In my writing method, The Horowitz System®, Act 2, Part 1 is “The Worst Nightmare,” where all of the “good” set-up in Act 1 goes “bad.” I am currently working on the second act of a new project, and because I have been focusing on the “bad” stuff, it’s put me in a blue mood. This is a problem because, among other things, it makes me feel hopeless about my writing, and that in turn makes it harder to keep going. I’ve seen the problem in my students, who can become dispirited about their projects, unaware that they are being affected by the very stuff they are writing about!
How can we stay in control?
Because of my years of writing and spiritual inquiry, there is one thing I know: We get more of whatever we are thinking about. Therefore, whenever I find myself in that state, I know I must divert some energy and focus on getting myself back into a hopeful mood. Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that our creative unconscious doesn’t distinguish between the imaginary and the real. Consider how distressed you can feel after waking up from a nightmare, and how it takes a minute or two to fully realize it was only a dream. Steven King has taken great delight in blurring these edges in some of his best stories, such as The Darker Half, but we don’t want to live in one of his nightmares. The answer for us is to keep writing whatever we are writing, but to take responsibility for the fact that our thoughts can powerfully affect us. This understanding of the thin line between reality and the creative unconscious’s lack of boundaries is crucial to taking the right steps.
Here is a 4-step technique to keep your mind clear and hopeful:
- When you complete your work for the day, stop and set a timer or alarm for 5 minutes.
- Mentally say to yourself: “This is just a story I am making up.” Close the computer or the file and mentally say or write in your journal something like: “My real life is free from the conflicts and characters in my script. In my screenplay, memoir, or book, the story is set in a prison deep in the Gulag, but here I have a nice studio with a view of the river, and it’s a balmy 65 degrees. My characters are starving and will lead a rebellion for food, but when I am done with this section, I’m off to Trader Joe’s to buy wine and chocolate.”
- Make a list of a few of the nice, small things in your life, such as: “Had a great bowl of oatmeal,” “It was surprisingly warm and sunny,” “Got a refund check,” or “Spoke to a dear friend.” Take a moment to really re-experience these events, and add a few more until you feel happy.
- Play some music. Even one song can break the spell. Dancing, stretching, or just yawning takes us out of our heads and puts us back in our bodies.
These techniques are simple, but they go against a core belief many of us hold: that we writers should be obsessing about our work 24/7. I disagree and have seen how a little distance actually makes our work cleaner and more focused. Of course, there will be times when you are writing to get away from aspects of your life, but even here, taking the time to make a distinction between the real and the fictional can be beneficial. I wrote my recent thriller, The Book Of Zev, while my parents were both undergoing illnesses that ended with their deaths. It was a sad and difficult time, but writing saved me because, even though my main character was in trouble, it wasn’t my trouble. By taking those few minutes to clearly end one story before beginning another, I was able to process the real-life events I was coping with cleanly. This constant distinction between the real and the imagined helps give us writers clarity and the internal balance to both create more effectively and to maintain the best possible “real life” so that we stay hopeful and thus keep writing.
To recap: The creative mind doesn’t clearly distinguish between what is real and what is fiction. This can lead to hopelessness and a lack of productivity. To avoid these pitfalls, make a clear distinction between work and life by using the brief techniques I have described.
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz