Can I ask you something?
When was the last time you had a fight with yourself?
Maybe it was yesterday morning, when you were sitting at your desk with your laptop open and it took you 45 minutes just to draft an email. Maybe it was two days ago, when you met a new person and walked away shaking your head, thinking, How could I have said that?
Or maybe it’s been over the last few weeks while you’ve been procrastinating on those weekly emails to your subscribers about company updates.
If you’re anything like me, sometimes you dig into your headspace a little too deeply.
As writers and entrepreneurs, we tend to have a few common qualities. We have our strengths: we are leaders, change-makers, inventive problem-solvers, and creative thinkers.
But, of course, with all strengths come weaknesses, and I’m sure you know what I mean when I say that we are the type to easily become overly self-critical.
A week goes by and you feel unexplainably exhausted. You’re lying in bed in the morning and it’s not as easy to pick yourself up. You think about staying in bed for a while, but you know that you can’t because you got stuff to do. It’s not like you went to bed later than usual—you’re just tired.
Then, when you make it to your desk, your ideas aren’t flowing the same. Something feels “off.”
The doors to your creativity and problem-solving skills seem to be locked. You have a meeting approaching with a fellow entrepreneur, someone you’ve been excited to meet with for weeks now. But a day before the meet-up, all you feel is dread.
Or you have a deadline approaching for an article and all you can think of typing onto that blank document is Title:
What’s going on here?
We all get it. And we all are very familiar with the frustration that comes along with it. As human beings, we naturally question our decisions, thoughts, beliefs, and words constantly.
That’s not something we outgrow with experience, either.
Maya Angelou, having written 11 books, speculated that someone would, in due course, find out she’s been fooling us with her genius. Albert Einstein and Sheryl Sandberg confessed to these feelings as well.
As entrepreneurs and creatives, we struggle with the tendency to be overly self-critical—a little more than is typical for human beings, and it’s something that we need to learn to manage, even decades into our chosen career.
We have an eye for detail, for looking at the picture both as a whole and as the parts of the whole. We love to see things in a new light and to play with the rules. We naturally are intrigued by invention. We want to be different, yet understood.
We are walking contradictions.
It’s normal to have these subtle oppositions. You’ll see polar opposites even in nature.
But what do we do when the Light and the Dark start to argue? How about when your creative genius and your inner critic won’t stop having conversations (loud conversations) with one another? Worse yet, do they prevent you from enjoying your day as much as you normally would?
When you’re in this situation, it’s not so easy to just try and turn off the polarization.
Perhaps we need to let these voices have their way a bit.
That is, we step back from analyzing and become an observer.
If you’ve ever heard of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, you may be familiar with stream-of-consciousness writing. Cameron, who took up this kind of journaling after a film she directed was badly received, found a way to reignite her passion for being a creative.
When something we worked so hard on and invested a lot of time and energy into is met with snark or even ambivalence, who wouldn’t be probed to make some changes or reconsider one’s creative ability?
In her book, Cameron states, “Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [that occur daily] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”
Chris Winfield—entrepreneur and coach to helping people find success—attests that by using the stream-of-consciousness journaling technique, he’s acquired surprising, new business ideas; has become more in-tune with his intuition, and has seen an increase in his creativity.
I’ve experienced benefits from this form of writing in my own life as well.
If I have writer’s block, yet I have a deadline approaching and basically need to write no matter what, I turn to stream-of-consciousness writing. Whatever the article or prompt is, I sit down and write whatever comes to my mind without having a clear direction of where I’m going with the piece.
Maybe I start off by asking myself a few questions—like How would I write this paragraph if no one was going to read it? What if I write this entire section without stopping to edit myself?—to see where those prompts take me, but then I let the rest go.
As opposed to closing the door on and ignoring our thoughts, actually giving our thoughts attention and writing them down on paper when they come to us clears the air for more relevant, helpful, and supporting thoughts and ideas. That way, we spend less time coming up with business proposals, research ideas, or ideas for articles because our minds are less clouded with apprehension and more capable to focus on the task at hand.
