Monday, April 26, 2010

The New Thing (Part Two): How I got my head together

I spent a lot of last year seriously considering not writing anymore.

I began to realise that a bad thought had been bubbling away in my head, a belief that was subtly corroding my confidence in my ability to write. That belief was: I'm afraid of writing. Sometimes I phrased it as: Writing freaks me out.

Well, while the idea that writing freaks me out was slowly starting to dominate me, I was already doing a thing I call 'free writing'.

If you been reading my blog for a while, you probably
know about PLAY! It's a regular break I give myself 
from working on a big project where I play around
with a variety of different projects, putting absolutely 
no pressure on myself to finish or achieve stuff. 
I introduced it to try and stop myself from going stale
(and to fire up my enthusiasm for writing).(*)

(*) Thought I'd try a little side-bar action for once.

Free writing was like a micro-PLAY! Every day I'd sit down and write about whatever I wanted for 20 minutes. And doing this free writing was proving that writing freaks me out. Every time I sat down to write (or considered sitting down), I'd be thinking bad stuff real quietly in the back of my head. Every time: Writing freaks me out. I'm burned out.

I can't do this. 

I can't write. 

It took months for me to even acknowledge to myself that this was happening - and, weirdly, from there it took me a little while longer to acknowledge that it was a problem. But once I had, my question was: What can I do about something I believe?

OK, so the obvious answer is: Change it. And if you've known me for more than about a year, you'll know I'm in to personal development, and read heaps of books on the subject. One of the things that's never really worked for me in this school of non-fiction is the idea that you can quickly change what you believe.

I've found some good techniques for realising I'm thinking bad thoughts, and snapping myself out of them.
But making fundamental changes, and making them instantly? No.

In my experience, I can maybe change a self-destructive belief after 3 to 5 years of hard work, and - after that - manage it with constant repetition and monitoring myself. But there were no easy answers. No instant switches.


I can't remember where I found it, and I would totally link to that article if I did, but somewhere along the way my Google Reader feed threw up a link to This is a site that promises to teach you a technique that instantly changes your beliefs, and frak me it worked.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about how it does it - you can ask me in person or check out the site, which has a free, non-spammy tutorial on it. Basically it's a technique that involves three bouts of intense visualisation. First .you relive as intensely as possible your memories of when you started to form the belief. For me, that involved some difficult experiences with The Limit, Facelife, Shortland Street and a few other things.

Second, you imagine watching those memories with a group of your friends - personally, I imagine screening the memories for them on a 42'' TV in a dim, generic living room. While you imagine screening the memories, you talk about what you believe about them, ... and then you ask your friends what they believe about them.

Every single time I've had this imaginary conversation, I have been surprised at how reasonable, how divergent, and how empowering the beliefs of my hypothetical friends are.

In the case of writing, this conversation revealed that, sure, I could think of writing as a thing that freaks me out. I could also, if I wanted, think of it as a gift I give myself. A gift of at least 20 minutes a day where I could just write about whatever I wanted. Writing didn't need to be something that freaked me out; it could be an opportunity. An opportunity to discover what I'm really into at the moment. An opportunity to feed my soul and refresh my brain. God damn it, you look at it this way, and writing's the opposite of something to freak out about; it's an opportunity to get excited about something!

Using this Recreate Your Life method, it took about 20 minutes to get from: Writing freaks me out to  

Writing is a gift I give myself; it's an opportunity to discover what excites me and what's good for me.

It's actually humbling to realise that my brain tends to, over time, lock itself into thoughts that are bad for my life - if not actively self-destructive. But it's even more humbling to realise my brain contains everything it needs to completely flip that around, if it could just find the right techniques.

There's a third bit to this technique which involves replaying your original memories but telling yourself this new, empowering belief. I think this is the coolest bit (for the geeky reason that feels like travelling back in time and opening up an alternate timeline).

So, does this work? Does it ... stick?

Yes. It totally does. It completely flipped my attitude about how to approach writing and what I want to be writing. And once I'd addressed that, I discovered a deeper concern - that I was stressing about how to fit writing into my busy life.

I'll talk about how I decided to deal with that next Monday, in Part Three.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this Steve! It's fascinating to read - I can't wait for Part Three...

Helen Rickerby said...

Cool! Can I be one of your hypothetical friends?

Steve Hickey said...

Helen, you ARE one of my hypothetical friends :)

Thanks, Sok. That's very nice to hear. I find self-disclosure a little scary, but I admire it in the blogs of my friends, and I hope that there are other people out there who are creating stuff who've had similar experiences (of having to confront their freak-outs) who will see that they are not alone.

Helen Rickerby said...

Yay! I'm glad to hear that hypothetical me makes good and reasonable comments. At least, I hope she does. I'd hate to think that she'd be the one in the corner ganging up on you with dark Steve (he's the one who wears black shirts).

Also, good on you for writing about your writing difficulties. Myself, I'm suspicious of those writers who say it's really easy and always lots of fun. I assume they are beginners on some kind of beginner's high, or alternatively writing total rubbish. Call it jealousy if you like, but I've found that when writers start to get serious and start to get good, writing seems to get hard, and they become full of self-doubt and self sabotage and basically need some kind of writing counselling to keep going.

So I see your difficulty as a common problem. But your perseverance, and figuring out how to deal with it, that's courageous. And you writing about it is like writing counselling for the rest of us.

Steve Hickey said...

Thanks, Helen. Very kind words, and very true. Whether the writing comes easily or not, I hope that it's a good part of our lives rather than a source of stress. I think that's what this series of posts is about.

Karen said...

:-) I was extremely skeptical about the "recreate your life" thing... I've worked hard for pretty much my whole adult life to change a bunch of negative beliefs about myself, and really only scratched the surface... but I now have strong anecdotal evidence that this works for at least two people (though having, I think, learnt the method, I won't be paying several hundred dollars to do the same thing for my other beliefs... self help market is sooooo dodgy).

LOL... "I created the game"... I sure did stack the scenario against myself, didn't I? Perhaps I can make it less challenging from now on?

Billy said...

Take 4 on this comment:
The thing is, there are actually a host of pretty effective tools and techniques for creating change in the self. However - and your story above implicitly contains this truth - much more difficult is identifying what change it is that really needs to be made in the self.

Steve Hickey said...

@Karen: Yes, I think treating ourselves kindly, in terms of the way we interpret things that happen in our lives is probably a very wise idea.

@Billy: Is this the sort of stuff your manuscript is about? (Looking forward to reading it.)

Billy said...


Karen said...

Aaaargh... the whole being a creator thing fed so beautifully into "It's all my fault when bad things happen [to me or in my sphere of influence] because I'm a f**kup and make bad choices"... and then you turned it round on me :-)

Thanks Steve (whether it was intentional or not)... I needed someone to point that out!

Steve Hickey said...

Unintentional. But you're welcome :)