When You Can't Write
I am in the thick of something big in my life right now. And forgive me at the outset for being intentionally vague about this thing; that’s actually what this blog is about. See, this thing has been unfolding for over a year, maybe several years, maybe my whole life or even lifetimes, and it touches me to my soul-bones. I’ve been wading through the dark caverns of some of the highest stakes core issues of my life. It’s been scary and sometimes, I have feared, too much for me to bear.
And I have not been able to write nearly a single word about it.
Now, I am a writer. I know how writing serves. It's one of the most potent ways I know to support myself, understand myself, and navigate my life. I know that what I write down has a profound effect on my perspective and often has the power to concretize reality in a particular way for me. It’s a power that comes with responsibility and an awareness of the consequences of actually writing something down— of admitting the truth, of putting down a version of the truth that is now going to carry the most weight in my world view.
In my book Birth Your Story, I talk about variety of roadblocks that keep us from writing. And each requires its own careful approach, depending on the nature of the beast. Here, I want to talk about the block that roots itself in the fear of saying what’s true.
In this past year or so, I’ve been afraid to admit what is true. Afraid to really look this thing in the eye and get to know it. I’ve only been able to look at this beast in small increments. One day I can look at its fingernail and then turn away. The next day, maybe a kneecap. But certainly not the whole beast in one glimpse— because could I see the thing in its entirety it would certainly swallow me whole. It’s been a path of peeks-into-the-painful truth. A slow unfolding, orchestrated by some wise force greater than me.
So I can’t really write about it. For sometime, I've put pressure on myself to write it down.
“Come on, Jaime, you champion this idea that people should write their stories, that they can receive such benefits from writing what’s true. You know writing’s value on such a deep level. Aren’t you a total hypocrite for not writing right now?”
But as I’ve inquired more deeply into this resistance, the voice has softened and acceptance has replaced judgement. (Thank you, budding self-compassion.)
So what do you do when you just can’t write about it?
Love yourself anyway.
Instead of judging your block, which stops the energy of inquiry, see if you can keep engaged with your resistance, keep curious about its nature, its cause(s), and its messages to you. What does this resistance have to teach you? Can you love yourself even in this place of fear and resistance? Can you care for the part within yourself that is just not ready to admit, to speak truth, to see, not to mention document the nature of, that beastly thing? Can you love yourself anyway?
Write about Your Resistance
When you can’t write about the thing, can you write about your resistance to the thing?
If you are held back from writing directly about the beast, can you write about its habitat? The fear and anxiety (or whatever else) surrounding it?
So for example, if I were to write about my resistance I might say:
I am not ready to write about this. I am feeling really scared about saying what is true. I am afraid if I write about this thing, then I can’t change it, or it will force me to take actions I do not feel ready to take. I’m afraid someone else might find my writing and something bad might happen. Like they’ll see a version of the truth I am still working through and act on that knowledge as if it were the full truth, when its only part. What I mean is I am afraid of rejection, of losing what is really valuable to me, of being cast out. I’m afraid to write about it because I know I can’t take it back. Even if I burn the paper or no one ever sees it, it will still live in my mind. Wow, I’m realizing I have so much shame around this thing. I know that shame can only survive in silence, and I know I need to express myself. But I also accept that writing about it just does not feel safe or good right now. I am open to accepting that and allowing the possibility that the desire to write will come when I am ready. That I am living through this thing that can’t have a narrative written about it yet.
Finding other ways of expression if writing is not the route
In my relationship with my own current resistance, I have found other avenues of expression than writing to work through and process my experiences, to inquire into the beast. This is not advice so much as it is a record and reflection of what has worked for me in this space when writing has not yet been the way.
I have found it vital to my well being to find safe outlets where I can at least begin to say what is true in the context of relationships characterized by trust. The speaking of it feels like an opportunity for me to diminish the shame that dwells in my silence but still gives me the space to change my mind. It feels good to say what’s true, and gives me an opportunity to re-wire an old pattern of keeping my stories secret. I also feel less bound to that version of the story. Talking gives a shorter lifespan, and perhaps a lesser sense of permanence, to something than writing does.
