise to teach us how to write faster, how to schedule our time more efficiently, or how to publish our books more rapidly. But no matter what they promise, they all contain a common theme: The way you are working now is not good enough. You are too slow, and if you are too slow as a writer, you will get left behind.
I shudder when I see these kinds of books, and my heart breaks a little more each time I work with a new client who tells me that they’ve been devouring this kind of material in the hopes that it will help them become a better writer. Because these types of books are intertwined with the dominant mindset of our culture that says that a person’s worth is defined by their productivity, and that there should be no low-energy periods of any creative cycle. It’s best to be always growing, growing, growing, and getting bigger and bigger, like a corporation.
But writers are not corporations. And the belief systems that run corporations are poisonous to the natural cycle of life.
In 2015, I was still an unpublished writer. I had been querying for years with no success. I had sent out queries on three different novels and had queried so many agents I lost count of them all. I had rewritten my first chapters, my opening scenes, my first sentences, over and over and over again. Nothing worked and I was getting nowhere.
By that point I had been querying for years, six years to be exact, and so I had created a system to give myself emotional down time and also keep from losing my damn mind. I sent out a batch of queries every six to eight weeks, received back the rejections (or gave up hope of any answer), and then gave myself “recovery time,” while I recuperated from feeling depressed, discouraged, and despairing.
I went through many cycles on the emotional rollercoaster that we call the querying process. There was the stage where I was sure that if I could just learn more about “my craft” I would get a bite. I also went through the stage where I was convinced I just wasn’t looking in the right places. Then there was the stage where I tried to shove my novels into a genre—any genre—that looked like it might hold some promise. Finally, there was my least-favorite stage—the stage where I couldn’t help but feel I just sucked, and so did my writing.
If you know anything about the INFP personality type, you know that INFPs are one of the most creative types out there. I have many INFP clients and, in my experience, they really are super creative. INFPs have these magical brains that come up with all sorts of cool stuff. As creative writers, they tend to pair striking imagery and poetic phrasing with deeply perceptive insights about human nature.
However, even though the INFP personality type has this incredible talent for creativity, they are also one of the types that suffer the most from self-doubt, and who also struggle the most with shame around the creative process itself. Almost every INFP I’ve ever worked with has expressed to me, at one time or another, that they believe they’re “doing it wrong.” They almost always feel like they’re not organized enough, they jump around too much, or they can’t stick with one thing all the way through. And almost every INFP feels that all of these things are flaws they need to work on so that they can become better writers.
A few years ago, I gave one of the first drafts of one of my novels to a friend who said she was interested in reading it and giving me feedback. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about getting her feedback, but I figured this was something I had to do if I wanted to grow that “thick skin” that I’d heard every writer had to have. So, against my better judgment, I gave it to her.
“I didn’t like the ending,” she said when I met with her the next time. “It felt like the main character was too dependent on the people outside of her. She should have been more independent, more feisty. I like strong female characters.”
Well, I was immediately crushed. And then instantly spiraled out. This didn’t just feel like feedback to me, it felt like stinging, crushing, excruciating criticism. The ending of my story was all wrong. The main character was all wrong. She wasn’t strong enough, she wasn’t independent enough. She just wasn’t…enough. And neither was I.
Even if you’ve been dreaming of writing your memoir for years, it’s very common to sit down to actually start doing it and feel immediately paralyzed and not able to move forward. This is a very specific, very strong form of writer’s block that often hits writers right when they’ve decided to finally take the plunge and begin writing their memoir. It also tends to happen to writers who have already started their memoir, and then they get into the middle of the first draft and don’t know how to keep going.
Symptoms of this kind of resistance show up as feeling paralyzed or frozen. It also shows up as feeling completely confused about how you’re ever going to pull all the pieces together, finish the book, or make it into anything worthwhile.
When this feeling of paralysis comes over you, it’s a sure sign that your system is overwhelmed. And when we go into overwhelm, we shut down and our creative energy goes into hiding.