When I was a kid, I lived with the constant refrain of my father’s voice saying, “Turn off the lights!”
What can I say, I liked a bright room.
His persistence worked, though. Eventually, I internalized his voice and became the kind of adult who turns off the light in every room as I exit.
Today I’d like to be that voice for you, only I am less concerned with your lights, and more with helping you turn off energy draining thoughts that pull from your creativity and writing.
I doubt even the most experimental science can pinpoint the exact source of creativity—that mystical, untamed power I believe we all have in one form or another. While I don’t know where creativity comes from, I do know that our vehicle for accessing it—our minds, centered within our bodies—require enough of the right kinds of fuel in order to make any art. And I’m not just talking about the food and sleep necessary to keep the machine running. I mean your mental apparatus, the gateway to your writing fire.
I see so many talented writers fritter away their mental fuel on doubts, anxieties, worries over what others will think, fear of never reaching their goals, pissing people off, of being rejected and ridiculed. I get it—thanks to social media, and the 24-hour nature of it in particular, we live in a brutally self-conscious era, which both promises and threatens a spotlight on your every flaw or failure. And don’t even get me started on all the other mental thought and worry drains: food, weight, death, taxes, sex, climate change, your kids’ summer plans, etc. I get it. The thing is, your fears, while valid, suck up all that lovely, wild, mystical creativity that is one of the gifts of being alive.
You do not have to be a student of the school of positive thinking to protect your creative energy; instead consider taking up tutelage in the school of focused thinking. Engage in radical redirection: you may allow your mind its wild wanderings and worries for only certain periods of time, and definitely not when you sit down to write. Pay attention to how you waste and drain your fuel source on things that don’t fill you (or others) back up. If you want, you may call this mindfulness, or mental conservation, or just practicality.
If your thoughts were gasoline or electricity (and they might as well be), you wouldn’t drive one block when you could walk, and you hopefully wouldn’t turn all the lights on in the bright of day.
Engage in radical redirection:
1) Thoughts become habits. The more steam you give to the ones that drain your power source, the greater they will become. Pinch off their supply.
2) Seek the leak. Notice when your mental processes are draining your energy to write and create, and which ones have more fuel-reducing power than others (write them down if it helps you to see them). Remind yourself that they are just thoughts.
3) Chain your brain. Establish time boundaries around your draining thoughts. When you sit down to write, the thoughts are not granted permission. Set a timer. When you “hear” them, shake a fist at them like bratty little kids sneering at you outside your window, and go back to work.
4) Develop a counter-mantra. Your thought says “you suck” and your counter-mantra is, “Yeah but you’re an immaterial moment of consciousness that I have control over!” (or your own version). Cue diabolical laughter.
5) Be the boss of you. Remember, no matter how awful the thoughts or voices, you are the captain, the boss of your writing life. If you don’t push yourself through it, no one will make you.