or: How to Approach Limiting Beliefs as an Author
This week, I’d like to share my thoughts on a subject near and - well, not quite dear - to my heart: the way that the beliefs we’ve carried with us our whole life can hurt as much as they can help. I’m not talking about religious beliefs, but the things we learn to get ourselves through life, to shield ourselves from pain or failure. We may not even be aware of most of them ... they’re just quietly lurking in the underbrush of the forest of our minds, whispering to us about which path is “safer” to take. The trouble is, the path which was safer for us long ago may not be the best path for us to take, now.
When I was little, I lived on a large plot of land with forest that surrounded a local river. There was a clearly defined path through those woods, and it led to three of my favorite spots: my great-aunt’s house, a steep hill with a crude attempt at a fort, and the riverbank. I loved that riverbank: it was the site of many adventures for my little figures and dolls, and where I’d pretend I was a princess, learning to be a warrior in order to save her family from an evil wizard. The point is this: a few years ago, my great-aunt needed help cleaning out her storage, and I went along with my parents to help. I got to thinking about that riverbank, and decided in a moment of nostalgia to go and follow the old path to sit and watch the water for a while, to reconnect with that younger self who hadn’t forgotten how to play. You can imagine my absolute dismay when I saw that the trail I remembered had become overgrown, only the ghost of itself visible. I still found the riverbank, mostly through memory and a good sense of direction, but it was a struggle to find my way there, and even more of one to find my way back. This is exactly what can happen when we try to follow old beliefs ... and when you’re trying to find your way to the things you love the most, they can really get in the way.
Recently, I found two articles in the same day about how authors deal with these sort of limiting beliefs in their writing process: one by Anne R. Allen, and one by Chuck Wendig. They’re extremely different authors, with very, very different approaches to both writing and their limiting beliefs. (Those who aren’t fond of strong language may wish to steer clear of Wendig’s blog ... he uses it like most use punctuation. I find his insight worth looking past it for, but your mileage may vary.) Anne R. Allen examines the beliefs which hold her back, in order to remove them, realizing that some came from random encounters and were never repeated. She applies this tactic to her writing style more than her approach to the life of an author. Chuck Wendig, however, blasts forth with a tirade against those who, whether consciously or not, have given authors the message that they do not want us to be creative people. He encourages us to ignore and blow past those messages in bombastic, gleefully offensive fashion, and the rebel in me, the kid in me with her fingers in the cookie jar? She eats it up like sugary breakfast cereal or potato chips.
So which one of them is right, you ask? Do we examine the things holding us back: sit with them, study them like old belongings, reminiscing about the good things they once brought us before donating them to charity to serve others the way they served us? Or do we simply rip them to shreds, cackling madly, and dump them in the trash?
I think, perhaps, both. It depends entirely on which belief is getting in your way. With the right application of common sense and practicality, it is possible to determine whether or not ingrained statements like “those kind of books are trash”, or “don’t you think it’s time you wrote about something different?” are worth going into depth thinking about. That first example? Wendig it. Wendig it right out the window with the expletive of your choice and a grand, sweeping gesture that would make your inner child proud. It’s the sort of thing that you know right away is smelly, dumb, and keeps you from having fun. The second one, though, that may require Allen’s treatment. If you have more to say on that particular “something”, you shouldn’t keep yourself from writing it ... but perhaps a change of pace will help you come back to it with fresh eyes. It’s all subjective.
So how do we find our way to the riverbank? In the end, I think that the answer is this: find yourself a good walking stick to help you keep your balance, to nudge the branches aside, to defend yourself against sudden rogues and monsters. Pack your favorite tools and toys, a good book, and something to drink. Find the faint traces of a trail-head, and try to follow it. If it grows too dense, stop. Listen for the river: it knows where it’s going. Follow the sound. If you have to bushwhack, so be it: bushwhack, and do it with a smile on your face and a warrior’s song on your lips. There’s a certain joy to be found in fighting your way down your own path. Once you find the river, follow it, and trust your sense of direction. Together, both of them will lead you to that sandy bank where you can sit down on a favorite rock, take your things out, and enjoy yourself in peace. Once you get back, you may even have a story to tell.
Until next time, you can find me down by the water....
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