So much of the job of being creative is simply about not getting in our own way. If we’re in the right “frame of mind” about our writing, it’s so much easier to keep doing what we need to do. “Frame of mind” – I think of climbing frames and scaffolding. How are the mansions of our feelings constructed? Our feelings and our perceptions are shaped and built by our thoughts. This week in “Slouch to 5k” we’ll do something to help make that scaffolding a bit more solid and strong. As with most of these weekly activities, some of you will love it, some might hate it, but either way, I promise it works.
The invitation this week is to take an unhelpful thought that you often have, one that’s related to your writing or to being a writer, and “repeatedly write over it” with a helpful, constructive thought.
On the bad days, your unhelpful thoughts might involve things like –
(a) “this manuscript isn’t good enough”
or (b) “I’m a terrible writer”
or (c) “I’m never going to get this published”
or (d) “I always/usually/mostly get rejections”
or (e) “other people always/usually/mostly have more success than me”
(etc etc, in infinite, exquisitely detailed variations)
Whichever unhelpful thoughts about your writing are troubling you, pick one main one to focus on – the one that is blocking you most. Then create a helpful thought as an alternative. The helpful thought should be a thought that you can believe on a good day – even if you often still doubt this helpful thought on the bad days. It doesn’t even have to be oustandingly positive, but it can simply be “a bridge” towards something more positive. So the replacement helpful thought could be –
(a) “this manuscript isn’t good enough => “I can make this manuscript better/good/really good”
(b) “I’m a terrible writer” => “I’m capable of writing well/I have learned a lot about writing/I’m learning how to write well/I’m becoming a better writer”
(c) “I’m never going to get this published” => “this manuscript might get published” / “feedback on this manuscript has been positive” / “this manuscript is well-written” / “If I finish this manuscript well, it has a chance of getting published” / “I will have a smart strategy for submitting this manuscript”
(d) “I always/usually/mostly get rejections” => “I get acceptances sometimes” / “I’ve had acceptances before” / “if I send out enough submissions, I will get some acceptances” / “If I keep going, I will get an acceptance eventually”
(e) “other people always/usually/mostly have more success than me” => “I am making progress with my writing” / “If I keep writing well, successes will come my way” / “I have experienced some successes already”
Obviously the helpful thought should contain no negative language. But as you can see above, as a “bridge” towards a more constructive frame of mind it only has to be hopeful, whole-hearted and open to the possibility of the positive. You can always make the replacement thought gradually more positive over time.
The next task, having selected the helpful replacement thought, is to “write over” the unhelpful thought by thinking the helpful thought “as loudly and confidently as possible” in your head over and over as if it were a mantra. Let’s call this “The Affirmation”.
Please do this for at least 15 minutes this week (but probably not all 15 minutes in one go!). It could be 8 occasions of 2 minutes, 5 x 3 minutes etc. If you want to do this for much, much more than 15 minutes then please do! It’s quite easy to make time when you try – it can be in the shower, on the loo (!), while cooking, while washing up etc.
When you try these affirmations, sometimes objections and hesitations and denials will surface in your mind. The key thing is not to engage in a narrative or follow any threads of memories or daydreams, but simply to insist upon the affirmation as a series of words in your head, as determinedly and repeatedly as possible to drown out and “write over” the unhelpful thought. You’ll find that it’s quite boring and repetitive to do! (Hence the suggestion of 2 or 3 minute bursts.) It also works.
If you don’t believe me that it works, here’s Booker Prize-winner Bernardine Evaristo telling you that positive affirmations work. (Not that we all are seeking to win the Booker Prize. But if positive affirmations are good enough for Bernardine, then…)
If you find you want to work on several different unhelpful thoughts this week, that’s ok. But please make sure that you don’t neglect the most unhelpful one. Make sure that one is squished as much as possible through this method.
If you want to treat this affirmation like a real mantra and link the saying of it to your breathing, then you might like to think the helpful thought on your in-breath, then breathe out, then think the helpful thought on your in-breath again etc. Creativity Coach Eric Maisel calls this approach an “incantation”.
If you are able wholeheartedly to embrace this activity, you’ll find it really, really works to build a much better “frame of mind” in which you can be creative. It gives writers a tool for countering the unhelpful thoughts. It helps us to stop getting in our own way. Watch what happens to your writing and your creative life afterwards…