One of the enduring ideas about developing creativity is to that creative people such as writers need to “get out of their own way” so they can more freely express their inner experience.
It is also potentially a core benefit of counseling or psychotherapy. But what does that really mean: getting out of our own way?
Dennis Palumbo, a writer and a therapist specializing in creative issues, addresses the question:
“If I, the writer, get out of my own way – that is, put my ‘stuff’ aside so I can write – what’s left to write about? My stuff is the raw material of my writing.
“In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and just say it: There is nothing but stuff. Which is great, because that means I’ll never run out of raw material. As long as I’m a human being, I have an inexhaustible supply.”
He goes on to note that this does not refute the idea that “the most important thing a writer has to do is get out of his or her own way” – and that a writer “who invites all of who he or she is into the mix – who sits down to work engulfed in stuff, yet doesn’t give these thoughts and feelings a negative connotation; who in fact strives to accept and integrate whatever thoughts and feelings emerge – this writer has truly gotten out of his or her own way.”
Creativity coach and therapist Eric Maisel notes that it is a writer’s inner life, perhaps more than anything else, that matters for creative work.
“Nor is this inner life something that anyone else is privy to, unless and until the writer wants to share it,” he says. “It is a private, secret hotbed of activity, an unruly, unquiet, unholy cauldron bubbling with the best and the worst thoughts a person can think.”
And this inner ‘cauldron’ can be a source of emotional turmoil for the writer, “because she is continually buffeted and transformed by an inner life invisible from the outside. She may speak to her mate in complete sentences about what her day was like, but inside another life is being lived, one full of beauties and monstrosities, upheavals and transgressions.”
But even if the writer “safely contains that inner reality – sublimates her urges, controls her thoughts, manages her monsters – it nevertheless remains alive inside of her, always ready to produce the next book or sorrow, the next meaning spark or meaning crisis.”
From his book Living the Writer’s Life.
Janet Fitch teaches a graduate fiction seminar in the University of Southern California, and is author of White Oleander and Paint it Black.
She notes, “Depression, suffering and anger are all part of being human. Even though it’s painful to go through these things, for the writer, it’s essential.”
And, she adds, “Anytime you work with materials that are deep parts of yourself, you feel revulsion at showing things about yourself that you don’t want people to know… You have to work as deeply as you can to give the reader something worth reading, but you’re also showing things about yourself that you’re not pleased with.”
[From Janet Fitch interview by Mary Curran-Hackett, Writer’s Digest.]
That also relates to enhancing creative expression using our shadow self – see my earlier post Dancing With Our Shadow to Develop Creativity.
I appreciate Palumbo’s idea of not giving negative connotations to our inner “stuff.” But I still do it – for example, I referred above to “emotional turmoil” – which has a negative or critical tone.
Our inner experience could, for example be called “teeming” – as in Jane Piirto’s book title “My Teeming Brain: Understanding Creative Writers.”
She notes the title comes from the Keats sonnet. “When I have fears that I may cease to be / before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain…” [From her article Themes in the Lives of Successful U.S. Adult Creative Writers.]
[Photo: Dr. Maya Angelou in 1970, at the time of the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.]