Quieting your inner censor – Holly Brown

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By Holly Brown

Writing isn’t easy. But one of the hardest parts is deceptively simple: It’s getting started. Staring at a blank page can be an incredibly daunting experience. And since I’m a therapist as well as a writer, I’ve got some tips for how to put yourself in the right mindset to create.

Writing is anxiety-provoking. It’s about committing your thoughts to paper, where they can (hopefully) be read by others. But they can also be judged by others. The contents of our mind are essentially being offered for public consumption. That makes writing an incredibly brave and vulnerable act.

The first step to overcoming the fear is recognizing how understandably human it is. Everyone experiences some self-doubt, and questions themselves. The problem isn’t those feelings; it’s what many of us do with them. We turn them into a critical inner voice that catalogues our every move (our every word, in this case.) Nothing shuts down creativity quicker than that.

To produce, we need to have a sense of freedom. We have to be able to make mistakes. We need to remind ourselves that it can all be cleaned up later, that editing is a necessary part of writing, and that a certain fearlessness is required. Self-compassion is essential. Love your shitty first draft, because it could very well be the start of something ThisisNotOver_PBwonderful.

Easier said than done, right?

One of my tricks is to never actually look at a blank page. I put notes at the top of each chapter (and my notes are horribly written, sentence fragments, incomplete ideas, you name it.) But I know, generally, what scene should be written. Psychologically, it’s meaningful to me that the page is not blank. I’m reminded that I have an intent.

When your inner critic threatens to become your censor, understand that it’s actually trying to help. Some part of you thinks that you’ll be made better by criticism. But for most people, support is better than fear and denigration. So notice the way you’re talking to yourself, and think, How would I speak to my best friend in a similar situation? Then use that more encouraging voice. Let it be the soundtrack of your writing session.

One of the things that voice might say is, “I don’t need to finish; I only need to start.” It removes the pressure by focusing on process rather than outcome, and lowering expectations makes us the most likely to get into a state of flow. Then once I’m done with that writing session, I celebrate as much or as little as I’ve gotten done, because I realize that I took the leap that day. I hope you celebrate, too.

Holly Brown lives with her husband and daughter in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she’s a practicing marriage and family therapist and the author of psychological thrillers that are truly psychological. Her blog, Bonding Time, is featured on Psychcentral.com. Her latest novel, This Is Not Over, is out now. It’s the story of two very different women who become embroiled in an escalating war of words (and much worse) after one stays at the other’s vacation home rental.


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