Do you constantly compare yourself to other writers?
Do you set goals for yourself as a writer and then somehow fall short of them every time?
Do you start new writing practices full of enthusiasm, but then sooner or later you dread sticking with it?
If you’re like so many other writers out there, the answer to these questions is sadly, “yes.” And every time something like this happens to you, you end up in a pit of despair, right? You question yourself, your writing talent, and your ability to make your dreams happen.
When I work with a writer who is struggling to finish a novel—or struggling just to get through it—the first question I ask is about their characters. Specifically, how do they feel about their characters? The answers are always surprising.
In my last article, One of the Biggest (and Most Dangerous) Myths in the Writing Community, I talked about the dangerous idea that is so prevalent in the writing community that “creativity has to be hard.” This idea is so dangerous because it stresses writers out to the point where they are totally consumed with anxiety and they then bring a ton of resistance to their writing projects, or can’t write at all.
Today, I’m talking about WHY we are so susceptible to this toxic belief and why it can be so hard to uproot it from our creative practice, like a tenacious weed that just won’t let go.
The reason is because, as a society, we are almost wholly dependent on our brains. We use our brains to navigate our world, interpret all information, and make every decision, very rarely ever checking in with our hearts. We have been programmed and trained to operate in this way from an early age, and if we do, by chance, happen to be a person who has broken out of this way of doing things and has tried to find greater balance by reconnecting with our heart, we are usually shamed in some way, and told we are “too idealistic,” “too sensitive,” and made to feel that we’re even possibly just slightly stupid.
One of the biggest things I see all writers struggle with is the idea that creativity has to be hard.
Sometimes I see this in the way a writer works. They might set themselves up on a schedule—trying to meet a high word count every day, for example—at which they are bound to fail. Or they beat themselves up mercilessly for the messiness and flaws that they see in their first draft. Sometimes it’s more hidden, and while the writer might be trying to stay cheerful on the outside while they meet all their rigorous writing goals, on the inside they feel horrible because their inner critic is lashing out at them for not being productive enough, or original enough, or just plain good enough.
When writers who are struggling turn to the online world of writing for help with these types of problems, they usually only find a lot of blogs and articles that reinforce the very feelings that are making them feel so bad about themselves. There is just so much stuff out there telling us that creativity is not supposed to be fun, that creativity is work and you have to treat it like a job, or that we should always have an eye on how productive we are. We should track our word counts, days devoted to writing, number of rejection letters, and that we should take pride in feeling beaten down and discouraged because, on top of everything else, growing a thick skin is also something that a real writer has to learn to do, even if it’s unbearably painful.
This is all complete nonsense.
Mixing writing with editing is an easy mistake for newbie writers to make, because many mainstream writing methods actually do encourage writers to edit as they write. So, a lot of writers who haven’t yet found their own unique rhythm as an artist follow this advice. And it does work for some. I personally know writers who can’t write any other way. However, if you are an intuitive writer—if you are an INFJ or INFP personality type, highly sensitive, or an empath—the chances are high that editing as you write is going to spell disaster for you.
What does editing as you write look like? Well, it might be that you write the first chapter or two of the novel that’s been swimming around in your head for a year, and then you immediately give those first couple of chapters to your friends for feedback. Or, it might be that you’re halfway through writing your book and then you join a critique group and you give them samples and sections to critique. It could be that you write only the very first sentence of your work, and then you immediately go back and begin crossing out words and rewriting it.
Whatever it looks like for you, the idea is basically the same. You write something and then you evaluate and judge it, and usually doubt it and then change it. If you’re an intuitive writer, you almost always feel worse after the process and much less like writing anything new at all. If anything, you probably feel like you want to crawl into a deep, dark hole.