Writers are often plagued with beliefs, myths, and fears that conspire against our pure creative impulses. These internal quandaries can lead us to endless over editing, myriad false starts, or stalling out completely.
While leading a workshop recently in Los Angeles, I asked participants to share some less-than-helpful stereotypes about what makes someone a “Writer.” Within minutes, we had covered a poster-sized sticky paper in purple marker describing various tropes that truly bummed me out. Our collectively received ideals painted a clear picture: an individual who is solitary, intensely disciplined, and dependent on drugs or alcohol to create. Our “Writer” used sophisticated language, had already been published, belonged to an elite clique, and found writing easy and enjoyable to perform every single day.
Some of these myths are likely to ring a bell for you. Some are so common (and commonly disproven) that you might think it’s ridiculous to even conjure them. When a room full of writers make a list of what a writer “should” do, and none of you feel represented by it, well, the list becomes a little bit funny. The list gets a little easier to put into perspective, a little bit farther from the place it lived before, parading as your own internal voice, insisting that the writing you do (and when and how you do it) is not enough.
But there’s one myth underlying this poster-sized description that I find most writers trapped by--and it may surprise you. The lie that I see hurt writers most? The belief that writing must be done alone.
Writers who join me in workshops and coaching sessions often arrive with their heads hanging low, ashamed that they “weren’t disciplined enough” to do it alone, carrying thinly veiled self-criticism about a lack of austerity in their lives. Is this what writing asks of us? To berate and isolate ourselves? To live in a windowless room of supposed productivity? I think not!
I’ll let you in on a little secret—actually, let me shout it from the rooftop. I don’t do it alone! And the majority of writers I know? They don’t either.
Sure, there are times I sit down on my own to write--days I can make myself stick to a schedule, or meet a self-imposed deadline--but that’s not the bread and butter of my practice. Even when I am drafting or revising on my own, I do best in a café where I can tap into the hum of shared work, or at a kitchen table next to another creative woman getting down with her laptop and stacks of books. When I look back over the years of my writing practice, I recognize that some of my best pieces were generated in workshops and writing groups. In addition to the fantastic influence that other minds, ideas, and energy can have on first drafts, I consistently turn to other writers to review my writing before I feel confident calling something “done.”
The idea that we ought to produce writing in isolation is so pervasive that my clients often express surprise after our sessions together. They can’t believe they generated that much new writing, or solved so many problems in our short time together. The magic behind this phenomenon is no more mysterious to me than what’s really behind “Writer’s Block,” and in fact, they’re related. “Writer’s Block” is a guise for all the ways you secretly and successfully tell yourself “No.” It’s a clever misnomer for negative misconceptions about your own writing, latching onto your particular fears and doubts. The gloom of “Writer’s Block” often pushes writers deeper into habits that produce shame and anxiety rather than creativity. It inspires bad ideas like trying to deprive and confine yourself into successful writing sessions.
Believe it or not, writers are just like other people. We benefit from structure, accountability, camaraderie, conversation, feedback, company, and external validation. You’ve got blank pages to fill, a vast imagination to hone into words, a truth it takes courage to tell. Isn’t that work enough, without battling a creative vacuum of loneliness?
Workshops, mentors, coaches, peers, collaborative projects, and shared work spaces are all writing tools that work just as hard for you as a journal, a pen, a computer. How can you build structures and relationships--just like you would in other parts of your life--in service of your writing? Next time you hit a creative snag, what would it mean to give yourself permission to turn toward others instead of away?