It goes a little something like this:
You pick up a pencil or a pen (whatever your favorite writing instrument is) and your journal or a few sheets of blank paper. I don’t recommend journaling on your computer. The nice thing about writing freehand is you’re not so inclined to correct your mistakes. I especially like paper without any lines so that I don’t feel confined.
Then you ask yourself—What am I thinking today? What am I thinking right now?
And then write it down as you would a journal entry.
Keep writing down your thoughts until you’ve filled at least two pages, have written for 30 minutes, or feel that there’s nothing left for you to express.
Trust what your intuition tells you:
Whatever you’re feeling, lean into it.
Once you feel like you’ve expressed as much as you can, close your journal and feel free to go along with your day.
It is a simple task.
But it could lead you to never-seen-before paths (near-rhyme not intended).
You may discover the answer to a business problem you’ve been meddling with for a few days. You may uncover what you need to express to your partner after having an argument the night before. You may realize what you want to pitch for your next article.
Our minds are like monkeys. When you want to think one way, the monkey goes another. Right when you think you’ve got it under control, the monkey has a tantrum.
So why fight the monkey?
If your mind is going to go its own way, why try to put it on a leash? It’s just going to try to take the leash off—and it’s probably going to win.
Instead, see where it wants to go.
The beauty of writing just to write—not just writing because you have an idea—is that it lets you be free.
You’re not thinking, Oh, that’s so terrible for me to think that, or What kind of idea is this? You’re giving your mind freedom from the stark contrast of light and dark. Plus, it has been proven in multiple studies that journaling increases one’s happiness.
Since we’re thinking (what feels like) a million thoughts from the time our eyes flutter open in the early hours of the day, there’s no limit to the direction those thoughts can go. In this exercise, by writing without self-editing, we’re getting out the stuff that isn’t helping to make way for more valuable thoughts.
It’s like taking a dusty rug and shaking it off on your patio: the dust is the thoughts, the rug is your mind, and the process of shaking off the dust is journaling.
Eventually, you hit what I think of as the sweet spot: There’s neither light nor dark. There just is. And where it is is where the magic happens.
It’s easier than you think, and it’s also a lot less intimidating than it sounds.
I know you’ve felt that sweet spot before. It’s when nothing else matters but what you’re doing. You’re so in-the-moment that you’re not criticizing yourself, or thinking that you’d rather be doing something else, or that a chocolate chip cookie would make this moment even better.
There’s a time during all of our creative processes, or our daily activities, where we just feel it: we feel ourselves flowing. It’s when you couldn’t even say that you’re thinking about anything in particular—you’re just living, and you’re having a wonderful time doing it.
It’s not that you did anything to get there. The feeling—perhaps the revelation, even—landed on you like a butterfly.
And, just like that butterfly, these moments seem so fleeting. Once you become aware of it, the butterfly flits away, disappearing before your eyes. When you let the butterfly be, you look over a moment and it’s there on your arm, expanding and retracting its wings like a pair of lungs inhaling and exhaling.
It is the same with our minds. When we try to capture them into having a certain thought pattern, we are actually discouraging it from its natural tendency to come up with interesting observations and proposals.
Letting the mind be as it is, we are more likely to postulate and be creative, which is a more helpful state to be in when trying to write an article.
To be our most inspired, creative, confident selves day-in and day-out, we must let ourselves be free. That means not letting our creative genius and inner critic get too far ahead in butting heads.
And that’s where stream-of-consciousness writing comes in handy.
I encourage you to give this kind of writing a shot. It may not be easy at first to sit with each and every critical thought that you’re having, but that’s the only way to get past those thoughts.
As they say, the only way out is through.
Before you know it, you’ll find that sweet spot just naturally—when you write, in your business affairs, and in your life.
Stephanie Guarino is a recent BA graduate of Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa where she majored in Media and Communications. Recently, she has returned to the Chicagoland area to work as a full-time freelancer of editing and writing. She has edited for ebooks and blogs, and has had her work published in a quarterly poetry magazine.