You’ve heard it a million times, and so have I. Hell, I’ve said it a million times: all you have to do to write is get yourself to the page and throw words at it. And yet, sometimes this is just ridiculously difficult.
Like, for me, this morning, when I struggled with writing a scene. I let my attention wander to ponder a book I desperately needed wanted for research, and this led me down one rabbit hole after another.
All I had to do was throw words at the page until I finished the scene (which I had sketched out in note form already). And I wasn’t doing it, until finally I strong-armed myself into completing the scene (which didn’t turn out half bad for a rough draft). But it started me to thinking, once again, about why this happens. We love writing or we wouldn’t be writers, right? And yet sometimes it takes the 10th army to get us to the page.
And I realized that for me, and maybe for you, too, its the constant carping of my inner voice. When I listen to it, it leads me astray. It says things like aw, c’mon just go check your email one more time. Or, you know you’re a crappy writer and this particular scene sucks so why bother? Or, you’re stupid and so is your writing. Or even, everybody hates you. (Now if that isn’t ridiculous, I don’t know what is.)
Yet when I’m able to ignore it, I go directly to the page and my writing flows. I don’t waste time obsessing about what other people think of me or how my writing is going to be received. I’m happy and I feel free. These times have historically been few and far between, but they are getting more common with my understanding of the carping inner voice and some techniques to deal with it.
The inner voice is, of course, your ego and your ego’s job is to keep you safe. S/he has done a good job up till now, because here you are, reading this in one relatively unscathed piece, correct? And yet in your ego’s efforts to keep you safe, it sometimes often goes a bit too far. Your ego would probably be delighted were you to stay safely at home, never risking venturing out into the big scary world. This goes for the physical world and the mental world. Free, unfettered creativity is the ego’s worst nightmare.
Because what if you reveal something deep and true and unique about yourself that people might judge? What if those words you’re putting on the page become a book and people, gasp, actually read it? What if you succeed? What if you fail? What if people criticize you? On and on the ego’s fears run, a constant litany and threat of doom. If you listen to it, you’ll never get any writing done, trust me.
So not listening to it is the key. But your inner voice is a persistent bugger, and it will continue to carp at you non-stop no matter how many times you scream at it to shut up. Another way is called for. That way is to acknowledge it and then let it go. As the revered meditation teacher and Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, just say hello and goodbye. This is surprisingly effective, especially when done over time.
And one of the things that has really helped me is something I learned from Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Think about that inner voice as if it were a real live roommate in your home. Would you give its constant chatter any credence? Would you pay attention to anything it said? Would you believe its crazy stream of words? Of course you wouldn’t.
If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, its a person who talks non-stop. I end up tuning them out, ignoring them. And yet I often let my inner voice run my life. So I’ve given my inner roommate a name–Irene–and when she starts spouting nonsense I say to here, “Hello Irene. Goodbye Irene.” Then she can go off and spout away but I don’t have to listen to her.
This is a wonderful practice not just for writing but for every aspect of life. It is such a relief to get away from Irene whenever I can! And when I’m not listening to her, I can appreciate the present moment, and I can write with a whole brain and a whole heart.
Do you have an inner roommate who talks at you constantly? How do you tame him or her?
Image by seungmina.