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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.

How Trustworthy Are You?

To write what you truly want to write, you must take creative risks.

You have to keep moving forward when you’re uncertain.

You have to expose your creative self.

You have to claim your own voice and simultaneously stay open to learning new tools and techniques.

You have to embrace your crazy, clichéd ideas (all ideas are cliché in the beginning; there are no new stories under the sun). You have to make time and work hard doing you’re-not-quite-sure what to transform that cliché into a universal truth reflected through your unique perspective.

You have to trust yourself as a writer.

Thank god you don’t have to do all this immediately.

It Takes Time to Build Trust

You don’t have to get the whole masterpiece right the first time, the fifth time or even the five hundredth time. All you have to do is honor one tiny commitment a day — for many, many days.

Trust comes from repetition. It takes time to build a foundation of integrity, to know without a doubt that you honor commitments and keep your promises.

It Takes No Time At All to Crumble Trust

It takes just one day to crumble trust.

Missing a reward here and there or skipping out on a commitment every once in a while might seem relatively benign. But every small deviation erodes your integrity. The impacts on your motivation cut deeper and last longer than you realize.

When you don’t keep your promises to yourself — not showing up to write when you said you would, “forgetting” a promised reward, or consistently moving the finish line just before you reach it — you trigger your lateral habenula, shred your motivation and tell your creative self you can’t be trusted.

As Normal Mailer wrote inThe Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing:normal mailer

“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 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.”

There’s Always Time To Renovate Trust

I worked with many students with shredded trust. They announced they were in class to “finally get some discipline” and “have someone kick me in the butt.” They couldn’t articulate it, but they knew they didn’t trust themselves.

It wasn’t their fault; no one had shown them how to build and maintain the kind of deep self-trust writers need.

They admitted twinges of doubt about their ability keep the commitments they made in class. Occasionally, they touched on deeper doubts: “Maybe I’m not really a writer… Maybe I should stick to simple stuff for now and wait to write the piece my heart yearns to write… Maybe now isn’t a good time to write, I’ll come back when I’m not so busy and stressed…”

I reminded all my students there was no judgment when we checked in about our commitments, just observation and experimentation to see what worked best for them. I knew we all (myself included) needed opportunities to make and keep small promises. They needed to restore trust; I needed to renew and polish trust.

We all need deep and absolute trust that when we make a writing commitment, we can and will honor it.

Four Steps to Restore Trust

Step 1. Forgive yourself. Surrender regrets. Let go of failed promises. You may need to keep reminding yourself to do this; I have a sign on my desk that says “I forgive myself for missed opportunities.” Temporarily, cancel all outstanding commitments and promises.

Step 2. Carefully select a few commitments you will reinstate or create. Any new commitment you make about your writing must be honored. No excuses, no exceptions. So it’s vital you make only a few, small, do-able commitments. In other words, stop making promises you can’t or won’t keep.

Step 3. Substitute resolve for regrets. Honor your commitments. Show up when you say you will – No Matter What!

Step 4. Repeat until habit is formed.

As you repeatedly honor your commitment, you slowly build writing habits. Until the habit is established, you have to rely on will power. Because will power is limited, you want to build the habit as quickly as possible.

My next post will give you tips for quickly converting commitments into sustainable habits.

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4 Comments on “How Trustworthy Are You?”

  1. Catherine A. Brennan September 20, 2018 at 1:42 pm #

    I am grateful today for this advice, especially about forgiving oneself. Thanks Rosanne! Here’s a question: This week I’ve been sick an waiting to see day-to-day when I can get back on the schedule of commitments I made last week. This has put me in a sort of limbo. When one is recovering, how do you make your comeback? Maybe wait until the day you are feeling better and commit to returning the next day?


    • rosannebane September 24, 2018 at 4:57 pm #

      Hi Catherine,
      I’m gratified the advice helped. Here’s how I know if I’m ready to return to my 15 minute commitment: if I feel sick enough that I would call in sick at an office job or cancel a class, I’m too sick to write. You could also make a comeback by committing to 5 minutes and see how that goes (even if you’re miserable, you can show up for 5 minutes — freewrite about how you feel, it’ll come in handy someday); if you’re miserable, you know you’re not ready for a regular commitment yet.


  2. kperrymn September 20, 2018 at 12:00 pm #

    I love the perspective found in the Norman Mailer quote, “…your unconscious, after a few such failures to appear, will withdraw.” Wow. I don’t want that to happen, especially after all the hard work I’ve done to make my unconscious feel welcome at last. Thanks, Rosanne, for this insight. And for the practical steps to take to restore trust. The two go together so well!


    • rosannebane September 24, 2018 at 4:57 pm #

      Hi KPerry, You’re welcome and thanks for your appreciation!


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