Befriending your inner author
Nourish your inner author,
and she will flourish.
Starve your inner author,
and she will perish.
Sarah Jane Pennington
Your Inner Author
Your inner author is that voice within you that keeps saying, “It’s my turn. I have something to say. You are always finding reasons for us not to write. Please listen.”
Whether you write the occasional poem, pour your heart out onto the pages of a journal, have a writing project underway, are intent on publishing an article, or aspire to writing your memoirs, you need the cooperation of your inner author.
You want to write. You want to journal. But, it’s not happening. You think about writing, but somehow your fingers don’t land on the keyboard. Even when you settle down with a cup of tea, get out your favorite pen or stash of sharpened pencils, it is just not happening. You wonder if it is ever going to happen.
You keep promising yourself that you will take the time, if not daily or weekly, for that writing retreat. Which writing retreat? The one you keep not taking.
You talk yourself into doing a little more research before you begin. You wonder if you would benefit from a co-author. You soothe yourself by understanding you have a lot on your plate and yet, you want to write. You need to write. You feel called to write.
Your Call to Writing
You may have started to write something but you stall easily. Other priorities sneak in. Doubt creeps in. The call to writing slips into the recesses of the busyness of life. The inner author goes silent again. It waits for you to notice the call to write.
The call might be reflective writing – journaling to provide insight into your inner life. There is evidence that written disclosure to oneself has psychological and physical benefits. This kind of writing deepens one’s understanding of one’s self and the contexts in which we live.
For example, you have a call to write that letter in your head to the brother-in law who conned your parents into supporting his ill-conceived dream. You have never put it on paper before. You fear you might send it. You have never explored how you really feel about what happened. Your inner author is ready to journey there when you are.
The call might be to record your legacy. As one older gentleman said about writing his memoirs, “I am not sure why I am writing this. I know that my dad loved me but I didn’t really know my dad. He died when I was 25. I want my kids to know their dad, to understand who I am and what I value.”
The call might be to writing professionally, perhaps even a book. You may even have a title in mind. Or different still, you have always wanted to entertain. You tell great stories, particularly light-hearted ones.
Your inner author would actually love to cooperate with you in one of these calls to writing.
Getting to know your inner author
You might be surprised how much you already know about your inner author. Begin by reflecting on a series of questions:
- What events and people have influenced the development of my inner author?
- What is my present relationship with writing or with journaling?
- How would I rate my adequacy as a writer?
- How do I feel about my competency as a writer?
- What are my present writing practices?
- Under what conditions does my inner author feel most supported?
- Who is supportive or non-supportive of my inner author?
- What are the most common barriers my inner author encounters?
- How open is he or she to feedback?
- Would my inner author like to be a published author?
Some additional ideas about getting to know your writing self can be found in the “Outline for the Inner Author Workshop”.
What discourages the inner author?
The inner critic
It is hard when someone gives us difficult-to-hear feedback on our writing. It is even more damaging if our inner critic joins in with discouraging messages like:
“Writing is silly, what’s the point?
“What makes you think anyone would even be interested?”
“You were never good at English.”
“You have more important things to do.”
“You can’t handle rejection.”
Although your inner author can transcend disparaging remarks, it is often handcuffed by criticism and may retreat until you garner more confidence. There is never a positive outcome when you speak out against your inner author.
Encouragement to take an occasional writing course is perhaps warranted. A journaling course could give you multiple strategies for reflecting on your life. A short editing course could save you hours in the long run. The challenge is not to avoid writing by taking course after course after course, but to choose one that will foster an increased confidence.
If you want to write, write. If you just want to talk about writing, that’s different.
Writers write. They don’t always write well but they write.
There is no question that if you have the resources to create a writing space – the time and place to write, the opportunities to write are greater. However, many a would-be writer has discovered that with more time and resources, they don’t necessarily put pen to paper.
There is always something else to attend to:
Pack for the weekend. Plan for guests. Write that letter.
Bake that cake. Send that special card. Visit Grandma.
Make that appointment. Call that friend. Order that gift. Read to Janie.
