This article, written by Denise Agnew is from the August 2020 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
Being a creative person, you may have found that the pandemic has enhanced negative self-talk or perhaps created issues with completing deadlines or writing at all. We can forgive ourselves for feeling rocky when our world is downright crazy.
That being said, creative people tend to be hard on themselves all the time. We dredge up perceived faults we have against our creative abilities one after the other and beat ourselves bloody.
What if you could call on a benevolent and confident self (call it future self if you like) to get you through any negative self-talk? What if you could journal your way from negative thinking that tanks your creativity toward an encouraging and confident self that uplifts your creativity?
If you’ve journaled before, take a quick peek at it. Did you fill it with a plethora of negative highlights, such as what didn’t go right, your judgements and grievances with yourself and others? Journaling like this might relieve the pressure, and in many cases it can free up your creativity. In Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way, she encourages writers to start their morning with stream of consciousness writing. The idea is to get down all of your gunk, good or otherwise and without censoring or holding back. Many writers have gained perspective and benefit from this technique. The process of letting it all out can open our eyes.
For some writers, journaling what isn’t working for them is enough. Often the barriers we place on our writing abilities come from childhood experiences or other situations through life where something went wrong. Getting it out helps, as we assume that the same type of negative thing will occur again and sometimes it does, but we can be better prepared.
However, beyond that is our own internal thought process where, if we focus on the negatives, we often then only see the negatives in our writing, and we repeat negative patterns and belief systems in an endless cycle. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We say we can’t. So we don’t.
To reverse this, we should step into our power and create a benevolent self that can flip the negative thinking. One way to do this is journaling.
If you don’t already have a journal, now is the time to grab one specific for this assignment. Don’t reuse one. Go find one that appeals to you in color/fabric/material and paper. Use a favorite pen or buy a new one to use just for this journal. This can pump up your enthusiasm to stick with it.
Below are journal prompts designed to open your mind to new creative possibilities. Take as much time and pages needed to thoroughly explore each of these possibilities and questions.
- What negative things do you tell yourself most frequently about your writing abilities? This can apply to other things that have nothing to do with writing, but for the purposes of clarity, let’s stick with writing for the moment.
- Are there similarities between each negative thing?
- Where and when did you get these ideas about your writing abilities? Don’t be shy. Lay it all out here. You may not have taken much time to think about these things before, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while to pinpoint them.
- What are the patterns you see between each? Are they things someone else told you about your writing or things you assumed entirely on your own?
Clearing Things Up
Now that you have some idea of the negative beliefs about your writing that bother you, let’s work on the one that bothers you the most. Of the negative things you’ve listed, is there one that sticks out to you as the most painful? Highlight that. Then you will ask, is it actually true? How do you know it isn’t true? Would you say this to a close friend?
Now that you’ve highlighted the one negative, let’s analyze the truth of it. Let’s work through the process using this example: I can’t write at all.
With the highlighted negative thing you’ve told yourself, answer the following question:
Is it actually true?
No it isn’t true that I can’t write.
How do you know it isn’t true?
Because I have written and published 10 books.
(Don’t start ruminating on how many reviews you don’t have or how much money you aren’t making right now. Neither of these things is a reflection on the quality of your writing.)
Would you say these things to a close friend?
No, I wouldn’t. In fact, I think it is horrible to say to my friend that she can’t write, because it isn’t true. I’d be angry at anyone for saying this to my friend.
When it is apparent that your negative belief is most likely not true and why, it can help you attack each negative belief you have with regard to your creativity.
Go back through each negative you wrote and ask/answer the questions for each one. Is it actually true? How do you know it isn’t true? Would you say these things to a friend?
Discover Your Benevolent Self
Now there is one more step to take, which is to take the negative things that bothered you and shift this thinking. What would a benevolent, loving self say to you? Basically, turn that negative into a positive.
Example: I can’t write at all.
Benevolent self: I am a talented writer with many stories to tell. I’m particularly good at telling XYZ type of stories.
Example: I can’t write historical fiction because it is hard to write and I was never any good at research.
Benevolent self: I love reading historical non-fiction. It fascinates me. Knowing that, I’d find reading research on the time period I want to write extremely interesting. I can research the time period(s) and facts I find intriguing with ease.
If you have difficulty getting to an uplifting statement, go for a middle ground that is neutral such as, “I enjoy writing stories. XYZ stories intrigue me the most.” This neutral ground points out to you that you enjoy writing and what you want to write, which is more encouraging and not a negative.
Denise A. Agnew is the award-winning author of over 69 novels and screenplays. Denise’s novels Love from The Ashes and Blackout were optioned for film/TV by Where’s Lucy? Productions, Bright Frontier Films and MDR Entertainment. Denise is a Writer/Producer (Where’s Lucy? Productions, Happy Catastrophe Productions, Bright Frontier Films), a paranormal investigator, Reiki Master, and Certified Creativity Coach. As a creativity coach, Denise assists anyone in the creative arts to maintain lifelong creativity. You can find her at www.deniseagnew.com and www.creativepencoaching.com.