Writing and Therapy

I’ve compared writing to therapy previously because of its cathartic effect. But that’s not the only similarity. Both are also scary. And hard work. And in both cases, it’s all-too-easy to convince yourself you’re “done” before you really are.

They say you should check yourself if you’re feeling like you’re “done” with therapy because you might really be done . . . or you might be about to make a breakthrough that you’re afraid to make. In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg talks about how you need to write until you feel like you can’t write anymore–and then you need to write more (or, write right past the “mushy brains“). The second part is key here, because I’ve found that when I’ve taken that advice and written past the point that I was sure I couldn’t write anymore, I’ve found that I’ve usually come across a creative breakthrough — a turning point in the story after which nothing will ever be the same. One of those moments that leaves you as exhausted and thrilled as . . . a good workout. And as you sit there in the dazed aftermath, you think, Thank goodness I didn’t stop when my subconscious whined about being “done” or “tired” or “drained.”

Setting word limits or time limits for writing is a good way to keep yourself from getting away with stopping just short of the edge. After all, if you feel you’re “done” for the day after ten minutes, but the timer says you have to go for another twenty, well, there’s really no choice but to go to the next level. Sometimes we need to take away our power of “choice” with objective limits like word or time counts that demand to be filled — and that couldn’t care less whether you “feel” done for the day or not.

Sometimes going over the edge is good for you. And it’s almost always good for your writing.