In the past 10 years working with writers and creatives, the number one complaint I hear over and over and over again is something like this:
When I ask people if they’re stuck in their writing or in their life, they think for a minute and the answer is usually both. I’m never surprised. Writers block isn’t really writers block, after all, but life block. Energy block. There’s no way to be “blocked” in one but not the other. The two are inextricably linked.
I identify deeply with their problem. I flash back to when I was married—just days before the long-buried truth of my marriage came to light. I was sitting at my kitchen table, trying to write a book about the “redemption story” of our relationship, which I can hardly say with a straight face now that I know what I know, and now that I see our dynamic with new eyes.
Still in those days I spent so much time sitting there, staring at that blinking cursor, not certain why I couldn’t figure out what I was trying to say.
We don’t know what to say because we don’t know what we think.
We don’t know what we think because we are so completely out of touch with ourselves.
Writing will put you back in touch with yourself. Fast. You can’t spent much time with yourself on the page and not start to see the truth of you. This, I would say, is why we’re stuck in our creative work and struggling and avoiding and experiencing so much resistance. Because in order to write, we’d have to see the truth.
I love what David Foster Wallace says which is that “the truth will set you free… but not until it’s done with you.”
The good news.
It’s a very inexpensive, accessible, totally powerful way to, according to research, reduce your anxiety, curb your depression, advance your career, improve your relationships, help you process grief and heartbreak and even to speed the physical healing process from illness or injury.
The cheapest form of self-therapy.
I’ve watched writers of ALL kinds—from writers with zero experience to published authors who have sold thousands upon thousands of copies and are making a full-time living from writing—experience the liberating power putting the words on the page.
If you can get yourself UNSTUCK in your writing, you can get yourself UNSTUCK in your life.
Your career. Your love life. Your family. Your relationships.
We think writing is this “elite” activity, that only certain people were made to do—only the really gifted or skilled or privileged or “called” or whatever. When really writing is just thinking. Writing is being. It’s meditation. It’s communication. Communication with ourselves and with something much bigger than us.
It’s a birthright.
Most people are missing it.
The problem is most of us are missing it—all the beauty and power creativity has to bring into our lives because we’re waiting for permission or for a paycheck or for some big social media following to do our creative work.
The problem is that if you wait for permission or a paycheck to do your creative work, it’s no longer YOUR creative work. I don’t mean to say that some people don’t make a living doing creative things, but anyone who works in a creative field can tell you that the minute you start making money for your creative work, things change.
Now you’re not answering to your creativity anymore. You’re answering to the marketplace.
To your customers. To your “boss” (whatever that looks like).
That’s not bad. It’s just not ART. It’s business.
Again, nothing wrong with either of these things. But I think we need to distinguish between the two, since one will pay your rent and keep the lights on and grow your skillset and if you’re really lucky, might even send you on a vacation or two.
But the other? It will heal you. It will pay you in dividends that may NEVER show up on your bank account. It will wake you up to parts of yourself that have LONG been offline.
It will supercharge your energy. It will shift the way you see the world and your role in it. It will improve your confidence.
It will change your life.
If you want to get unstuck, business is not the way to do it. Art is.
And art is fueled by freedom. The permission can’t come from outside, it has to come from inside. The paycheck won’t help you it will only hurt you. And no amount of popularity or applause or coaxing from others will save you from the terrifying and beautiful moment that you actually have to show up to yourself on the page.
In fact, all those adoring fans might scare you right out of saying the thing you most need to say in order to save your own life.
Waste some time.
Here’s something you need to know about art. It is remarkably inefficient.
We live in a world that worships productivity and efficiency and that LOVES for things to happen lightning fast. We live most our lives in this space, trying to figure out how we can fast-track and streamline things and this is all well and good except this is the very antithesis to our art. Art is a wandering, meandering path into chaos and darkness.
How’s that for a sales pitch?
Trust me, I get that this isn’t the most compelling way to invite you into a creative process, but I also wouldn’t be doing you any favors if I acted like there was a way to do your art without some chaos and confusion and inefficiency and wandering and PLAY.
When I meet people who are struggling to find their voice, I asked them when the last time was that they wasted some time?
When was the last time you danced, just moved your body in a way that felt good?
I can see by the looks on their faces that they are thinking the thing I hear writers say over and over and over again to me, which is, “what if it is all for nothing…?”
Yes. What if… What if it is?
I have asked myself this question a thousand times and I am also learning to see and to believe that as soon as we make peace with this possibility, we at the same time open ourselves to the option that this could, instead, be the most remarkable thing we have ever done.
Art and Rebellion.
The most common piece of advice I hear given to aspiring writers (and the thing spoken over me when I was starting in the publishing world) is, “If you want to be a writer, you have to grow a platform.”
Honestly, I understand this advice, but it makes me cringe every time.
Nothing stops you from writing something great faster than trying to write something great.
Nothing stunts your creative growth and progress faster than talking about your “audience”.
It’s the difference between sitting with your best friend on a couch trying to tell her the worst thing you’ve ever done, and standing on a stage in front of 3000 strangers doing the same thing.
Where do you have the best chance of really showing up?
I urge writers to FORGET their audience completely and instead write like it’s a love letter. The longest love letter of their whole life. Write it like a love letter to your children, or your lover, or your partner, or your best friend. Write it like a love letter to yourself—that terrified and lonely version of yourself that is fighting for her own freaking life.
Write it like that.
Sure, it’s a beautiful thing to see someone show up vulnerably and unapologetically on a stage. And eventually every creative person would like to see his or her deepest creative gift shared with the world. But in order to share our creative gifts, we have to UNEARTH our creative gifts.
And in order to unearth them, we need privacy. Intimacy. The OPPOSITE of a stage.
So forget about your audience. Honestly. Rebel against them. Your art is your rebellion. Write it privately, in a place that no one will ever read it if you need to—write the things that you feel like you can never say. Write what you’re sure would get you booed off of a stage. The great irony is… this is what the audience is dying to read, anyway.
It’s a rare and beautiful thing to meet a person who will tell you the truth.
If you’re reading this because you believe there is something beautiful and life-changing and even perhaps earth-shattering inside of you welcome. If the fact that you’re still struggling to uncover it makes you worry that maybe you’re perhaps delusional or self-centered or that you’ve gotten it wrong, take heart.
You are in the right place. You are doing it, this inefficient, chaotic, terrifying and beautiful thing.
You are remarkable.
More on the creative life:
- Excuses that Keep Creative People Trapped
- Depression, Creativity and the Dangers of being Constantly Plugged In
- Tips to Stimulate Your Creativity