I’ve been studying psychology to better understand what leads to your best writing.
Over the weekend, I listened to a webinar with Gabor Maté, the famed physician with expertise in both trauma and addiction. During the webinar, he defined trauma in several ways—first as a separation from your authentic self, and then as a wound that causes a scar. Like all scars, it becomes hard and rigid, which is what happens to us.
From our rigidity, we build rules for how the world should work. Instead of connecting, we armor up against others and engage in behaviors that defend against the pain we’re holding onto, like workaholism, people pleasing, overachieving, perfectionism, and addiction.
Gabor says, “It’s not so much about the event, but our interpretation of the event. Because it lives inside us, rather than in an unchangeable past moment, it can be healed.”
For many of us, writing has been the container we use for this healing. The page is a place where we can work through our pain, examine it, feel it, and shape it into something that has new meaning. As we do this, we recover our balance, which is the key to creating your best writing.
This is the sacred power of storytelling.
But the publication process can be a destabilizing journey that reignites our sense of separation, especially when we feel pressured to complete a list of impossible goals, like:
- Please the social media gods
- Be a good literary citizen
- Read everything
- Create a perfect story
- Write something that goes viral
And so on.
Like most authors, I struggle with these pressures, and the doubts that come with them sometimes supersede my confidence. The part of me that armors up hates to admit this, let alone share this with you. But we are only as sick as our secrets, and while I look forward to one day holding the published copy of my memoir, I care more about becoming whole.
As much as I dislike it, illness brings me back to my wholeness. Gabor Maté says that’s because illness is the body’s way of saying no when there’s something in the world we’re not saying no to.
After a bout of COVID, I asked myself the following questions, which can help you create your best writing:
- What is keeping me from my authentic self?
- What should I be saying no to in my life?
- What did I fail to see or do?
In my case, the message was around not paying attention to my intuition, and instead reverting to old behaviors patterns. That old shit created an imbalance that allowed COVID to enter.
As I gently and compassionately explored these patterns, I could see how they show up in both my writing and other parts of my life. Identifying them is the first step in addressing them, which is exactly what I plan to do.
While I’m keeping the specifics close to the vest because I’m still processing them, here are a few ways our coping mechanisms affect our writing lives, which keeps you from your best writing.
Workaholism can either cause us to overwrite or keep us so busy we never make it to our writing desks.
A need to please can cause us to water down our boldest truths or prevent us from expressing them.
Overachievement can stress us out about how our work will be received, which can lead to perfectionism and endless rounds of revision.
On the flip side, we can become so addicted to the high of success, we feel depressed and less than when we’re not performing at the top of our game.
As you prepare for the equinox, give yourself the gift of balance by asking yourself my list of convalescence questions, and then look at your answers with compassion. I know it can be uncomfortable to dig deeply into these things, but this is how we live our fullest lives and create the pieces you’re most proud of.
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