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John's GET STARTED Series: "Confession, Part Two"

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

I have another confession to make. When it comes to writing, my relationship with it has always been…complicated.

As I admitted in my last post, I’ve been starting and stopping and starting and stopping again. This is not a new cycle. It’s been happening most of my life. And most of the time the cycle has been stuck on the stop phase.

Now, this is a confession because I feel ashamed. And I feel guilty. I’ve wanted to write. Told people I am writing. But I have stacks of projects just collecting metaphorical dust on the metaphorical shelf. This makes me feel like a failure.

Can anybody explain this to me? I want to write, then I don’t write, and I hate myself for it. Not a fun loop to be stuck on. I want off. But where’s the exit?

Another thing I said in my last post was that much of the time when people like us have the urge to create and we don’t, the underlying cause of that inaction is FEAR. And I think this idea deserves a little more examination. So what am I afraid of?

I think I may have found the answer, but I’ve promised not to tell. You see, I recently discovered what I think is a very helpful exercise for creatives who are having a tough time moving forward with their projects. It’s from writing teacher Corey Mandel, and it’s called The Big Why exercise.

The essence of this exercise for those of you who might not click that link is a deep dive into WHY we want to create. Mandel focuses specifically on screenwriting, but I think it works for any creative endeavor.

Once we make an exhaustive and totally honest list of the reasons we want to write, we will likely see some are healthy and some are less than healthy. And one of his rules is that we have to promise not to share this list with anyone to allow us to be as honest as possible.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that creative endeavors entail a real lack of control. Just about every step of a creative process is fraught. It requires us to be vulnerable, and success is usually a moving and arbitrary target.

Maybe a writer does this exercise and discovers that one of the real reasons they write is to prove to their mother that they’re worthy of her love. They’d be tying their sense of self-worth to a moving, arbitrary target. It might feel a lot safer to just not try than to try and fail. No wonder they’d feel stuck!

That writer might enjoy their creative process more and experience fewer snags along the way if they first tried to separate it from these less than healthy motivations they have.

If you do this exercise, look at that list of healthier reasons for why you continue to create.

Chances are good that you’ll have a reason on your list that involves creating in order to serve others in some way.

If we can focus on that purpose in our creative endeavors, I think there’s a greater chance that we will not only find ourselves less stuck but even enjoying our creative process more.

Mandel shares the story of a mom who felt stuck and realized that her daughter was watching her let her fear keep her from her dreams. Not the lesson she wanted to impart on her girl. So she used her desire to be a good role model for her daughter as motivation to write. Her creativity became an act of love for her daughter.

Speaking of process, here’s another internal investigation I think could help us in reducing our creative struggles. We have a goal to create, but are we unhappy WHILE we are creating because we haven’t yet finished? I’ve heard a lot of writers explain that they don’t necessarily love writing, but they love HAVING WRITTEN.

This blog post does a great job exploring this phenomenon and how to overcome it.

TL;DR: We’d do ourselves a favor if we could learn how to enjoy the journey and focus less on the destination.

I love this image from the post...

Even though Mandel makes us promise never to share our list of reasons with anyone else, I think it’s helpful for people to hear examples of HEALTHY and POSITIVE reasons for why we create.

If you have any you want to share, or if you have other tips for how we can rearrange our internal furniture to help us on our creative journey, please share in the comments below!

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