Exorcising Your Writing Demons


That article or letter is due today. Do you pick up your pen or sit in front of your keyboard and freeze? All those great ideas, fantastic sentences, wonderful words, have just vanished from your brain! You've labeled this state of mind writer's block or you kick yourself for procrastinating. What you are really experiencing is a spell cast by your Writing Demon!

"Oh, come now," you say, "A demon? Isn't that a bit far fetched?" Not of an actual demon but a part of your subconscious that whispers negative comments to you without you realizing it.

When procrastination, writer's block, having a lack of ideas, feelings of inferiority, fear of criticism, or you can't find your voice or doubt your expertise rear their ugly heads, we are experiencing the symptoms of this Demon's power. Experiencing these states of mind at one time or another, goes with the "having to perform" territory. It's when one or more become permanent guests in your writing life that you know you are under the spell of the Writing Demon.

I use the label "writing demon" as a way to get a handle on this problem. Naming some condition and defining it, is half the problem solved. The Writing Demon usually lurks in our subconscious, unnoticed, going his merry way to destroy your self confidence in producing acceptable work. For poets and novel writers it's a part of their life. However, none of us, from amateurs to yours truly professional writer, are immune.

"Well, lots of good advice on overcoming procrastination, or having a lack of ideas, exists so why not just study that and apply it?" you might ask. If the aforementioned behaviors happen only when you approach a writing task and not elsewhere in your life then something more is going on here. Trying to apply good advice is like putting a band aid on a cut that needs stitches!

I've used the word "exorcise" instead of conquer, or banish because it has a special component to its definition that the other words don't have: ritual. Ritual is something constructed that has as structure, takes one out of oneself, and thus generates power. That is why the Catholic Church (and also Native American religions) have developed rites of exorcism for the spiritual realm. In our case, I'm not suggesting hokey spells, but more of a "formula" approach.

Start by examining what happens when you sit down to write. Which of the "symptoms" manifest themselves each time? What are you feeling as you sit there trying to craft that first sentence? Over a period of time write down these observations.

When you've discovered the pattern that emerges, dig deeper and try to remember when you first encountered the problem. For instance, can you recall when you started to doubt your ability to produce ideas on paper. You'll eventually uncover the someone, or event that triggered you to adopt this negative thinking. 

The first part of the "exorcism" starts now. Recall that event, and say to yourself "the past is over, they don't control me, I will move on" and FORGIVE them. Then let go of that memory. You have just taken away part of the Writing Demon's power: The spell of the Past holding control over the PRESENT.

Now you must deal with the Writing Demon himself. Be sure you are where no one can hear you. Give him a name, visualize him, anything to take him out of the murky, emotional soup of your brain. Talk to him as you sit there poised on the edge of non-productivity. Tell him to go away, tell him he's a liar, shout at him, do whatever it takes to exercise YOUR power.

Before you attempt to exorcise him, you must do one more thing: recall a project, a piece of work, a letter, for which you received compliments. The more positive memories about your writing that you can recall the more your power will increase.

After you have done all this work it is time to create your ritual. You will use it every time you sit down to write and find you are using that horrible word "can't." 

Find a quiet, secluded place. Start by focusing in on what you are planning to write. Be in the present and visualize a positive outcome after you've written the piece. Then become aware of the talk going on in your head. For every negative "I can't" or "this won't be good" thought, recall one of your successes. Next call up the image of your Writing Demon, look him in the eye, tell him he's a first class liar, and tell him to get out of your life! You don't want to argue with him, you want to tell him that he's got no more power over you, and to get lost. Then start writing. Get words down on paper as fast as you can, blocking out all thoughts except the subject matter at hand (remember, two thoughts can't exist simultaneously, so if you fill your brain with the work at hand, the Writing Demon can't come back and talk to you).

The Writing Demon is a tricky fellow. And unique to each individual. Be forewarned, he can and will try to return. You might also be wonder why the title is plural and I constantly referred to only one? Because chances are, you will discover that another one lurks in your subconscious. You must deal with them one by one. (oh, and the "he" can be a "she" or a genderless monster) After doing the "exorcisms", you'll find that your power has become more powerful than his!

                                                                        2006 Leona M Seufert