As a creative writing coach, I hear people accusing themselves of being lazy a lot.
I don’t buy it.
For a long time I’ve had the hunch that when my clients call themselves “lazy” or say they’ve been “procrastinating”, it’s actually because they have hit a place in their creative work that scares them. They turn the blame on themselves, when actually there’s something much bigger and more mysterious at work.
To support my idea I started reading what researchers say about procrastination. Here’s my favourite, in the words of Jane B. Burka and Lenora M. Yuen: “Somewhere in the process [of creating art or anything else] your brain perceives a danger and procrastination is your response and your protection.”
That leaves us with one big important question. Why would creativity make us scared?
Here are four of the reasons I see (and feel in myself) the most…
- Fear of facing our darkness.
- Fear of hurting someone… including ourselves.
- Fear of not being good enough.
- Fear of being seen.
None of these are our fault and none of them suggest that we’re “lazy”.
That leaves us with another big, important question: How do we nudge that fear away so that we can get some work done?
Fear is often an “old” emotion. By the time we’re aware of it, fear has often worn a thick neural pathway in our brain making it hard to veer in another direction when it sparks up. Building new paths takes patience. Here are some small steps that I’ve seen working in my clients, and in my own creative life.
- BUY A PAPER SHREDDER. I know one writer who shredded everything she wrote for years. The shredder sat beside her desk, ready to destroy her writing as soon as it came out. It was the medicine she needed, and after those years she was ready to keep some of her writing in a drawer, and finally to share it.This may sound drastic, but the point is to take charge of your own safety. If you’re afraid of exposure or if you have been hurt by harmful critique in the past, a shredder or equivalent might do wonders.
- GIT YOURSELF GONE. As a sensitive person, I am highly tuned in to the social world around me, so it’s hard for me to write when there are people in my home or even my inbox. I do my best work on internet-free long train rides, tiny cabins and in the middle of the night. I don’t have the luxury of being able to check into a hotel when I feelthe urge, so I’m always on the outlook for options. Computer-free weekends are great. Housesitting can be a miracle. At the minimum, I scribble on the subway far from wireless signals.Creating little sanctuaries away from the people we love is essential to tune our attention inside, where the deepest creative work comes from.
- FIND KINDNESS. Creativity has an inherent dark side. When I first turned back towards writing in my mid-20’s I was a mess. My hands shook and my dreams were terrifying.And then that changed. I found a loving writing group where I could shyly share my work and watch other people dive into their hard material. I found a few close friends who would read my drafts and offer kind words. Light poured in.
When you’re past the shredder stage, community is important. It might take the form of a group, a friend, a coach or even a message board. I can help with workshops in Toronto, e-classes and one-on-one coaching. A quick google search will turn up lots more.
I could go on for days! Drop me a line if you want to continue the conversation. And… happy scribbling.
Chris Kay Fraser, Writing coach and facilitator. Retreat organizer. Head honcho.
Firefly Creative Writing