Since deciding to stop drinking for a year, and making a conscious choice to minimize the amount of TV I watch, I’ve found myself with an abundance of time in the evenings.
So what happens when you suddenly find yourself with an abundance of spare time, and you’ve taken away the most common ways to spend that time?
You get bored.
Or at least, that’s what I did.
“So now what?” I’d frequently ask myself.
Impulse number one was to grab for food, or look for a new video game to download. But I’m present to the fact that those are just more of the same pattern, and it kind of defeats my intention of leaning in to my discomfort, living on the edge of my skin, and exploring my potential.
Instead, I’ve chosen to explore my creative outlets. One of the things that I’ve been spending a lot of time doing is writing. As I loaded up our blog today, I noticed that I haven’t made a written post in a while.
I sat down to decide what there was for me to write about, and when nothing came up, I mindmapped to see what came out.
I’ve been mindmapping on a daily basis, because it’s a great way to let your mind run it’s course. Here are the rules:
- Write a word in the centre of the page
- Draw lines out from that centre word and write out whatever comes to mind
- Don’t stop the flow, just continue to write out whatever bubbles up
The rules are easy, and are designed to give your mind free-reign. Think of it like taking your dog to a meadow and taking his leash off. The object isn’t to write down the right things, but rather to write down the things.
Writing vs. Righting
When most people suffer what they call writer’s block, the real problem is that they’ve forgotten their job is to be writing. Instead, they’ve switched over to righting.
When you’re writing, you simply let the words flow from your head and out onto the paper. It’s okay how the words sound, look, come out, and your opinions of them have no impact on whether or not they get to the paper. Your opinions are just another thing happening that day — like the weather.
When your’e righting, you’re looking for the right words to write. The process of writing becomes secondary to your opinion that you’re doing it right. When you’re righting, words can’t simply flow from your head onto the paper, because you have to ensure they’re the right words.
Righting takes time and is arduous. Writing is free and easy. It has a flow to it, with ups and downs, like a well-crafted piece of classical music.
Righting leaves you attached to the process looking a certain way. Writing is simply being the process.
When I introduce a distinction like this one to a client, their first question is usually: “Great, I’m righting! So, how do I stop righting?”
That’s actually them doing more righting right there! They’re looking for the right way to stop righting. You don’t need a process to stop righting — you just notice that you’re doing it, and you choose to stop.
It’s like me pointing out that you are repeatedly punching yourself in the head, and you saying “Great, I’m punching myself in the head! So, how do I stop punching myself in the head?” There isn’t a how involved. All you do is notice when you’re righting, and shift yourself back to writing.
Here’s how I stop righting and get back to writing:
Write 800 words
Here’s how my writing process looks these days: I sit down with a topic in mind I may want to write about. I write for about an hour, usually amounting to around 800 words, judging and hating most of what I’m writing. Right towards the end of that hour, I write a sentence, slap my forehead, and go “THAT’S the thing I’m meant to write about!”. And then I erase everything I’ve written up to that point and start anew.
If there’s a right way for that process to look, I’ve just wasted an hour of my time. BUT, if my only job is to be the process, that hour is simply part of my journey.
800 words is an impossible goal when you’re trying to right them. But when you’re simply writing, it’s easy. Just write the first word that comes to mind, and then the next, and the next after that one.
Bunch of non-sequiturs? Cool! Enjoy the disparate connections that your brain is coming up with. Bunch of profanity? Cool! Fuck piss shit fart goddamn shit! Now they’re out of your system. What’s next?
If you’re willing to set aside your own judgment and trust your inner wisdom, you’ll discover that soon, the ideas will be coming to you from within.
There’s no such thing as writer’s block
That’s the thesis of this post, and I stand behind it. There is no such thing as writer’s block — only sustained periods of self-judgment.
Here’s the beauty of it — you don’t even need to stop judging yourself. You just need to stop letting your judgment stop yourself. Got a bunch of judgments? Great, write about those for 800 words. Maybe that will contain the most powerful sentence you write all year.
When you stop letting your judgments block your flow you allow yourself the space to be creative. From there, the rest naturally happens.
This isn’t just about writers
We all engage in various flavours of righting. It’s the poison of any creative process. Just because I couldn’t come up with a catchy distinction for every other creative endeavour aside from writing doesn’t make it any less accurate for your particular brand of creativity.
Start noticing your righting as it happens, and practice being the process.
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