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Book Coach Case Study #162: Navigating and Seeing Beyond Writers’ Roadblocks

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Today, we welcome back author, book coach, and actress Mary McDonough. Mary has kindly agreed to write a series of book-coach-related posts for us–because sometimes (often? in nearly every instance?) it takes more than a single action to deal with the boulders you’ll meet on the road to publication.

Welcome, Mary!

I feel blocked about writing my second piece for Writer Unboxed. While I did poop scoop today (click HERE if you missed my first article), I’m finding all kinds of other reasons not to write. Why, I ask myself? I’ve known what I want to write about since I finished the first article. But here I sit, facing an obstacle course that is holding me back. Perfect how the Universe brought me these blocks to consider as I write this article. Coach, coach thyself!

My last article addressed the negative voice that sometimes, or always, takes over our headspace. The inner critic who paralyzes us and crushes our creative spirit. The “You can’t have that; you can’t do that” voice. I call it the No-No Voice. It leads us away from writing. For me, I tend to look at all the shiny things in my office instead of writing. Look, is that a woodpecker tapping into the facia on my house? What a lovely rose quartz crystal. Maybe I should hold it for a while. Meditation is always good. Oh yeah, writing the article. Focus, Mary.

I often hear my clients say, “So now that I KNOW about the No-No Voice, how do I stop it?” They want to get rid of it immediately and forever. Some clients want to strangle or kill it like a character in their books, which is great because here comes the creative instinct! But I encourage a deeper dive into why these obstacles are there in the first place, so we can learn to move past or around them, because they do come back.  I’ve even challenged people to use the blocks to their advantage. “But how?” they say.

At times in my life, I’ve been convinced the blocks on my path stop me from getting where I want to be. It’s all their fault and now I’m stuck. When this happens, I can usually see stuck-ness all over my life. In my emotions, my relationships, driving to the market with stupid drivers all around me. Even my dog works my last nerve. It can’t be the dog’s fault.

When I’m stuck in my writing, I see stuck-ness all over there, too. My plot feels stuck, my characters are stuck, my career is stuck. I just can’t get myself to enter the course to get back on track. I watch the blocks grow into boulders and then rise into unsurmountable mountains. Other times I see quicksand waiting to get me if I move forward. I see no way to get back on my writing road. This is when the No-No Voice can jump in and have a field day.

The narrative can sound like this: I can only write what I know. I have a deadline. I feel pressure. I’m not that good. My story sucks. I can’t write outside my gender, race, religion, age, or experience. I haven’t lived or researched enough. I’m too… whatever. You know the stories you harangue yourself with.

So what do you DO about it?  How can you get out of your own way?

Identify, Name, Release

I thought I’d share an exercise I do with my clients to identify the blocks, name them, and find ways to release them, or even befriend them. My clients usually say: “Befriend them? Are you crazy? I hate them. I want them gone, out of my life and writing!” Notice if you feel the same. What resistance do you have about your blocks? Where does that resistance live in your body? Make a note of it.

The exercise is about taking a pause, a breath, and trusting what comes in. Addressing what the obstacles really are is key. Try this exercise if you like.

Step 1: Visualize Your Course. Get comfortable. Close your eyes if that works for you. Now, imagine your obstacle course in your mind’s eye. What exactly are those boulders, blocks, or quicksand on your path? Really see them.

Step 2: Put Them to Paper. Write them out. Draw them on paper. (If the No-No Voice just started telling you that you’re no artist, make the drawings simple stick figures, circles, or squares.) Draw your road with everything in your way.

Step 3: Name the Obstacle. It might be a person’s name, a situation, or an emotion (e.g. Carol, The Disapproving Teacher; Money Crisis; Fear etc.).

Step 4: Examine Your Artwork. How does it make you feel? What emotions are attached to the blocks? What judgements do you hold about them? How big are the different blocks? Are they colorful children’s blocks, or giant impassable boulders? As you look at them, do they change? Are any blocks left over from childhood or useless now? Obsolete belief systems are like old raisins. Deflated and wrinkled. Now ask yourself who put them there. How do they serve you? Do the blocks protect you, or make you a better person? A hard worker who is deserving. Or maybe they motivate you in some way. The old hot poker.

Step 5: Interact with Your Blocks. Imagine holding them. How does that make you feel? Good? Or like a failure? Can you coexist? Or do you want to remove them? Will you bring in earth movers, or walk around them? Would you like to dissolve or use dynamite on them? Imagine them sprouting legs and walking away on their own or tell them to get out of your way. Play around with whatever works for you. Remember no one gets to be wrong here. We are all just exploring possibilities.

Step 6: Forge a Plan. Make a list of the blocks you want to release along with five actions you can do to let them go. Then take the action to implement your learning. (One client of mine identified her block as a critical teacher she’d had in grade school. I encouraged her to write a letter to the “teacher” from her adult self, that included all the negative things the teacher said to her. Then to write about how it blocked her life today. I gave her permission to tell/yell at the teacher. Really get it out. I asked her to read it as many times as she needed, then burn it. Let it go into the flame.)

If you believe these blocks are really in your way, you may have more work to do with them. Maybe a deeper dive into their origins. Sometimes acknowledging where they originated is not enough. There’s personal work to be done around releasing their hold on us today.

I think the solution also lies in reconnecting with our inner creative self. One way to do that is to clear whatever blocks us from attaining goals, or having our creative dreams materialize. Pause and take time to work on the obstacles, then reconnect to your knowing voice. Listen to your highest creative self that started you on the writing path to begin with. The problem may not be solved immediately. Some solutions take time; some are easier. Some involve giving yourself permission to take a pause in your writing.

Taking a pause was key for me in this instance. While I was writing this piece, I noticed that as I stared at my keyboard with my hands in my lap, the light would fade from behind the keys. It dimmed when my fingers were away. The keyboard paused when I did. When I moved my hands back over the keyboard, it would magically light up again, as if illuminating the path for my fingers to type. I didn’t even have to touch the keys for them to glow. So I watched the light behind my keyboard fade in and out as many times as I needed to write this piece. My keyboard waited past my thoughts, distractions, fears, and then shone through my reengagement.  Then I realized, maybe the blocks create the same kind of pause for us. A way for us to take stock and explore new options, and not a quicksand moment after all.

What blocks are the biggest for you? Do you find that you create them for yourself from you own deepest beliefs about writing, or are they learned from others? What helps you get past the blocks in your way?

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