Quiet the Chatter of Your Mind

Here at Agile Writers, we have a mantra “Constantly Move Forward.”

There are so many ways to get stuck. A novel is a long project. A snafu at any juncture can derail the whole venture.

We explored one common obstacle to the writing process this week in our weekly “Craft of Writing” installment.

Periodically, we choose a book about the craft of writing to wade through as a group. Individual members volunteer to read, digest, and present a chapter to the larger group every week. We are currently nearing the end of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. This week’s chapter, “Radio Station KFKD,” dealt with the kinds of “static” found in writers’ heads. Lamott says that “as writers we have very noisy heads” (I’d modify that to say “as people”–but maybe it’s more problematic for writers/creatives than others?). She breaks down the internal chatter into two categories: positive and negative.

You might think that the positive internal chatter (about how special, gifted, talented, brilliant and wonderful we are) would be helpful and encouraging. Actually, Lamott says (and I wholeheartedly agree) that both the positive and the negative internal chatter are equally detrimental to the act of writing. Obviously, dwelling on our doubts, mistakes, and past failures can cripple our capacity to do creative work of any kind, including writing.

Lamott says we need to quiet our minds. We need to find ways to tone down all of the chatter–positive and negative–flooding our internal radio waves. When we are quiet, we can dip into the world of our story. We can hear the characters clearly. We can intuit what they will do next. We can write from an unobstructed and attuned space within us.

But, how do we quiet the chatter?

For me, that’s where Agile Writers comes in. My own Inner Critic got installed a long time ago. She knows what to say to stop me in my tracks. For years, I couldn’t even allow myself to write anything that was important to me because I was certain I would fail and make a fool of myself. The chatter in my brain sounded something like this:

“You’re a talented writer. If only you had the time to write…”

“Who do you think you are? You’re not a writer. You’re a wannabe.”

“If you write something, and by some fluke it gets published, everyone you know will read it and laugh at you.”

“You’re so selfish. Writing is something that people can do who don’t have families and careers and people depending on them.”

Over the last year, these voices have been slowly silenced by other voices. There is something so powerful about sitting in a room surrounded by people who are brave enough and humble enough to show up with their dream, the same dream you have–the dream to write–and act on it, week after week.

I got in my car after my first Agile Writers meeting, where everyone had applauded me just for showing up (as we do all new attendees), and tears came to my eyes. And I thought, maybe I can do this. Maybe with the support of the people in that room, I can really take a stab at this dream of writing.

I know I’m not alone in this. The support and accountability of a community of writers is a valuable antidote to the chatter in our own minds. Weekly progress check-ins at Agile Writers force us to keep one foot in the world of our novels-in-progress at all times. The support and honest assessments of our critique partners keep us grounded in a more comprehensive assessment of our work. The structure of the Eight Stages of Agile Writer Novels give us a map, so that when the “static” of doubt or self-aggrandizement comes, we know how to keep going, how to take the next small step and keep moving forward.

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