Worry, anxiety, fear, insecurity, self-doubt, anger, rage, apathy, jealousy

These are some of the feelings that create defeating, depressing and disturbing thoughts about our writing and our life. We all get them in some form, but getting stuck in these thoughts can destroy our creativity and keep us from writing.

Most of our negative thinking is automatic and habitually rehearsed for years. Each time an event triggers our emotions, negative thinking follows. So, what can you do about negative thinking?

Personally, I don’t care for the self-help movements that say, “just think positive, dream about what you want and it will come to you.” Blah! There is so much of that stuff out there. I have developed a knee-jerk reaction to books or blogs that talk about thinking positive and realizing your dreams. Change is a little more complicated and this ‘dream and it will come’ approach tends to cause more problems than it solves.

When I ordered a few of Eric Maisel’s books from the library, one of the books was called, Write Mind: 299 Things Writers Should Never Say to Themselves (and What They Should Say Instead). This book consists of a list of statements you say that are “wrong mind,” and what you should say in instead that is “right mind.” He used the word, affirmations, so I became suspicious even though I really liked his other books.

When I finally began reading Write Mind, I was very pleased and surprised to see he had one of the most rational and workable systems of dealing with negative thinking I have come across in recent years. His approach is based on cognitive therapy (which I think is fine when combined with other approaches, which he recommends in his books) and with aspects of Buddhism.

Eric Maisel begins by saying that those of us who choose to think deeply about life, our work, issues, art and the world, are the ones that can experience high levels of pain and suffering when wrong thinking is involved. And, those people even suffer more than others who turn a blind eye to the world, to others, and their own inner state and have chosen not to think at all. He states,

This helps explain what at first glance seems paradoxical – that thoughtful people have more trouble with their thoughts than do unthoughtful people.  If you choose to think but you aren’t able to distinguish wrong thinking from right thinking, then you experience more pain and suffering than you would if you didn’t think at all. However, the answer isn’t refusing to think. The answer is learning to distinguish right thinking from wrong thinking.

This also means understanding that entertaining dreams can cause pain. Desire can cause pain. Craving justice can cause pain. Everything good, valuable, and laudable can become a source of pain once the mind wants it. Again, the answer isn’t not to want these things! The answer is to be alert to the fact that pain may be coming and to know what to say in response to a wrong thought.

I see these words as a challenge to us to live more fully and take risks, even though we know that more pain may be involved. The solution is to develop strategies to deal with the pain, because after all, it’s unavoidable.  Pain is created by the negative thinking in our minds in response to these unavoidable situations. But we don’t have to succumb to our lifelong habits and catastophize our situation with wrong thinking. Eric Maisel continues,

The Buddha said, “Get a grip on your mind!” As a thoughtful person, you have the ability to challenge your thoughts that bring you pain or that cause you not to write. What you also need are the understanding and the will. If you have the understanding and the will, then when a wrong thought pops into your head you will see it clearly for what it is, the product of some doubt, fear, reluctance, or inner conflict.

The first question to ask yourself is, Do you want to change? It is a common habit to hold on to negative thinking when it is serving a purpose and often the purpose is to protect us from more pain. It is much easier to isolate ourselves or to avoid writing than to be exposed to the pain of criticism and rejection. However, if you have the will to change, there are ways to help confront these negative thoughts.

Questions to Contemplate

Is it possible to transform those thoughts that are destroying our confidence to write and create? Is it possible to replace those thoughts with something our mind and body will believe and lead you to change? Can it be done without the insincere, overly positive, “realize your dream” approach?

Can you catch the thoughts that arise from the negative feelings of worry, anxiety, fear, anger or insecurity and transform them into creative energy? Do you know where they came from (voices from the past or present) and know what purpose they serve? What triggers negative feelings and thoughts that invade your mind when you are trying to write? What beliefs get in the way of changing these habitual thinking patterns?

Next week I will talk about ways to confront destructive thoughts and how to replace them in a healthy, productive way. There is so much to discuss when it comes to negative thoughts that affect the writer’s life, that I will turn this into a series. Continue the series here:

The Writer’s Life: Get In Your Right Mind