I’m assuming you’ve heard of the seven deadly sins? Wrath, sloth, gluttony, pride and the rest. Lesser known are the seven holy virtues, which include chastity, temperance and charity (and are far less fun than the sins, but that’s a whole other story).
Even less well know are the seven enemies of creativity. These little mental viruses can infect you at any moment, paralysing your ability to write and sending your word count into a tail spin.
The good news is, once you know about them you can beat them, so read on to learn more and protect your creativity.
You’re going to start writing today, right? Well. Maybe next week would be better. But wait – there’s that big meeting at work on Tuesday, then Wednesday is parent-teacher night, then Thursday is footy practice, and Friday you’ve got that appointment with the dentist...
But the week after? No problem!
To ward off The Procrastinator, try this exercise:
Remember when you missed school and your mum had to write a note? Next time you want to skip writing, take out a sheet of writing paper, and in your best ‘Mum’ handwriting, write yourself an excuse note:
Cara won’t be writing on Friday because she has to go to the dentist.
Now think about it – is this really a good excuse to do no writing ALL DAY? Or do you just have to reshuffle your schedule a little?
All of us play this role at some point in our lives. It’s an easy way to avoid the challenge of creativity because The Victim points her finger at other people and says ‘I’m not creative because...
· my family doesn’t understand me
· my boss is a jerk
· my housemates are noisy
· my children are demanding’
The key to fighting The Victim is to stop complaining and realise that the only reason you don’t lead a creative life is because of YOU.
To fight off an attack of The Victim, try this exercise:
List the most common and frequent reasons you give for not spending more time being creative. Next to each entry on the list, write who is in control of that situation (hint: the answer is ‘me’. Every time). Now write your plan of action: for example, if your excuse is noisy housemates (or kids), your plan could be to fill your iPod with great tunes and plug yourself in when you write.
The Talker is the enemy who just won’t shut up. You’ve got a great idea for a novel, and The Talker tells everyone. Your mum. Your writing group. Everyone at work. And by talking and talking and talking, she squanders your creative nest egg. When you finally sit down to put the idea into action, its dead, or at least not as exciting as it seemed a few days ago.
To silence The Talker, try this exercise:
When you feel The Talker wanting to take over, tell her she can talk about it when you’ve written the next scene. The urge to talk will abate as you immerse yourself in your writing again.
The first thing to understand is that The Critic never goes away. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been published, The Critic still sits there and is never truly silenced.
The best thing you can do with The Critic is to learn to be friends with him. Yes, seriously. As your writing career progresses, he is the one Enemy who can turn into a Friend, as he will help you to identify strong writing from weak writing.
To become friends with The Critic, try this exercise:
Sit down and commit to writing for a set period of time, maybe half an hour. Just write – it doesn’t matter how good it is. You can guarantee that The Critic will stick his head in at some point and offer some advice. When that happens, promise him that he can look at your work at the end of your scheduled writing time.
At the end of half an hour, stop writing and let The Critic go for it. Let him pull it apart if need be. This exercise starts to build a trust between your Muse and your Critic – both learn that when they are working, the other one isn’t going to butt in and interrupt.
The Judge is your conscience, and he appears when we feel guilty about spending time writing. We start to feel selfish for spending time tapping away. Isn’t there a better way to spend our time, to make money, rather than indulging in fantasies of publication and bestseller lists?
To make The Judge chill out, try this exercise:
Write about why you need to write. Call your essay ‘Why I Write’, and be brutally honest. Really dig down into the urge you have to write, and talk about how your life would be if you didn’t write (here’s a clue: The Victim would get even louder if you didn’t write). When The Judge starts picking on you, get your essay out and re-read it.
The Author is that part of ourselves that sees every moment of writing as important and valid ONLY IF it leads to publication. The Author is the one that urges us to follow the market rather than our hearts. The Author is the one who tuts away in the background if we spend a morning writing a short story when we ‘should’ be working on our novel. Or working on a character sketch that has nothing to do with our current manuscript.
To give The Author a sense of perspective, try this exercise:
Remember this – ALL WRITING IS GOOD. Every moment that we spend putting words on a page increases our creativity. And that character you’ve just sketched out could be your next heroine.
Allow yourself a set period of time every day where you’re allowed to work on something else. Set up a separate notebook or folder for random writings, and use this to record ideas that don’t relate to your main project.
Yes, she can be an enemy of creativity if you don’t learn to work with her properly. Sitting around waiting for her to show up is not how books get written. The Muse works best with a regular schedule – book time with her, and she will show up brimming with ideas. Meet her irregularly and she’s likely to forget you even exist.
To catch up with The Muse, try this exercise:
Woody Allen once said that 80 per cent of being successful in life is just showing up. For one week, schedule a specific period of time each day where you sit at your desk (or wherever you write). You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else either – no internet surfing, no emails, no texts, no phone calls. Having this quiet, regular time will encourage The Muse to visit with ideas.