For most writers, writing is a strong inner calling. It feels like a passion that they can’t ignore, a destiny they must fulfill. And for writers who feel blocked, or are cut off from the act of writing for some other reason, the lack of writing in their life results in a state of low-grade misery. A writer who isn’t writing feels unfulfilled, listless, and can easily fall into creative despair.
Writer’s block is extremely common among writers. Most people assume that the most typical form of writer’s block stems from a lack of ideas, or a lack of motivation that comes from inside the writer. Writers themselves tend to assume this too. When we have problems writing, we most often blame some sort of “inadequacy” we see inside ourselves. However, the most typical cause of writer’s block that I’ve seen after so many years of working with writers actually comes from the outside.
In our constantly-connected online culture today, we are surrounded by the opinions and input of other people. We are also surrounded by the relentless efforts of others to grab our attention. This is true of all the different communities you can find online, and it is also true of the writing community. Browsing around online for just a few minutes will lead you to hundreds of articles, infographics, books, and social media posts that all carry a definite air of authority of how you “should” be writing. Writers are told they must do these certain things with characters, and these certain things with plot, and these other certain things to promote themselves.
This kind of advice is more than plentiful, but very little of it is actually valuable. If you are a writer who is seeking to communicate your own inner awareness of the human experience through writing, then hardly any of the “how-to” methods on writing you’ll find online will come anywhere near to pointing you in the right direction. That’s because most of these sources are concerned with their own personal agenda of getting more clicks, getting more sales, and cranking out more formulaic books that more people will buy. There’s nothing wrong with having that kind of agenda, but writers who are serious about developing their own unique creative potential need to be aware of that agenda of others, as it can easily get in the way of you finding your own truth.
Maybe your form of creativity shows up in writing long, epic novels that work with complicated philosophical themes. Or maybe your creative talents manifest in writing magical children’s books with a whole cast of talking animals. According to mainstream writing sources, neither one of those forms of writing is acceptable nowadays. Writers of the epic novel are often told that they need to simplify things for an audience with a fragmented attention span, and that prologues aren’t allowed anymore, they’re simply not done. The children’s author will be told that “talking animals aren’t in now” and no one does that either. Then both writers will be admonished to change the form of their writing so that it fits into the popular mold of what the experts say is trending this season.
There is really only one way that you can fulfill your potential as a writer, and that is by following your own inner light. No one else can truly tell you what you need to do or how you should write. You must be determined to discover and follow your own inner light on your own, and that’s not always an easy thing to do. Your inner light is the light of your heart, and it glows more brightly the more you embrace your own unique creative gifts. So, if writing long, epic novels is what comes pouring out of you when you sit down at the page, then you must honor that and work with it to the best of your ability. Similarly, if talking animals show up in your imagination, then it is your duty as a creative artist to talk to those animals and find out what they have to say.
When we practice following our inner light it serves as a catalyst for our own inner transformation. We stop listening so much to other people, most of whom don’t actually know what they’re talking about anyway and are only re-hashing the same old ideas you can find everywhere online. We turn inward and we direct our attention to listening to our own heart, and to tuning into our connection with our intuition, our life purpose, and our connection with God, Source, the Universe, whatever it is for each one of us that is bigger than ourselves.
There is a reason why one writer feels called to write long, epic novels with philosophical themes and another writer feels called to write children’s stories with talking animals. The first writer is meant to use the gifts of a strong analytical intellect paired with their talent for story and metaphor to illuminate eternal universal truths for mankind. The second writer is meant to tap into the Magical Child within and help others reconnect to the heart connection through their natural affinity with nature and animal guides and their gifts as a storyteller. When we listen to the advice of “experts” instead of following our own inner light, we tend to shut down our natural gifts. The philosophical writer becomes critical about how wordy they are and the writer who channels talking animals worries that they’re not doing the right thing. Both writers become filled with doubt, and fear, and then try to change themselves to fit into someone else’s box.
That’s what I mostly see with so much of the advice online these days, not only about writing but about everything. There is a strong current of fear running through almost all of it. There is an unspoken implication encoded in so many different sources of information that makes you feel like there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and if you’re not doing it the way the author thinks you should be doing it, then you are definitely doing it the wrong way. The human mind has such a propensity for self-judgment that we really don’t need any more fuel to fan the flames of self-deprecation that are already burning so many of us up inside.
My best piece of advice to any writer runs directly opposite to what most writing teachers would say, and that’s to follow your own inner light. Trust your gut, and trust your gifts. If your writing tends to naturally turn out dark and tangled and intense, there’s something there to be explored. If your writing comes out in an old-fashioned way, with intricate sentences worthy of Jane Austen, then follow that energy. If you feel called to write an entire novel about mermaids who left the sea long ago and now live in trees, then write that. Write what YOU feel called to write, regardless of what anyone else says about it, or if you think there’s a market for it, or if other people might not understand it.
As a creative artist, you have a duty to yourself, first and foremost. And that duty is to fulfill your own needs for creative self-expression. You can’t do that if you’re trying to write in a way that checks all the boxes for some faceless imaginary crowd of people online. You have to write for you first before you can even think about sharing your work with an audience. You can go to all the writing conferences and retreats you want, you can read all the writing books out there, but nothing can replace the determination to follow your own inner light as a writer. That’s something you’ll have to practice on your own and learn how to do yourself, with all the interesting, and sometimes difficult, lessons that come with it.
If you feel overwhelmed by all the things you think you “should” be doing as a writer, or all the things you think you “should” be doing in life overall, let go of everyone else’s opinion for the moment. Focus your attention on yourself, and your own heart, and listen to those messages first. Then you can start writing again.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, The INFJ Revolution, and the creator of Understanding Yourself as an INFJ Writer, an online video course for INFJ writers who struggle with traditional writing methods. You can get a free copy of her book on creative marketing for writers by signing up for her newsletter HERE.