Monthly Archives: June 2015

Blind Spots

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.

Pumping a Dry Well

Every once in a while, my get-up-and-go gets up and goes. Coming up with ideas becomes hard, my mind seems to be blank, and projects that enthralled me yesterday are as dry as a cow’s skull in the Chihuahua desert. What to do?

People have many ways of dealing with writer’s block. One of my favorites is to walk away from whatever I’m working on and do something else that’s creative. I may start an entirely unrelated story; research an idea, exercise, or cook, anything that takes me away from the dead spot.

I used to race sailboats. At times, there are calms and you sit dead in the water, but there are things you can do. The best of those is to look for a spot where the water is rippled. That tells you there is wind there. You point your boat to where there is some activity and hope it will get good winds. The same applies to writing. You can sit in a dead space forever, but if you go to where there is some activity, you can get started again.

Another thing to do is to change your mindset about what you are doing. When it comes to writing there are several categories of activity, among them are: creative writing, rereading your work out loud, having someone else read it, scanning your work for known errors, designing book covers,  writing endnotes, preparing your book for epublication, and marketing your work.

I believe each of these activities use different ego states, different ways of thinking. When you go from creative writing to editing, for example, you change your perspective and use different parts of your brain.  Creativity requires childlike ideation; editing requires adult thinking. It is almost impossible to do those two activities at the same time.

Putting heavy demands on yourself when your creativity goes—when you dry up, hardly ever works. Why? It’s like telling a bored child to stop being bored and play. They sullenly stare at you like a zombie waiting for you to tell them how to play. You have to distract them by having them do something else, only then can they get back into their playing mode.

The problem is the same with many writers. If you tell them to just be creative, they give you the same look as a child you’ve told to play. You have to change your view of life if you’re stuck.

I believe this so strongly that I worked it into my lectures at the university where I worked. I didn’t intentionally include it. When I retired, my students gave me a plaque that read, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” Each of us can change how we look at the world at will.