teadog1425: (writing)
[personal profile] teadog1425
So, this started out as a comment somewhere else and I'm putting it here for future reference...

I have spent most of my life wanting to write and yet blocking myself in some capacity - and this is despite having spent 5 (lo-o-ong) years doing a PhD. However (and please disregard any or all of the below if it is not helpful for you) the thing that has (recently) helped for the first time has in fact been my horse-riding. 


All my life I have wanted to write, and yet I have always felt powerfully anxious about the process of writing - I would dance around my desk (not literally!) using every excuse to avoid _actually_ sitting down and writing, and then I would goad myself mentally and emotionally with harsher and harsher words/tactics until the pain of those were worse than the anxiety of writing and then I would fall on the page and hurl out words in a kind of blur, until I riccocheted away from the page afterwards, emotionally reeling. This was particularly the case during my thesis write-up, which took a year and was deeply scarring. The side-effect of this approach was that I found it almost impossible to stick with any project long enough to finish it - which then became a family joke and another stick that I could use to beat myself up with.

And then, about three years ago I started learning to ride.

I started off in a typical BHS (Britsh Horse Society) riding school, and had the same experiences that most adult learners have with horses that expertly detected our weakness and instructors who told us not to let the horses get away with ignoring us, telling us to use the crop if necessary to back up our (inept) instructions, and making it clear that the only criterion for success was if the horse did what you had told it to do. (And all these things are riding koans (like writing koans) and they are teachings that have their place and have a relevance in certain situations, but they are not the whole story.)

So, about a year in, I came across Mary Wanless's Ride With Your Mind approach, and ever since then I have been learning with her and one of her instructors, and the focus of their teaching is very different. The salient point about the RWYM approach is that this is all about riding in a state of non-judgmental noticing - you notice yourself (where are my legs, what is my core doing, where does my breath go, where does my awareness NOT reach, etc) and you notice your horse (what do his long back muscles feel like, do I have more horse on one side than the other, where does the reach in his neck start, etc, etc) and you try to separate out any judgment or emotion from that noticing state - you are not a bad rider (or a bad person) for having your legs too far forward, but if you aren't able to notice where your legs are, you cannot correct them, and your horse is not nasty or stubborn or lazy for not transitioning into canter when you ask, but he is telling you that something about the way that you're asking for canter is making it difficult for him to do it (for eg). The instructors guide you to the point where you can take responsibility for your own noticing and to begin to experiment with finding things that will work as a solution (what does my horse do if I release this feeling of tension from my shoulder, what does he do if I exhale when I ask for a transition, etc). This was a revelation for me and it transformed my enjoyment of my riding - and my horse's enjoyment of my riding, which is also key!

And then, when I was in the middle of my most recent round of excruciating writers block, I happened to watch a programme on selective mutism in children and I had a moment of blinding inspiration - THAT was what my writing self was doing - it was sitting there refusing to communicate with me and when I looked at it like that, I could see that WHY it was refusing to communicate with me was because it didn't like the WAY that I was trying to communicate with it. And here is where we come back to my horse-riding experiences, because the metaphor that came into my head was that my writing self was like the horse that has had such bad experiences in the schooling ring that it now does not even want to go into the school - so for me, my writing self was so hurt by the tactics I had been using to try and make myself write (effectively whipping and spurring myself to try and force it into action), that it was now refusing even to let me go to the computer and sit down to begin to write. And once I looked at it like that, then I suddenly had a framework for how I could do things differently.

What would I do if I was riding a horse that was completely freaked out of going into the schooling ring? Well, the first and most important thing would be to get it to trust that it could go there and nothing bad would happen, in fact that it might even be enjoyable to be there. So, I did the same with my writing, trying to stay in the same noticing mode that I used for my riding - how could I get myself to the computer in a kind way, in a way that could be positive. And I think the answer to that would be different for different people, but for me it was about making the time to sit at my desk at least once every day but in a calm, kind way, and when I was sitting at my desk, I opened up a document that I called Emotion Notes, and I noted down how I felt - panicky, excited, scared, ill, cross about stuff that had happened, and then having got that out, I would write something like 'Right, I've made the decision to sit at my desk and open the computer, and now I'm making the decision to go to the page' and I would open up my notes document for the story I was working on and all I had to do was to allow my writing self to speak without judging what came out - to follow the enjoyment factor above all else, with success being simply that I had allowed myself to write freely. 

And to start with that was really hard, and the anxiety that my writing self felt was really high, but I worked on trying to prove myself trust-worthy to it - that no matter what it came out with, I still wasn't going to say nasty things to it or beat it again - and that it could just relax and feel confident that this was a space for it to feel free and happy. And to my real amazement, I would go repeatedly to the page, convinced that I had nothing to say about the story that I was working on, and then two or three lines in I would suddenly have the spark of an idea and then suddenly these chunks of information about my plot or character or theme would come and I'd write them down going 'cool!' and 'wow!' and for the first time actually enjoying what I was doing. And that was the first step.

