Help Yourself

Here is my version of an exercise that’s been floating around the writing world for some time. It’s simple, straight-forward and pretty powerful. Please complete each step before moving on to the next.

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First, list the things in life that get between you and your writing and creativity – even those things that are legitimate, like taking care of the kids and washing the dishes. Include on this list any pesky internal obstructions and voices, like “I can’t write about that, it would hurt ____.” Make the list as long as you have time for – you can return to it for future writing exercises.

Second, read over your list and select one or two things that are particularly vexing for you at this very moment. It might be different the next time you approach this exercise – that’s fine. For now, go with your instinct and choose one or two items from your list that are really giving you a tough time or bogging you down in some way today.

Third, imagine yourself in a private sanctuary or someplace like Superman’s fortress of solitude. You are safe and everything you say is completely protected and will never be heard by another living soul. Spend the next 20 or so minutes writing, in first person, a detailed description of a specific time you wrestled with one of the challenges on your list. Where did it happen? When? How? It’s important that you don’t generalize here. Be as specific as you possibly can.

Fourth, reread the story you’ve just written but change the voice and perspective from first to third person (that is, change every I to a she/he or to a proper noun – like Joe). You may need to adjust verbs while you’re at it.

Fifth, do not continue until you’ve completed step three.

Sixth, read and listen to yourself as you read the new story (aloud or silently in your fortress of solitude). Put yourself in the role of sympathetic advisor and offer some useful, helpful and empathetic words of support and advice for the person (that’s you) in the new story. Notice how you feel a little lighter and more empowered?

You can use these steps as a kind of template with which you can experiment in order to overcome writing or any creativity block. It is adjustable and can be made to fit any circumstance.

Happy writing!

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