We have carried our stories, photographs and videos since childhood. And we carry much more. We carry The Critics, the voices that tell us that we mustn’t tell/show secrets; no one cares about our vision; it has all been said and shown; we will never be as good as (fill in the blanks); we are geniuses who don’t really have to improve at our creating; creating is too hard – so why begin at all. When I teach face to face in a writing circle, I ask my students to enter into an imagining that teaches them what Critics they carry.
You won’t fully meet your Critics by simply reading this post. I invite you to enter into the work. If this is not the right time for you to take part in what comes next, stop reading this post and come back when you are ready. You will know when it is time. You may have found yourself blocked. You may be bored with what you are making. You may decide to give up altogether. And, maybe, just maybe, you remember this post.
Step 1: Find a place where you will not be disturbed.
You might want to invite a friend or friends to take part in this exploration with you. Shut down all your tech devices. Have a notebook and pen/pencil with you – and a timer. Get comfortable. Set the timer for twenty minutes.
Step 2: Sit in silence.
Sit with how you feel when you find yourself unable to create. When you begin to drift from the sensation, breathe and return to the feeling. Do you feel tense? Jittery? Scared? Uncertain? Do you want to use a little something to take the edge off the feeling?
Step 3: Let the feeling intensify and notice where it is in your body.
Press your hand to that place and push on it. You may find that the physical sensation has words connected with it. My students have felt pressure on their shoulders, tension in the region of their heart, cramping in their hands or jaw.
Step 4:Listen to what your body tells you.
Avoid trying to make the feelings or the words go away. When the timer goes off, write down what your body tells you – where the discomfort lies, what words seem to go along with it. Where are you constricted? What are the words? Where and when did you first hear them?
Step 5: Set the timer again for 30 minutes and write a letter to The Critics.
Avoid asking them to leave you alone – that makes the tension and the words more powerful. Tell the Critics that you no longer need them and anything else you need to free from your mind.
Step 6: This is the hardest part – thank The Critics for one gift they have given your creativity.
The first time I did this experiment with my students, I met a cruel teacher from my childhood. She had made fun of a notebook I had created to keep my free writing in. She said, “Why would anybody waste time on something like that?” She said those words in front of twenty-five other students. That day, I vowed never to show one of my projects to anyone – and I vowed even more strongly that no one would ever stop me from making/writing again.
This experiment is powerful. You may find that you want to write about what you have found for a few days; you may want to talk with friends about what you learned.
Please write us in the comments about how this worked for you. We – and our creativity – are shaped by the voices and actions in our childhoods. As long as those early influences like buried and unknown, we are influenced by them, sometimes for creating, sometimes by being silenced.
[Photo: Katie Hargrave]