Monday, November 24, 2008

Exercise of the Week: Facing Your Demons

I recently took a Westport Writers' Workshop seminar titled "Silencing the Inner Critic." That experience, along with seeing Joyce Carol Oates at a lecture the other night, propelled me to pick up my novel again. I'm back to being carried along by the creative process. (Knock on wood.)

The format of the first part of the class was deceptively simple. Jessica, the teacher, had us brainstorm a long list of things that were blocking us from writing. Then, one by one, she deftly swept away each of our lingering fears and arguments. ("Not good enough, you say? First drafts aren't supposed to be good enough. You're not supposed to be good enough when you begin. Writing is a craft; there are skills to learn.")

Regarding the creative process, Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, says, "I've come to believe that the inspiration is always there, like an electrical current, and what varies is our access to it. And I've found that the best way to cope with that is with diligence, with a kind of daily determination."

Not exactly so, says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. "As for discipline--it's important but sort of over-rated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness."

From my experience, both of these authors are right.

Those are my issues, but perhaps not yours. So this week, if you're blocked in any way, do Jessica's exercise on your own. Make a list of all the demons that are coming between you and your most treasured goal. Then writing in a journal, or even just on a piece of paper, pretend that you're your biggest champion--the person who most believes in you and wants you to succeed. From that person's perspective, knock down each one of your roadblocks.


  1. Anonymous4:53 AM

    Thanks Prill! Hey I'm going to Taiwan. Joyce

  2. Anonymous7:53 AM

    Oooh, the inner critic. I would have loved to sit in on that one. It sounds like you got a lot out of it. Good luck with the book! (Go team!)

  3. What wonderful wisdom! Isn't it interesting that so many writers - whether they've been wildly successful or are sitting in Freshman Comp class - need to constantly work on that inner critic? Why do we give that entity such power over our gifts?

  4. Hi, Prill!

    Great post. Another great book for those who are needing a little push is by Steven Pressfield of "Legend of Baggar Vance" fame. He wrote a book for creative types like writers, artist. But it's a great book for anyone who needs inspiration to move forward. The book is titled: "The War of Art" and is a quick read.

    I also agree with Elizabeth Gilbert. I do establish a schedule and write most days, but I don't worry about how perfect I am writing. Somedays the words flow better than others. And like Stephen Pressfield says in his book: “Creative work is…a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

    Okay, Stephen, I will! And here's hoping any other artist, writer, creator will do the same. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Ahh, such great advice! I recently listend to coach Cheryl Richardson interview Natalie Goldberg on writing. Natalie said that writing is like dieting. You can think about it, talk about it, read cookbooks about it, but unless you don't take action you won't lose weight. The same with writing. If you don't just take action no words will get onto the page. That so stuck with me and got me writing my 2nd children's book!! YIPEE!
    This information you shared also helps me, so thank you!

  6. Nice post, I do think a sort of daily diligence brings us to the paper/computer. Part of that diligence is the priority I give writing as it is a part of my daily schedule, in some way. Reading, researching, or putting words on the page. It must happen daily for me where I've produced in some way, even if it's realizing a new idea.

  7. Joyce-- Have a great time in Taiwan!

    BTW, I just realized that the rest of you are all writers. And...Barbara, speaking of writers, Natalie Goldberg helped me as well when I was getting started.