And what I have now is about 50k words on my plot and characters and theme, and a timeline of what happens where and now I'm taking the same approach to how I now move on to writing prose, whilst keeping that critical self from harming my writing self. What has worked well so far is trying to externalise it as much as possible, as a dialogue between two different parts of myself that each have valuable advice to give and valuable perspectives, but neither is allowed to hurt the other - so the critical self is allowed to point out the things that are wrong, and I'll write them all down, and then looking at them I'll think these are all true comments, but these are things for me to fix later, and it's not helpful for us to focus on that at this stage, but thanks for your input, and my critical self goes 'OK, no worries, just wanted you to be aware' and then steps aside! And the other thing that has worked well is turning it back on the critical self - so one time it was having a little tantrum about how much it disliked my prose, and I noted that down, and then asked it what I could do to make it better, and it stuttered a bit, and I let it have a bit of time to think, and then it came out with a couple of really constructive useful ideas about working off other people's prose to start with and free-writing fictionalising events of the day or tv happenings, and then again having had its say and feeling heard, it went quiet and let my writing self get going again.

So, for me, taking this approach has led me to a whole new place in my writing, where I am actually enjoying being at the computer, which is the first time I have EVER felt that. It's still a work in progress, still a process of noticing what works and what doesn't and negotiating the inner voices, but I have faith in myself now, and I'm having fun!  

Date: 2010-05-11 02:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] megfuzzle.livejournal.com
HUH!!! Interesting on both the riding level (I could do with the awareness training... *sigh*) and the writing level! Nanowrimo's approach of just write no matter if it sucks, and come back to it later helped me SO much because I try to edit as I go. I'm so happy that you found something that works for you!

Date: 2010-05-11 02:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Aw, thank you! I'm pretty thrilled too - I always used to read other writers talking about the pleasure of writing, and think 'well maybe that's just not possible for me' and yet now I'm feeling it, and that makes it worth it just for that enjoyment!

I'm looking forward to seeing what comes up through the next bits of the process as I start working on what is more recognisably 'writing' and editing - but at least now I feel like I have an approach that I can go back to - and a frame of reference (in the riding) that has worked for me there... Completed stories, here we come! ;-)

Mary Wanless does teach clinics in the US - so not impossible for you, maybe, at some point? I've also found her books really helpful - I particularly love 'For the Good of the Rider' (which was written as a pair with 'For the Good of the Horse') and the most recent RWYM CLinic book, but her earlier books are also really full of interesting things - it's definitely something you can get at least part of the way on your own with - though having a second pair of eyes to check your noticing (and someone to talk it through with) helps things move more quickly!

I don't know why the Nano approach didn't work for me - I think maybe I needed to go a few levels deeper and unpick things there in terms of the things I had managed to get hung-up in my head first... Brains are funny things!

Date: 2010-05-11 03:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] glenatron.livejournal.com
Very interesting ideas. I can see how the strategy could be very effective but it is also intriguing to me that you are able to separate out parts of yourself so effectively that you can treat them almost as separate entities. I'm not sure I would be able to do that. The part of me that is too lazy to get much practical writing done is a closely integrated element of a too lazy whole.

If it is not too much to ask, what kind of thing are you writing, now that you have managed to get your feet a little unjammed?

Date: 2010-05-11 04:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Well, to be honest, it's a surprise to me (about the separating out) - but then I think it's working because those thoughts were previously churning around in my head anyway but as a formless mass of worry, and actually separating them out and giving them a separate role/identity makes it clear that _that's_ the anxious bit over there, and then I have something left _here_ (as it were) to think with - rather than the anxious bit and the thinking bit being all mixed up together. If that makes any sense at all!

Well, in the loosest possible terms (which is less scary than specifics!) it's in my head as a sort of three-book thing set in an AU Victorian period world, which have the short-hand titles: Blood, Fire and Ice. It's got fae and humans and angels in it and thematically it's about family and finding yourself within your family and finding your power/place in the world and coming to terms with your flaws/damage/strengths... However, I don't think it's this project that has unblocked things, more the change of tactics this time...

For me, your use of the word 'lazy' is really interesting, because that was an epithet that I kept lobbing at myself, along with unhelpful comments like 'I wasn't trying hard enough, I wasn't disciplined/dedicated enough' etc etc. For me, lazy is often anxiety in disguise - but then most things for me come back to that anxiousness, so!

Date: 2010-05-11 04:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] glenatron.livejournal.com
I think in my case laziness really is just laziness. Or distractability, which I am highly subject to.

Sounds like a very interesting setting. I should get back to doing some more of that, because what I have is conceptually sound, but it's just maybe three projects below my current priority. I should probably still find five minute slots for it, to keep it moving though...

Date: 2010-05-11 03:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyonesse.livejournal.com
wow. go you, and rock (write, ride) on :)

Date: 2010-05-11 04:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Thank you! :-)


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