Two Tools for Writers

Two tools from my book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, have caught my attention lately. I want to explore them here, in hopes that they’ll be of use.

It’s Not Lost

This tool grew out of a conversation I had with a painter. She’d had a long career, and knew her own mind, trusting herself to make sound creative decisions. She knew when to experiment, when to develop a body of work around a common theme, and when to call it quits when something wasn’t working for her.

One September, we met up after she’d returned from a summer in the country, spent painting up a storm at her cabin. Over coffee, she told me that, before she packed to return to the city, she’d destroyed a good part of her entire creative output from the previous three months. Startled, I exclaimed – “Oh, Therese!” She patted my hand and replied, “Anne, it’s not lost.” 


Image credit: Pixabay

It took me a minute to get it. 

When I did, I was so grateful to have had that moment with her. She reminded me of a basic truth about making things: Not all of them are worth keeping. And beyond that truth is the deeper one: Creative effort isn’t “wasted” just because something we’ve made doesn’t succeed. Our creative lives build and grow and meander and double back and get lost and reorient and continue – and none of the wandering is wasted. It all teaches us, develops our technique, taste, experience, and judgment.

That’s a lot of words, but my friend Therese had it right when she said, very simply, “it’s not lost.”

Lately I’ve been remembering Therese and her wise words. I told her story to several coaching clients recently, when frustration, roadblocks, or unexpected friction got in the way of their creative flow. Our creative work is a continuum. None of it is lost. We can rest in that knowing, and find some peace.

Objection, Your Honor!

In this second tool, I wrote about how to deal with “bullies, trolls, and monsters.” That’s how I characterize those inner mean voices that can undermine, browbeat, and overpower our best creative ideas. I suggest that we formulate specific replies to those voices, and keep them handy, ready to deploy as needed. In the book, I conclude the Objection, Your Honor! tool like this: 

“Give [your own bullies, trolls, and monsters] a piece of your mind….[S]trutting around with this renewed outlook makes it much easier to keep [them] at bay. In fact, you may find an opportunity to invite them all to go off and amuse themselves some other way. For good.”

If I were writing that tool for the handbook today, I’d change those final words. Nowadays, I look at those inner voices a little differently. I’m no longer recommending that we banish the ‘bad guys.’ At this point, I’m more inclined to suggest that sometimes it’s a good idea to have a chat with the irritating interior character that belittles, intimidates, and otherwise saps your creative energies.

To be clear, most of the Objection, Your Honor! tool still works well for me. Like me, my coaching clients find that they benefit from scripting their replies to mean inner voices, sometimes even posting signs around their workspace as prompts to keep handy, for that disconcerting moment when the mean voice catches them unawares. What has changed is the fate of the mean-voiced part of myself. 

Now, I like to welcome that part back to the table, so to speak – as long as it belongs to me. That mean voice is sometimes not even mine, coming instead from old relationships, some of them dating as far back as childhood. If the mean voice isn’t mine, and instead derives from other people – yeah, I’m okay letting those go away, for good. 

For the mean voices that do come from within me, I apply the theory that all of our inner voices represent parts of ourselves. Those parts deserve to be listened to and taken seriously. I’ve come to accept that, as a part of me, that bully may just be out of touch – or out of date – and misinformed about the current situation. 

Oftentimes the solution is simple – the mean voice just needs an update. For example, a client’s inner protector decades ago made sure that she maintained a ‘ladylike’ approach to expressing herself. Whenever she found herself writing bluntly, fiercely, or wielding frightening truth, her inner monster recoiled, drawing itself up into a caricature of Victorian propriety, and raining disfavor and disapproval down on the writer for offending the standards of a hundred-plus years ago. 


Image credit: Pixabay

The client came to see that in fact, there had been a time in her life when obeying the advice of her inner protector had been prudent. But that time had long passed. She is now an adult, free to make her own artistic choices and to express herself clearly. She decided to have an imaginary conversation with the part of her that was giving such outdated advice. As a result, the protector came to understand that the writer was a responsible grown-up, no longer needing the protector’s outdated and unnecessary intervention.

Another client needed to remember that reaching out to do marketing as an independent author wasn’t by definition tacky and embarrassing. His inner bully maintained that it was classless and debasing to say or write anything that might possibly smack of what it insisted on calling ‘shameless self-promotion.’ The solution here was to sit the bully down and explain in dollars and cents the difference to their financial future that a sane content marketing plan could make. The client showed the bully that for content marketing to work, there had to be – uh – content: words and sentences that were potentially self-serving, and also utterly appropriate as well as useful and/or entertaining to the client’s readers. Once the bully got the picture, those rants about shameless self-promotion came to an end. Instead, the client keeps a little catch phrase handy, to remind himself – and the bully if it’s listening: 

Helpful self-promotion builds platform and attracts readers.

I love it when a client says they’ve opened their copy of FLOAT and found a tool that benefited them. These two tools have shown up lately for a few people in my circle, so I’m sharing the news. Please enjoy!

A M Carley is the author of FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, where these and more than 80 other creativity tools for writers appear. FLOAT is available in paperback and ebook editions.