A few months ago, I was inspired to venture to the art store, buy some canvases and paint and do something. I didn’t really know what yet or why I was called to this medium, as I don’t consider myself a painter. I just trusted the nudges and followed along. What came was a powerful process.
I knew some things from my past were alive for me, that I was engaging with a pattern well entrenched in my past. I pulled together a playlist of songs that were major emotion-holders for me at various points in my life. I pushed play on the song list and just painted whatever emerged. After just the first three songs I was amazed at how much emotion and history I had explored in ways I’d never been able to access. It was a wholy (and holy) new way to engage with these stories and I felt a powerful movement, a powerful release, of the scar tissue tightly binding those old wounds.
What was on that canvas was quite ugly in my opinion (and I don’t say that in a way that degrades my artistic skills, I mean that what was there felt ugly, looked ugly, was ugly, there were representations of the darkest, hardest parts of my most potent past moments.)
My four-year-old daughter looked at my painting and was awed. “Mama, it is so beautiful. Wow. Mama, its so great.” I think that she intuitively recognized the beauty in a vulnerable, raw portrayal of truth. That there is actually great beauty and power in expressing the ugliest aspects of our lives. Because by revealing the truth, we can create beauty even from the most painful, horrid truths we hold. We alchemize through our expression. I think this is why we read memoir, write memoir, tell our stories. Because we know expression transforms. It creates beauty from the ugly. It makes the hell, holy.
Movement is such a key ally in the expression and exploration of our emotional selves, our soul selves, our entire selves. After all, emotion is energy-in-motion. When we come into motion in our bodies we can access and work with emotion, this energy, in a unique and powerful way. We can take this energy-in-motion as a dance partner.
I am grateful to have the practice of Qoya in my tool bag and have turned to this embodied movement practice as a gift again and again as I navigate my life. You can go take a dance or embodied movement class and it can help to learn a form like Qoya, but you can also start right where you are with your body and whatever music you have access to. It’s simple. Put on music that moves you, and allow yourself to be moved. Feel into the light, beautiful parts; feel into the dark, terrible parts; feel into everything in between. Feel it all and allow your body’s movement to catalyze movements in the deeper layers of your being.
I’ve covered the power of music in both the movement and the art descriptions above. For me, music holds power, it can hold a signature emotion we can unlock and engage with by listening. It can move us to expression; and to transformation. What an incredible ally music is in opening portals into our own inner truth. We tap into the universal, to what is a shared human experience, and make it our own through our unique engagement with it. Listening to music, playing music, and singing are great ways to engage with our inner landscapes.
A multi-portal approach to self expression
In closing, I recognize that as a writing coach and champion, I have complicated my message here. I like to think I’ve painted a more honest picture of writing and its role in our lives. Writing is such a valuable tool, and its not the only one (I’m always so awed and grateful for the abundant ways Life offers us healing resources). Sometimes we need a screw driver and sometimes we need a hammer. By using the screwdriver for a particular project, we are not negating the value of the hammer.
Aren’t we far more effective in our inner work when we can find the right tools for us in the moment and use them for support? Ironically, by writing this very blog, I’ve used writing as a tool of support. I love that I can lean into so many potent processes as I make my way through this wild adventure called Life.
This is why I advocate the concurrent use of many expressive tools to navigate through our lives. In retreats and workshops— such as the one I’m leading in Greece next month—I combine all of the above; writing, art, music and movement to create the conditions, the container, for authentic engagement with a story or experience that is ripe for exploration. I believe these tools are all offerings that point us back to our own inner wisdom.
How do you express the hard stuff in your own life? Do you exercise through it? Eat through it? Stuff it down? Drink it numb? Allow it to seep out in misdirected emotions? Do you make music? Make art? Tell stories? Cry? Dance? See a therapist? Practice ritual? Get bodywork? (No judgment we all have some combination of effective and ineffective ways to navigate life.)
What works for you? In whatever is alive for you today—whatever beasts you brave—what are the most attractive tools of creative expression available to you? What is one safe, healthy and compelling way you can express what’s true for you today?