A drawing of Blade Runner, some words on how to approach self doubt, and an improv game for divergent thinking.
I like writing because when I write, I gain insight and clarity into my own thoughts. It’s a space where I can make conscious all the undifferentiated, inarticulate energies that move me. I write to illuminate my internal world and it is a wholly rewarding experience that I regularly look forward to. When I approach it as an act of self-discovery in this way, I don’t overly identify with the writing and so I have fun with it.
Sharing my writing is kind of the opposite though. I feel anxious, risk averse, defensive. I identify myself with the quality of the work, worried about what other people will think of me when they read it. It doesn’t much matter how people actually react, no amount of positive feedback can relieve the anxiety. In fact, sometimes the positive feedback triggers a new anxiety of having to match the previous success.
Writing for myself is an almost guaranteed positive experience of insight and growth. Sharing my work triggers the all the neurotic, anxious, and fearful parts.
I could just write for myself, as a personal activity, entries into a journal and leave it at that. But there is something compelling and important for me about sharing these thoughts with other people. The promise of connection, of knowing that these thoughts that bubble up in my internal experience might not only be mine privately, but a common experience shared by others. That potential for a deep connection through the work is an exciting prospect.
My better self realizes that it’s worth the risk, but my neurotic self simply won’t get on board with that idea. Not without some cajoling.
So, in order to obey the bigger me who understands the value of putting my work out into the world, I need to find ways of navigating around the reluctant self. I need to circumvent that self that looks for any and all ways of weaseling out of being vulnerable.
One way I’ve done this is to brute force it. To just write and go and not think and run with my eyes closed. This usually works for a little while, but as soon as I stop to catch my breath, I get tackled from behind. A month, maybe two, but I’m soon completely derailed.
No, if I’m going if I am to make a long term, sustained go at this creative stuff, I need a more considered approach. I need an approach that gives me plenty of space and time to recognize that the perceived danger is an illusion. I need the mental space to allow the voices of doubt to say their peace and settle down. Once they have made their voices heard, I know where they all are, and they become more manageable. I can navigate to my destination without crashing into them.
When the work is done, they go back to where they came from, chattering amongst themselves in the dark, ready to emerge again the next time they sense danger. In the meantime, I’ll start a new creative project, in my safe little corner of discovery before it’s time to cross their territory again.
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A game that I sometimes like to play to generate ideas is another one from improv called Three Things. It’s normally played with multiple people in a circle, with one person passing a category to the person next to them. The receiver then has come up with three things in that category as quickly as possible.
For example, I might say to the person on my right, “three blue things”. That person would then say the first three blue things that come to mind. Something like blueberries, smurfs, and the aliens from avatar. The idea is to go quickly, accuracy is secondary to speed.
While I enjoy playing with other people, I sometimes just play by myself when I don’t have an idea, or want to create divergent directions for something I’m working on.
Say you’re trying to come up with a story, you don’t really have anything to start, so you just generate ideas. You might tell yourself, three places with a castle or three planets. Don’t overthink it. Then immediately launch into the three places. So three places in England might be Stonehenge, a bog, and London Bridge.
The point is not to have a good idea. The point is to be obvious and go fast and take the first ideas that come. Obviously, you don’t want to trip over yourself, so you just have to try it several times to find a solid rhythm.
It’s the most fun when you surprise yourself. Maybe you make a mistake, but that mistake leads you to an idea you wouldn’t have thought of, something you’d like to pursue. The point is not to get it right, but to subvert your normal inhibitory thoughts and allow your subconscious to speak for you.
And of course there’s no reason you have to stop at three. You could do five or ten. Too many though, and it might interfere with your ability to come up with ideas quickly.
It takes a little practice to find a rhythm and flow, but it can be an excellent tool to help you get out of your own way.