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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Stood Up!


Have you ever been stood up? Or waited so long for someone to show up for a date or meeting that you feared you were being stood up?

At first, we get irritated, “Why is he always late?” Then we get nervous, “What if something happened to her?” Then we go back to being mad, “This is so rude and inconsiderate.” We ratchet the anger up every couple of minutes and fantasize the scolding and withering comments we’ll deliver when the other person finally shows up. Underneath the anger, we’re scared, sad and afraid we’ve been rejected and that other people will see us waiting and think we’re pathetic losers.

As rotten as it feels to be stood up, just imagine how bad it is to stand yourself up. On the surface, that might not make sense; you can’t stand yourself up. When you change your plans, you know it. You don’t have to explain it to yourself. Even if you forget an appointment with yourself, it’s not as if there’s some part of you sitting in a restaurant somewhere waiting for you to show up.

Except there is.

Standing Yourself Up Causes Writer’s Block

When you promise yourself you’ll show up for your Product Time, Process or Self-Care and then blow off that appointment to do something else, there is a part of you that feels disappointed and let down. And it’s the part of you that’s essential for writing.

So you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t where to start the next time you actually do show up for writing. A lot of blank mind syndrome and I-don’t-know-what-to-write angst is self-generated.

As Normal Mailer points out in The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing, “If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. ‘Count on me,’ you are saying to a few forces below: ‘I will be there to write.’ The point is that you have to maintain trustworthy relations. If you wake up in the morning with a hangover and cannot get to literary work, your unconscious, after a few such failures to appear, will withdraw.”

Note that your unconscious, the source of all your imagination and innovation, withdraws. And no wonder. Wouldn’t you stop believing in you after all the promises you’ve broken?

Mailer warns, “If you fail to show up in the morning after you vowed that you would be at your desk as you went to sleep last night, then you will walk around with ants in your brain. Rule of thumb: Restlessness of mind can be measured by the number of promises that remain unkept.”

Mailer offers hope, but you have to earn it.

“But if you subject yourself to this impost [sic] upon yourself, this diktat [sic] to be dependable, then after a period of time – it can take weeks, or more – the unconscious, nursing its disappointment, may begin to trust you again.”

You must re-earn trust in yourself and from your unconscious. To do so, you must honor your commitments to yourself. You must show up when you say you will No Matter What! Mailer advises that it may take weeks. Why should your unconscious quickly give up its treasures to you when you’ve been so ungrateful and inconsistent?

You have to be willing to show up even when you feel like you have nothing to write. You show up and wait. You refrain from ditching out early. If you promised yourself 15 minutes, you remain available to your writing for the full 15 minutes; you don’t wander off to see who’s sent you an email or text message.

What makes the 15 Magic Minutes work is that you commit to showing up for those small, regular sessions No Matter What! You show up every time you say you will no matter what else is going on that day. This consistency builds a habit, or in brain science terms, a new neural pathway for writing.

But more importantly, showing up when you say you will allows you to forgive yourself for all the promises you made in the past to write but didn’t keep. You learn to trust yourself again.

When you finally show your unconscious you are sincere and trustworthy, you will find your unconscious is generous in its forgiveness. Your mind will sparkle with exciting images and intriguing ideas and you’ll have plenty to work with in your Product Time.

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