How I finally overcame my writer’s block and wrote this

After a year of procrastination last night I read something that changed everything.

Black and white image of a man lying down on the floor, hands clasped together.
Photo by Marco Lastella on Unsplash

A year ago I was working as a software engineer when my contract was terminated. I decided that it was time. For the last ten years I had been learning how to tell a story and trying to put words down. I wanted my stories to be good. My goal was simple — to write something that I would want to read.

I have spent many hours working on that goal but failing. The plans for the novels that I wanted to write have fallen by the wayside. Sometimes they didn’t make it beyond the planning stage. Sometimes I made it to the writing stage, but after weeks of forcing myself to write 2000 words each day, and feeling that crushing despair at the end of each one that what I had written wasn’t good enough.

I couldn’t bear to go any further.

I started to apply for some jobs again to earn some money. My mum’s voice in my head added to my own doubts. She doesn’t understand that I want more than just any job. I want to do something that I am excited to do, not just something that I am good at. She told me that I need to earn money and can’t rely on my husband forever. He is completely supportive but the chatter in my head told me that I will never be good enough and should give up.

I applied for a part-time job in a bookstore and this seemed ideal. It wouldn’t pay much, I’d still need to use savings to support myself, but it was in a place I would want to go. I narrowly missed out on the job and felt worse about myself.

A tutoring college reached out to me to work for them. Once upon a time I was a maths teacher. I tried tutoring last Saturday, following their accelerated class programme, but I didn’t believe in the cause. Those children should be playing and discovering what they like outside of school, not cramming in more of it. One class was disruptive and drained me of energy trying to get some focus on the work.

Another class was angelic, quiet and attentive. But one girl at the front was struggling with the normal mathematics for her year, never mind the advanced. She got nothing right. I had made her feel worse about herself.

I was a monster.

I knew I couldn’t go back again this week, but I had to tell the owner of the college and she was struggling to find tutors. I wrestled with this for the rest of the weekend before sending the email. Once again I had failed.

Earlier this week I started not being able to sleep. Going to sleep was not a problem, it never has been for me. I have fallen asleep in the past on the dance-floor in a noisy club. But staying asleep became an issue. In the early hours of the morning I would wake up and not be able to go back to sleep again. When this happens I read and try and still the noise in my mind. The last few days this hasn’t worked. I stayed awake for hours and felt terrible the next day.

Then last night I read something that changed everything.

In the early hours, the words blurry before my bleary eyes, I realised that the answer to my problem of listening to the chatter that told me I would never be good enough was the same as the answer to why I had struggled to make my writing sound better.

I have always struggled with showing and telling but this piece on Psychic Distance by Emma Darwin really helped. She explains how telling is very distant writing and showing is very close writing. Read the article for more information, but the key thing here is that the book I was reading last night explained how psychic distance is also the key to dealing with the chatter in your head. Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross made all the difference.

Chatter book cover showing a head filled with the word chatter
Image from Amazon

“We think about that screwup at work or misunderstanding with a loved one and end up flooded by how bad we feel. Then we think about it again. And again. We introspect hoping to tap into our inner coach but find our inner critic instead.” 

Ethan Kross, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It

My inner critic was going crazy, telling me that I was a mess. That I had wasted so much time on things that would never amount to anything. That I would never amount to anything.

But by reframing the chatter in my head using a simple shift to using my name, changing the words from the first person to the third person, made all the difference.

From I am not able to sleep to Matt is not able to sleep.

Any thoughts that came up around the difficulties I was experiencing I shifted from statements to Matt statements.

My writing is not good enough became Matt’s writing is not good enough.

This simple shifting of perspective opened up enough gap between me and the thoughts that I could see that they were just thoughts. Within a few minutes I was able to go back to sleep until the alarm went off this morning.

When I woke up I had energy and inspiration.

The distance between and Matt mean that suddenly I am full of ideas for things I want to write. The first of those is this article — I want to write about what happened to me and to share it. I have drafted other posts before but my inner critic prevented me from posting anything. Now I am itching to press the Publish button.

So here it is, my first post, imperfect and messy and Matt is fine with that. I am fine with that.

If an aggressive inner critic prevents you from writing, or from sharing, then please read Chatter. In the book Kross backs up the method with examples and scientific evidence that it works, along with other ways to create distance between yourself and your thoughts.

Try the method.

It sounds too simple to be of any use, but it worked for me.

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