Why Writers Need More Self-Compassion and How to Cultivate ItAug 06, 2020
As a book writing coach, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to help my clients. Sometimes ideas come to me while watching Netflix.
I recently watched Bruce Springsteen on Broadway on Netflix. Springsteen’s playing is rousing. His storytelling, more so. But the show’s true gift is watching Springsteen unmask himself. He bashes myths about himself that he spent a lifetime creating. He even speaks about his struggles around mental illness. A fascinating moment happens ninety minutes into the two-hours-plus show when Springsteen talks about the magic that happens between members of a rock band. I suspect he’s talking more broadly about the magic that happens when we enter a relationship with another human or when we create art. Here’s a quote: When you join a band, “there is a communion of souls, and a quest, the quest has begun, and adventure is undertaken, and you ride shotgun. The principles of math get stood on their head. 1+1=3. You see, 1+1=2 happens every day. You go to work, you come home, you go to bed. That’s all 1+1=2. That’s not magic. There is no love with 1+1=2. But when 1+1=3, that’s when your life changes, you see everything new. Those are days when you are visited by visions, and the world around you brings down the Spirit, and you are blessed to be alive. 1=1=3 is the essential equation of love. It’s the essential equation of art. The essential equation of rock and roll. 1+1=3 is the reason the universe will never be comprehensible. It’s the reason “Louie, Louie” will never be comprehensible. And it’s the reason rock and roll, and true rock and roll bands will never die.”
As a writer and book writing coach, I know that writing can be a source of magic, too. When we write, we enter a relationship with the page and with ourselves. As with any relationship, new challenges present themselves to us. Writing a memoir, telling any story, well is difficult. It takes hard work and time. It requires trying new approaches. And it requires failure. A magical final draft cannot be written without many failed attempts at every page, paragraph, and sentence.
As they say, the only the way to the other side is through. But I promise: the way through doesn’t have to be tortuous. The answer is to write with self-compassion. In my book writing coaching, I advise my clients to use this three-step process for adding self-compassion, and magic, to their writing.
Allow yourself to be messy. Allow yourself to experiment. Allow yourself to NOT know what the end might look like. When you allow, you allow the draft to be inspired, possibly magical.
Open to all possibilities of what your draft might look like. When you open to all possibilities, you allow the creative spirit to move through you. It’s the only path to inspired work. Yes, a time will come when you will need to get real about what’s on the page. You will have to assess, plan a revision, and then rewrite. But that time will present itself soon enough. In the early going, open.
Love what’s on the page, even if you don’t really like it. Love that your early draft is pure genius, even if it’s not finished or not polished yet. Love the messiness. And when it comes time to write a second draft, follow these steps again. Writing a memoir is a multi-draft process. Write with self-compassion, and you will find yourself writing with more power and inspiration. And you will enjoy the writing process more. Your writing will be inspired by magic.
A former senior editor and contributing writer at Outside magazine, Brad Wetzler is an author, journalist, travel writer, book writing coach, and yoga instructor. His book, Real Mosquitoes Don’t Eat Meat, was published by W.W. Norton. His nonfiction writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, GQ, Wired, Men’s Journal, National Geographic, George, Travel + Leisure, Thrive Global, and Outside. You can hire him to be your book writing coach. He coaches up-and-coming authors to write and successfully publish their books. For your free 30-minute phone consult, email Brad at [email protected]