Wash that track suit. Buy hearing aid batteries for Dad. Groom the dog.
Prepare a low-calorie cheesecake. Write my member of parliament.
Repair the car. Fix the kitchen tap. Sew on that button. Re-do the guest room.
Attend Bobby’s ball game. Arrange an on-line meeting. Order that book.
And it goes on …. and …. on.
Little wonder that—
Some days the Muse doesn’t visit at all. (The muse is your creative side/self.)
Distraction goes hand in hand with procrastination. It is not always distraction that pushes the would-be writing towards “maybe tomorrow or next week” or “maybe when I retire.”
The more clear the mission and the greater the commitment to your writing, the better words will find their way onto your page. The answer to a well-defined focus is not always a rigid outline. Rather it is allowing the purpose of your writing to emerge.
John Cousineau, author of The Art of Pilgrimage recommends, “If in doubt, write.” Stephen King has often been quoted of as saying he doesn’t know what he is going to write about until he writes it.
Action is the antidote to procrastination. Writing is the required action. If you want to understand yourself better, just write. If you are uncertain what you want to say in your letter to the editor, just write. If that story that is aching to be told isn’t yet clear, just write. See what comes forward. With exploration, vague ideas transform to lucid thoughts. At some point, you will go, “Yes, that’s it. That’s what I want to write.”
Encouraging the Inner Author
What encouragement do you need in order to begin/continue writing about what you are drawn to?
- The encouragement to begin?
- The encouragement to ask for help?
- The encouragement to send your inner critic on a long overdue holiday?
- Encouragement to follow your heart?
- Encouragement to take time when seemingly other things are awaiting you?
- Encouragement to experiment with different genres?
- Encouragement to write what author Ann Lamott in Bird by Bird calls “a shitty first draft”?
Although later revisions are not a fun part of writing, they are an essential part of the process of writing something well. But, being fussy with your first draft is rarely helpful.
Living Life as a Writer is an enjoyable and encouraging book that draws in the reader with engaging photographs, inspirational quotes, and the right mix of humor and insight.
With each richly described segment of this lighthearted reflection on the author’s relationship to writing, you may find yourself with similar day to day challenges encountered while writing.
Writing Power: Kent State Professor Studies Benefits of Writing Gratitude Letters.
This study examined the effects of writing letters of gratitude on happiness, life satisfaction, and depression. The more letters that people wrote, the greater their happiness and life satisfaction, and the greater their decrease in symptoms of depression.
This expanded version of the study was published in the 2012 Journal of Happiness Studies 13(1):187-201.
The art of letter writing was once a primary means of communication. Letters, (sent or unsent), allow us to put our thoughts and feelings onto paper as if we are speaking to someone. Letters give us a voice. In letters, we can express the entire range of our emotional response, from gratitude to resentment and beyond. Often letters are a way of dealing with “unfinished” business. John Evans in an article published in the March 24, 2014 edition of
Psychology Today suggests various motivations that lend themselves to letter writing that include but are not limited to offering condolences, asking forgiveness, or expressing gratitude.
Letters that you intend to send will hopefully have a positive intent and a measured tone. If you have any hesitancy in sending a letter with strong emotional content, let it sit for a few days. Revisit the letter asking yourself, “How would I feel it I received this letter?”
Unsent letters allow us an uncensored one-way conversation with someone. You can even write a letter to someone who is no longer present in our life. Begin by writing whatever you want to say. You can write more than one draft of a letter. With each draft, your thoughts may further clarify. You can also experiment with writing letters of various lengths about the same issue.
Priming the pump
Who would appreciate receiving a letter from you? What do you hope the tone and content of it would be?
Who would you appreciate receiving a letter from? What do you hope the tone and content of the letter might be?
Write one or more of the letters reflecting the tone and content of your choice.
Be sure to take a moment after writing to ask yourself,
“What am I noticing about the content of what I have written?
What am I noticing about how I felt about the writing?”
Write to your inner author and/or have your inner author write to you. Simply begin, “Dear Inner Author” ….
Send a letter to me, …….please.