A few weeks ago I received a comment asking me how I centre myself and clear my head before writing. This person was struggling to clear their head and get their ideas out there. It gave me a moment of pause. How exactly do I write? I’m writing right now. I’m just doing it. The words are coming into my head and I’m typing them into this little blank square. Now I’m pausing. Staring at the white screen. What should I write next? How can I help this person?
The truth is that although writing this blog has been relatively easy for me I’ve struggled with writer’s block just like every other writer in the history of writers. There can be many reasons for writer’s block. I don’t know why this person has writer’s block. I can only speak from my experience. And I know this blog is for actors but I find that advice about any field of creative endeavour is useful for all artists. And besides, actors experience blockages too! Major ones that cause tantrums, tears and vase throwing (all in the privacy of one’s room, of course).
So after thinking about it for a few weeks and experiencing a lot of fear (I’m not qualified to tell people what to do, I’m not a teacher, I don’t know what I’m talking about, etc) I’m going to do a few blog posts with my advice about how to write based on my experiences.
Part One: Starting and The Protector
START. Simple, right? Wrong! Starting is, in my experience, one of the most difficult things about writing or, you know, ANYTHING. And here’s why: it’s not STARTING that is the problem. It’s those pesky thoughts of self-doubt that cause all the trouble. Sometimes when we want to do something and think about doing something (especially something creative) we start to experience self-doubt. Negative thoughts enter our heard. We’re not good enough. We can’t possibly do this. We have no talent. People will laugh at us. It will get us nowhere. Our family will judge us. We’re not smart enough. Who could possibly want to listen to what we have to say or write or act?
These thoughts are sabotaging us. And since I’m such a fan of parts of self I’m going to introduce you to a part of self that every person has. A part that rears its ugly head and stifles us. But a part that is also instrumental in our ultimate survival. It’s called THE PROTECTOR. The Protector is the part of ourselves that says “actually, you should probably wait for that huge truck to pass before crossing the road” and “you have to leave now for work if you want to be on time and not lose your job”. Unfortunately it’s also the part of ourselves that says “don’t write that for if you do they’re all going to laugh at you like they did at Carrie and then you’re going to go crazy and accidentally kill that guy you have a huge crush on and burn your house down with your mind”, “people will think you’re stupid when they read that”, “you’re too boring for people to want to read anything you have to write” and so on and so forth.
Everyone has a Protector. The Protector is our friend. He/she stops us from dying and actually helps us achieve things and become a fully functioning member of society. But sometimes our Protector inserts itself into situations where it is not needed. In my experience the Protector is the number one thing stopping creative people from expressing their creativity. All of my writer and actor friends have a strong Protector. I have a strong Protector. Our Protector is there to protect us from pain and humiliation. And somewhere along the line (often it’s some sort of childhood experience) we have learnt to fear that expressing our creativity will lead to pain, humiliation and rejection.
The key is to recognise that any negative, self-defeating thoughts that come into your heard before you start to write are coming from your Protector. Understand this. Acknowledge it. Thank your Protector for looking out for you. Realise that your Protector cannot predict the future. It cannot tell whether your creative project will be successful or an absolute failure. It is like that overbearing mother or father figure who exaggerates and even makes up lies to stop you from doing something because they love you and just want to keep you safe. Realise that you are afraid of humiliation and rejection. Realise that although showing the world your creative work will expose you to the potential for humiliation and rejection, humiliation and rejection are not guaranteed. And understand that you only learn through failure, and you only become a great creative artist through learning. Tell your Protector that he/she can have a rest for a while. And then start writing.
Just in case it hasn’t gotten through to you yet: EVERYONE HAS A PROTECTOR. J.K Rowling has a Protector. Shakespeare had a Protector. Meryl Streep has a Protector. I have a Protector. You are not special. Your Protector does not mean you suck and should not ever write. It’s just a little voice in your head trying to stop you from taking chances and being vulnerable because taking chances and being vulnerable is scary and can (in some cases) lead to death. And here’s another little nugget of awesome information: your Protector will never go away. Not. Ever. Your goal in life is not to get rid of your Protector. It is to do things in spite of your Protector. It is to figure out when your Protector is giving you useful advice (“don’t put that fork in the toaster”) and when your Protector needs to be quiet for a while (“you look fat in that dress so you better not go out tonight on that date with the man of your dreams because he will HURT you”, “you better not audition for that amazing role that you want really badly because you’re just not good/talented/pretty/thin enough and you’ll be rejected”, “you better not write that novel you’ve been thinking about writing for years because your idea sucks and it’s boring and no one will read it and you will DIE”).
The truth – I’ve only been introduced to my Protector in the last few months. Up until I met her I just assumed that all these negative thoughts coming into my head were right. Or some weird premonition of my future failure as an actress because I’m totally psychic. And I’m still at the early stages of learning to live with my Protector and give it its rightful place. We are all on this journey. All creative people. So start giving your Protector its rightful place and write in spite of the fear.
I’m going to end this post by saying a quick hello to Meryl Streep’s Protector:
“I thought I was too ugly to be an actress.” – Meryl Streep