Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cognitive Self-Therapy for Writer's Block

Cognitive therapy has been one of God's tools for healing me from depression, anxiety, insecurity and low self esteem. It's an effective method to clear away lies and replace them with freeing truth.

For each negative statement that I tend tell myself when I decide not to write, I'll examine it to identify what the underlying errors in thinking are and replace it with more positive and helpful thoughts.

Hopefully reading the results of this exercise will be helpful to you in your stuck areas, whether or not you're a writer.

A. Writing is a waste of time because nothing I write will ever be good enough to be published.

Cognitive Errors
“Nothing” is overgeneralization & all-or-nothing thinking. “Ever be good enough” is fortune telling – I don’t know how much potential I have if I worked at it, and I don’t know what publishers are looking for/might be looking for in the future.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
If I enjoy writing, then it’s a valid hobby and the pleasure it gives is an end in itself. Publication is a goal for some people but it doesn’t have to be my goal. The more I write, the more likely I am to improve – how will I ever know how good I can be unless I keep trying? There are many different venues for publication if I do want my words to be read by others.



B. My writing is amateurish and silly, so what’s the point?

Cognitive Errors
Labeling, overgeneralization.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
I’m a beginner at creative writing; so it’s to be expected that it’s a skill I need to hone. Some of my product shows potential, and I can work improving the rest. If I don’t get the ideas down on paper, there will be nothing to improve.



C. I won’t get all the details right, and I’ll look foolish.

Cognitive Errors
Labeling, all or nothing thinking, fortune telling.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
I’m only human, so of course I will make factual and other types of errors. That’s what peer review is for. There is no shame in making an honest mistake and then correcting it. Drafts don’t have to be perfect. What’s more, even published novels have a few errors in them!



D. My writing won’t be realistic enough.

Cognitive Errors
Fortune telling, labeling.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
Who’s defining how realistic is realistic enough? How realistic I want my writing to be can be a matter of subjective taste. I can write something fanciful if I wish, or something gritty. I can experiment with different styles.



E. My writing is too melodramatic.

Cognitive Errors
Labeling.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
How much melodrama to include in a story is a matter of subjective taste. If I decide it’s too melodramatic for me, I can tone it down in revisions.



F. I don’t understand human nature well enough to write a great book.

Cognitive Errors
Labeling. Jumping to conclusions.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
Again, how much understanding is enough? Like any human being, my understanding of my fellow man can always be improved. All I can do is write what I know and see as honestly as possible.

Who says my writing has to be great anyway? The only criteria is that I enjoy producing it and that someone enjoy reading it. Not all the literature in the world qualifies as great, but someone enjoys reading most of it.



G. The result of my efforts must be the Great American Novel, otherwise it’s a waste of time.

Cognitive Errors
Should statement

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
Who says? Do I think that writers of genre novels are all wasting their time?



H. There are thousands of writers who are better than me.

So what? It’s not a competition. I can enjoy the process of writing even if the results never get me anything more than appreciation from a small circle of friends or online readers.



I. Writing takes time away from my wifely/motherly duties.

Cognitive Errors
All or nothing thinking.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
I can budget my time appropriately. It could be argued that NOT writing stifles my creativity and depresses me / makes me less of myself, which makes me a less effective wife and mother.



J. Writing isolates me from others.

Cognitive Errors
All or nothing thinking.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
I can budget my time appropriately. Writing can isolate at times, but I can also take steps to ensure I maintain real and virtual connections with others.



K. I can’t finish the novel I started and it would be cheating to start another one without finishing the first.

Cognitive Errors
Should statement

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
Who says? This is a self-imposed rule and no one will care if I break it. My first effort served a purpose – if nothing else, I learned things about myself and my writing through the process. I can pick it up again if I wish, or I can start something new. It’s up to me.



L. It’s too late to get started on another book; I’m already 30.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
This idea of a time limit is entirely arbitrary. I’m not doing this as a job, but as something I enjoy. There’s no deadline for pursuing a hobby. Besides, who says I have to write a book? I can write a short story instead if I want; it’s up to me.



M. I’ve procrastinated so long that now I’ll never catch up.

Cognitive Errors
Fortune telling, all or nothing thinking

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
There is no deadline other than what I set for myself. “Catch up” is meaningless.



N. I’m not strong enough to handle criticism.

Cognitive Errors
Labeling.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
I am plenty strong and I am working on the areas of my life where I still am overly vulnerable to criticism. Past mistakes don’t predict future results.



O. I’m still too needy for approval, I don’t have the self-discipline to write in a vacuum and too much feedback puts me off course.

Cognitive Errors
Labeling, How needy is too needy? Self-discipline is created through practice; it’s not a permanent state.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
This statement may be partially true, but it also assumes that I can‘t learn from my past mistakes. I can practice self-discipline or I can use techniques like these to better deal with the criticism/advice I may receive so that I don’t get unduly swayed by others’ opinions.



P. I’ll get bored of the project before I finish it.

Cognitive Errors
Fortune telling.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
First, the project only has to be as long as I want it to be. Even if I decide to work on a novel, maybe I will get bored, maybe I won’t. If it’s something I’m doing for fun, then there’s no shame in putting it aside when I am no longer enjoying it, and returning to it later as I wish. On the other hand, if I’m not enjoying it because of unrealistic expectations, I can deal with those too.



R. If I do succeed, it might be a fluke that I can never duplicate. Why set myself up for future failure?

Cognitive Errors
Fortune telling. Disqualifying the positive.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
Why assume failure before I begin? And why should I attribute the result of hard work and skill to a fluke? Assuming that I can succeed once, then I have the potential to succeed again if I put in the same effort.



S. I’m basically too lazy to do as much work as is required to improve.

Cognitive Errors
Labeling, fortune telling.

Task-Oriented Positive Statements
Motivation follows effort. Taking a break doesn’t mean I’m lazy. I made choices to pursue other goals and hobbies. If I want to pick up writing again, I can. It’s only a hobby; I can put in as much or as little effort as I desire as long as it’s still fun. It will be very rewarding to know I put in all the work required to acquire new skills and improve existing ones.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent analysis, Pearl. Recognizing cognitive distortions is so key in every area of our lives. You are on the right path.

    There are nurturing groups at places like B&N for those who need input with large doses of encouragement. Someday you might want to seek out a group for yourself!

    Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for this post. I needed to hear it all!!

    ReplyDelete

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