Try to imagine a world in which writing is not difficult…

Waiting for the raindrops to collect

… and is not characterized by the metaphor of agonism.

To say, “writing is a struggle” or “writing is difficult” implies that writing is, of necessity, something we fight with. Writing is something we pursue, rather than something we allow to come to us.

When we write, then, we are active; not writing feels wrong, and we judge ourselves as being “bad,” or not being writers at all if we’re not  applying pen to the proverbial paper. In other words, it’s not okay, in a paradigm of action, to wait, to sit, to think, to let the thought percolate to the surface.

If instead we could revision writing as organic, where the impetus to write wells up from within, as a more gentle response to inspiration, I think a few things would change. For one thing, we would not experience writer’s block as it is currently thought of. I have taught seminars where the question I asked students is, “how does this block serve you? what is the writing block trying to tell you?” because usually, there are very good reasons why you’re not writing.

Writer’s block is not what we think it is a lot of the time; in fact, it’s often our mind’s way of protecting us against going into a subject we’re not ready to handle. Writer’s block might also be a response to pain, fear, boredom, loss of interest in the subject… any number of things stimulate writer’s block. However, most people get frustrated, because they’re not “supposed” to experience a block. It’s not how writing is “supposed” to work.

Everyone who wants to write, also wants the writing to flow smoothly, but that is unrealistic. We often feel forced or compelled to write when we really don’t feel like it–sometimes for a deadline, but too often because we believe that’s what’s expected of us as writers. It somehow feels like failure to sit, thinking, doodling, or daydreaming. We feel like we’re getting nothing done. In a different paradigm, however, this would be allowed. It would all be part of the organic flow of writing, to stare off into space, if that was what would clear your mind to allow the next new thought to emerge.

There is research that indicates that allowing the brain to rest, instead of aggressively pursuing the next thought or the next sentence, increases access to creativity. However, the most important place to begin is not with neurological research, but with acceptance that when we approach writing, we have learned to think of our relationship to writing and creativity as something we should expect will not be easy.

We believe it will be difficult, and unfortunately, our adherence to that belief system is part of why it is difficult–because we see words as something we must struggle with to “get right.” If instead we saw the word coming to us, and allowed words to permeate our consciousness, we could let the words gather and build momentum, until we had collected enough to start writing.

It’s a different way of thinking about writing, and it’s certainly a less invasive or painful approach.

I liken it to the Japanese water fountains you see in traditional gardens. Rainwater is allowed to collect at one end of a bamboo pole, in a hole or cup carved for this purpose. When enough rainwater gathers, it tips the pole down, until the rainwater falls into a stone bowl. Only when the rainwater is heavy enough can the pole tip; so too should we wait for enough thoughts, words, and inspiration to collect before we write.

I prefer this metaphor. It’s a much gentler way to treat yourself when you’re writing. You’ll notice that the rainwater never struggles to collect; it’s a natural process. No one says to the bamboo “you haven’t collected enough rainwater.” No one accuses the rainwater of slacking off. No one says to the rain clouds “you’re not working hard enough to fill up that fountain.” This way of thinking about an organic process would sound absurd, because you accept that nature works in its own time.

Then why can’t we, when we write? 

Learning how to wait for the right time is the essence of this approach.

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Creativity and individualism, and how education squelches it

Creativity is a huge subject for me; I think about how to inspire it in writers a lot of the time.

One of my ‘rules’ about inspiring writers is to encourage them and provide open doors, rather than closing doors by telling them what they cannot do, or criticising them.

I am rather adamantly against criticism for the sake of critcising. I can understand wanting to make something you’ve done better, but if all you’re really doing is telling someone they’re deficient according to your idea of perfection, could you keep that to yourself, please? Because all we do when we criticise someone is let them know about ourselves and our needs, rather than help them. This includes yourself. Let yourself off that hook, okay?

I’ve worked with far too many aspiring writers who tell me some version of, “When I was a child, my teacher/parent/friend told me it would be pointless to continue writing, that I didn’t have what it takes,” etc., largely because the person doing the criticising of your early efforts was caught up in the ancient paradigm of what I have learned to call the Divinely Inspired Author myth.

The individual who wants to write is too often challenged in this way, and therefore might never pick up her pen again, only to regret this choice later in life. Believing it to now be “too late,” she will give up on her dream of writing “someday.” If there’s something I don’t want to see people doing, it’s giving up on their dreams because one time when you were twelve, your English teacher gave you a ‘C’ on a paper you thought was pretty great—until you got that ‘C’, of course. Many years ago, I worked with one man in his 70s who never forgot the ‘C’ he received in high school; that’s how powerful authority figures are in our young lives.

I’d like for you to watch the following video, because Sir Kenneth Robinson, an English creativity expert, discusses the ways in which education discourages children from holding on to their creativity.

Why don’t we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies—far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity—are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. “We are educating people out of their creativity,” Robinson says.

This loss of one’s belief in their own creative ability is my primary concern as a writing coach, because my focus is on how to get adults to reconnect with the creativity they were once forced to abandon in favor of scholastic achievement.

In this talk, Sir Ken discusses the needed revolution in education; his perspective is that it’s time to reform educational practices so that people will learn to be themselves and do what they love, not what’s practical. We have to change our industrial model to an agricultural model, he says, and change the metaphor we use to create our concept of why we need an education from mechanistic, based on the needs of a bureaucratic society, to organic, based on the needs of the individual.

He thinks we’re obsessed with getting people to go to college, as though going to college now is the answer to everything, which isn’t true. I learned as an educational consultant and teacher that students too often attend college or university for someone else (usually their parents), and that it wasn’t the right choice for them. Sir Ken agrees that college isn’t necessarily the best choice for everyone, and it isn’t something everyone has to do at any one given time (e.g. the moment you leave high school or secondary school, for those readers not in the States).