Shutting down for years

Drip, Drip, Drip, acrylic on paper, http://www.carolineallen.com

As a coach, I come across a lot of writers who go through strong on and off phases with writing. They write for years, are passionate about taking classes, begin a novel, almost finish several short stories, then they shut down and do no writing for years. Not months, years!

If you’re a former student reading this and you think I’m talking about you, please don’t take it personally. Truly, you are one of hundreds of people I come across who experience this pattern.

I don’t have such a pattern myself in the realm of writing, but I do seem to find it on a smaller scale in the visual arts. I am so glad that I came late to visual art, began it just as I was starting to be a writing teacher and coach, because it has helped me immensely in understanding the tribulations that new writers face.

So, I’ll find myself rocketing forward in a two-year phase of painting, doing some of the best work I’ve ever done, then I cannot touch art for months. Although now, I make sure I do some visual art once a week so that I can try to break this cycle. Meanwhile I would like to add that I’m working on a novel so I suppose I should be giving myself a break here.

At any rate, this pattern of zoning in and out of the artistic process for writers and artists fascinates me. So I decided to explore why this might be happening.

My strongest intuition is that when we open ourselves to our soul’s path as writers, we sense that to follow that path full-time would change our lives forever. I believe this freaks us out and to preserve life as we know it, we shut down. Fundamentally, exploring and expressing your passion, voice, truth changes your relationship to yourself. In consequence, it changes your relationship to your boyfriend, your wife, your children, your husband, your banker, the Earth. It changes you forever.

I think as we open ourselves up we begin to realize how much of a paradigm shift we’re up against. I think we realize that opening ourselves to a poetic path also opens us up to channeling more of the joy and trauma not only of our own personal lives, but also of own pasts, our past lives, our future lives, as well as what’s going on in the rest of the world, earthquakes in Haiti, bombs in Iraq, etc. etc. ad naseum.

Is it no wonder we shut down?

I also sense another side to this shutting down. I think we begin to realize how much work is involved in becoming good at our art form. I don’t say this lightly. Sometimes when I’m doing visual art, I can see that I would just begin to be able to be good at it when I’m about 80 and only if it painted and studied every day. That, my friends, is daunting, to say the least.

So how do we deal with this overwhelm so we can keep doing our writing and not shut down for years at a time?

I do not know the answer. Boundaries? If we set strong start and finish times around opening ourselves to the process, would that help us not channel world to trauma all day long? Would it help after we finish a session of writing to do protection visualizations before we go out into the world — like visualizing surrounding ourselves with armor?

What about being conscious, and spending the shutdown time exploring our fears in therapy, working on our low self-esteem with spiritual work, or simply venting the hell out of our rage in red journals scored with ink splotches?

The only thing I do know is that I want to start a dialogue around it. Talking about it must help. So, if you are despairing over the amount of time you’re spending shut down around your writing, talk to someone about it. Open up a dialogue. Comment below. Let’s slay this monster.

I’m a writing coach. Contact me for a free initial consultation, www.artofstorytellingonline.com.

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One thought on “Shutting down for years

  1. When people ask me how long I’ve been working on my novel, I say, “I’ve not been working on it for 20 years, but I’m working on it now.” Subtracting non-working time from the total length of a project is important (to me) because during most of that 20 year period, I did nothing on my book–except for finish it twice and throw both versions away. I’m glad–a little bit–that it took me this long to be ‘almost done.’ Any book I would have published before this moment would have been a lesser work. Working in the moment is what is important–and I’m going to get to work, now.

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