In my last blog post I mentioned that I would be writing about unnamed characters and ambiguity this week. However, I’ve had a few thoughts kicking around that I wanted to share first, so I’ll resume regularly scheduled programing on my next blog day. All apologies for the change in topic, but hopefully there will be some value in what I discuss, which is writerly resistance, self-awareness, and instinct.
Resistance, in the form I’m discussing today, is a counseling term. Essentially, this describes when a client is unwilling to explore certain material for reasons that they may be cognizant of or for reasons that may lie in their subconscious. It’s the counselor’s job to help unearth what propels this resistance… It could be that the content is too painful, that they don’t trust the counselor enough yet to dive in too deeply, or that they don’t want to be in counseling, period (think a mandated client or an adolescent).
Resistance has its place in writing, too. Stop and think about times when you’ve avoided working on a particular scene or even when you’ve avoided sitting down to write entirely. (When I didn’t want to work on my novel, I would clean or workout or walk the dog or write a short story or….just about anything but write the novel!) Assess why you are avoiding particular scenes or the work as a whole. One reason could be that you’re afraid to hurt your characters, and you don’t want to write that scene where someone dies, or breaks up, or spirals out of control. Maybe there is a major overhaul needed, and you know this deep down but are fighting the change, or finally, perhaps you are burnt-out from writing this particular project and need to step away.
So much success in counseling—for both a competent clinician and an empowered client—rests on being self-aware, and in the creative world, too, self-awareness is critical. Being self-aware requires you to understand who you are at a deeper level, including why you behave, feel, and think in certain ways. Reflecting on your own habits, choices, and emotions as a writer can aid you with increasing creative output by helping you to get out of your own way when resistance strikes. If you’re having a hard time killing a character, this may be simply because you’ve grown close to your characters. But, maybe it’s deeper than that, like unresolved grief. If you’re avoiding writing as a whole, examine if you are feeling pressure, and if you are, figure out what is causing it. There’s a lot of you to get to know.
You as the writer know what needs to be done, and only you can do it. You’re the one who has to deduce what is holding back your writing process. Becoming self-aware and noticing those times you resist the organic direction of the piece is essential for the true spirit of the work to emerge.
So, how does one acquire this self-awareness? Try keeping a journal about your writing progress, particularly if you are getting frustrated with something. Keep track of what and when you avoid writing. Take the time to simply ask yourself “why” when it’s one of those days when you’d rather throw your laptop off of a balcony than revise your piece. Try to find out what is stopping you then tackle it head on… And then, of course, sit down and write.
Self-awareness also naturally feeds into the last thought I wanted to discuss, which is writerly instinct. This is a difficult concept for me to pin down, as it is so personal and intangible. Sometimes, you have to trust your gut about your work. You know when something is right; you know when something is wrong. I can read my work and get to a section where I feel just wonderful about it, like a writer’s high, and then read on and find something that just isn’t right. Perhaps technically it’s fine, and maybe it’s a very small thing, but it will niggle at me until I find a way to fix it.
Sometimes, your instinct may let you know it’s off, but you won’t be far enough away to arrive at an alternate solution. This happened to me with this one very large scene I was working with, and it felt wrong. It always bothered me, and I cringed when I read it. I revised it this way and that for two years, until last year my mentor told me that there was just too much going on in the scene. She suggested breaking it up into mini-scenes, and after I did this, it worked. It felt right. So, use your tribe to help you when your instincts tip you off.
On the flip side, if there is a piece of advice you get from your writing peers that doesn’t sit right with you, listen to your instincts. It may be that the advice from your peers is something you wish to not include, as long as you’ve made sure it’s not simply resistance creeping up on you. (See how this all ties together? What fun!)
I hope you’ve all enjoyed another exposure to the intersection of counseling and writing, and please share in the comments section if you have any thoughts you’d like to add. We’d love to hear them!