When you’re struggling to see the wood for the trees, can’t seem to put one word after the other and find yourself repeating:
‘I’ve always wanted to write. I just don’t know what I want to write about.’
it’s a sure sign that it’s time to give your creativity some serious self-care.
This statement is a common thread in conversations about creative writing, and it bears a bit of scrutiny. Surely a real writer has an abundance of ideas and potential stories to choose from, each one superb. It’s one of the things that makes them a writer. Right?
Well, no I disagree.
I think a lot of it comes down to the way we experience our own creativity at a young age and the baggage we collect along the way that reinforces negative messages about self-expression. The statement above expresses an itch that needs to be scratched, but it’s one of those annoying itches that you end up chasing from shoulder blade to arm and never quite getting to.
Most people I’ve met who struggle with this particular feeling can remember an incident in childhood where their fledgling creative efforts were not encouraged and worse still, were ridiculed. They learned young that self-expression leads to stress, unhappiness or pain. It’s not surprising then that later in life all attempts to get into creative flow are thwarted, not by some external voice making them wrong but by their own inner critic.
The good news is you have a choice. That inner critic is nothing more than an accumulation of those unhelpful voices that have been made louder and stronger simply by going unchecked.
This exercise is all about turning the volume down on these voices and creating the space and silence in which your own voice can flourish. When you do that, magical things start to happen with the imagination and before you know it, you have plenty to writing about.
Getting In Flow
This is a free writing exercise, which means writing straight from the inner place of the imagination, without censoring or spell checking or worrying about grammar or anything else for that matter. You’re not even going to read through what you’ve written.
- You’ll need a notebook and pen or pencil and somewhere quiet to sit where you won’t be disturbed for 30 minutes. You’ll need an alarm clock or the stopwatch on your smartphone.
- Without analysing or thinking about it, you’re going to write for 10 minutes, starting with the sentence My adventure began. Get ready, and go.
- Stop writing when the alarm goes off, reset it for another 10 minutes and then continue your piece with the words My adventure continued.
- Finally, reset for the final 10 minutes and finish your writing with My adventure ended.
- TOP TIP: If you can’t think of anything to write, don’t worry. Just start with My adventure began, and then write for 10-minutes about your inability to come up with anything to write. As if by magic, writing will appear.
- Put your notebook away. Don’t read what you’ve written.
- (And here’s the big one) repeat this exercise regularly, ideally daily. It’s taken a lifetime to form the habit of not being creative or not being good enough or being an imposter so your task now is to redress the balance and put a new habit in place.
The purpose of this exercise isn’t to create sparkling prose. Rather, it is to perform the function of a plunger, unblocking your creative pipes to allow the words (or pictures, or music) to flow unhindered. In fact, I know of lots of visual artists who use writing exercises like this as an unblocking tool. Words hold a unique power over us. It’s the inner voices that most often hold sway, not the inner pictures or music. We’re born into language and reclaiming the joy of self-expression through words is our birthright.
Q: Why can’t I read back what I’ve written?
A: Well, of course you can, it’s up to you. However, at least in the early days of this exercise, by not reading your work immediately after you’ve written it you are denying the inner critic a chance to tell you off or make you wrong. What you’re trying to do is take the emotional charge out of the act of creating. That doesn’t mean you can’t be in touch with your emotions when you write, it just means that you’re actively choosing not to listen to the negative emotions around your attempts at self-expression.
Once you’ve got into the habit of doing this, or other similar exercises, you will likely feel your imagination starting to wake-up, like it’s slowly coming out of hibernation. You might find your creativity taking you in unexpected directions that have nothing to do with writing. The main thing to understand is that whatever way it goes, it’s the right way for you. There is no hierarchy of creative self-expression. It’s all valid. The important thing is how you feel about your new-found freedom of expression.
I’d love to hear how you get on with this exercise. Let me know through the comments box below.