I was listening to one of Michael Neill’s podcasts a few weeks ago – The Hercule Poriot Guide To Transformative Coaching – and he said something which I’ve been pondering ever since.
He said that one day he was watching a colleague, George Pransky, coach a man who had writer’s block.
The writer said, “I just can’t seem to write”
George replied, “Do you have a problem with your hands?”
Writer: “No, I don’t have a problem with my hands, but when I sit down at my computer, nothing comes out.”
George (baffled): “Do you not have any thoughts?”
Writer (in frustration): ” Well, yes, I have thoughts, but they don’t make sense. There’s nothing there worth writing. I haven’t written more than one chapter in seven years!”
George: “What makes you think that’s anything more than you being terrible at predicting how long something should take?”
What?! I stopped the podcast and replayed the last sentence: “What makes you think that’s anything more than you being terrible at predicting how long something should take?”
We tell ourselves we SHOULD be able to write.
We SHOULD finish our novel / blog / painting in X amount of time.
But these ‘shoulds’ are just thoughts. They’re rules we’ve made up.
There’s no set amount of time it should take to write or create anything.
By ‘shoulding’ like this, Michael Neill says “we turn reality into a problem”.
This is exactly what I’ve been doing since being shortlisted for The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition last year.
When forcing yourself doesn’t work
Last June, the winner of the competition was announced. It wasn’t me. No problem. I was delighted to have got that far. Now all I had to do was edit my novel and resubmit it to Chicken House, as they suggested.
Then again, maybe not.
When I decided to enter the competition back in September 2016, there were three months to go before the competition closing date. Three months to finish the novel I had been struggling to write for years!
Ironically, the very idea of FINISHING my novel in such a short space of time was so utterly ludicrous, it set me free.
I embarked on my mission with complete and utter focus. To stand any chance of meeting the deadline, I knew I was going to have to write like the wind. Which basically meant I’d have to stop caring about how good or bad my writing was.
So I wrote, like this:
This turned out to be the best thing ever.
Freed from my critical, self-doubting voice, my writing flowed.
It wasn’t perfect. It needed a lot of work. But my novel had the essence of something; some little kernel of magic, which I knew could develop.
After the award ceremony, however, things changed. There was a BIG FAT PROBLEM standing in my way:
I no longer had a deadline. And my first draft, which I had written with such abandon, now looked like some monstrous pile of knots which had to be unpicked and untangled by hand. (You know when your shoe laces get knotted up for no reason and you try to prize the knot loose but it’s so nail-bustingly tight, you end up wanting to hurl your shoes in the nearest bin? I felt a bit like that.)
Worse, some part of my brain vividly recalled how I had worked round-the-clock for months in order to finish my novel (to the point where I made myself ill) and it didn’t fancy a re-run. No sirree.
It didn’t matter how often I reasoned that it would be different this time round. My brain was having none of it.
So what did I do? I tried to force things. I dragged my bum to the chair and stared glumly at the computer screen. I gritted my teeth and stabbed at the keyboard, but deep down I knew it wasn’t going to work. Something was off. I wasn’t writing from my true, authentic self.
An impostor had hijacked my brain.
After several weeks of this torture, I did something I never normally do; I gave myself a break.
The break went on for a little longer than I intended. It lasted a year. But in that year some unexpected things happened and, as a result, I am now a very different person to the person ‘shoulding’ herself to death a year ago.
Trusting my intuition
What I’ve come to realise is this:
There’s a time and a place for sitting at your computer and writing UNTIL the inspiration flows. If you have a deadline to meet, it’s what you have to do.
But on the other hand, sometimes you need to listen to your intuition; the little voice whispering in your ear (“You’re off track! Back up! It’s not going to work like this!”).
Sometimes you need to become a certain person in order to do the thing you want to do.
And that takes life and time and experience.
If you want to do a certain thing, you first have to be a certain person.
During my 12-month break, I experienced a major shift in who I am and, in turn, how I write. I’ll share some of these shifts in my next few posts, including;
1) Discovering TRE (tension and trauma release exercises)
2) Making friends with nothing
3) Noticing evil mantras
4) A magical cube
5) Nothing to win or lose
The upshot of all this – the reason I am writing this post – is to let you know that I’m back to working on my novel again! But this time I’m doing it without the ‘should’s in my head.
Which means… I am enjoying myself.
Which means… I am writing regularly.
Which means… my novel is s-l-o-w-l-y inching its way to completion.
And that, my friends, is all that matters. Not how long it takes me to get there.