While I was in training as a group therapist, a fellow student was distraught because she couldn’t imagine the colors red and gray. The therapist/supervisor parrots not seeing colors as he asked her about the qualities of red and gray. She was in a double bind. If you can’t imagine the colors, logically you can’t describe them; if you describe them, you can imagine them. She continued describing the colors while appearing emotionally distraught at her inability to express them.
There was another student in the same group which was holding back from going to school because, “I will be forty-four when I get out.” The supervisor asked him, “How old will you be in four years if you don’t go to school?” The reply, “Forty-four…that doesn’t seem right.” He was holding himself back by worrying about something that he couldn’t change.
On yet another occasion, a student said, “I’m stuck, out of ideas. I just don’t know what to do.” The supervisor asked him, “What would you do if you could think of it?” The student began responding, and then said, “That’s not fair, YOU made me think of something to do when you knew I couldn’t.”
I have noticed in my critique group that some of us (I include myself here) can’t see our own writing problems and repeat them. We come to a group full of hope that we have finally written a piece that will sail through critique only to have the same old problems pointed out to us. We can’t imagine how we could have missed those problems again. We can’t see red or gray. We will have to take some time, let’s say a year, and study our problems and fix them, but we will be a year older if we do that. Worst of all we can’t come up with any ideas about how to fix our perpetual problems.
The problem is we are in a double-blind that prevents us from seeing our own flaws. Interestingly, the same people quickly point to the flaws of others, even the flaws they can’t find in their own work. It’s a curious problem.
Here’s why I think it occurs: We typically use two ego states when writing fiction. The child within is the one that comes up with original ideas. Our adult within tells us to follow certain rules, but we don’t listen much to that when being creative.
Look at all the advice to writers when writing first drafts: Don’t edit, Don’t stop yourself, let it flow free without restriction. You can come back later and fix it.
Another way is saying the same thing is, “If you regularly stop your child from being playful when you write, it will grow tired of playing and you will lose your muse. You have to let the child play, then come back later and use adult rules to clean up the child’s mess. Or, filter the writing through parent rules and edit out the offending parts to make it acceptable.”
The problem occurs when we won’t actually turn into our adult. When we can’t see the child’s problems. We have blind spots. When we let it run free in the literary supermarket, fearing we will damage its self-esteem if we correct it in public.
Editing requires an adult in the driver’s seat who knows the rules, knows markets and created their own goals.