I don’t mean throwing your laptop across the room when you feel blocked.
I’m talking about revisiting that curious, adventurous, innovative person you used to be when you were a kid.
In this series, we’ve looked at a lot reasons behind self-doubt, but really, they all come down to one thing:
We grew up.
So let’s turn back the clock.
And start making a list.
Think back to your childhood.
You’ve got five minutes.
What new skills did you learn?
What new things did you invent?
What new experiences did you have?
Of course you haven’t.
Every life experience is new when you’re a kid.
Here are a few from the top of my list:
Exploring the riverbank with my brother
Writing stories about our toys
Building huts in our backyard
Making pikelets with my mum
Learning how to ride a bike with my dad
Growing sunflowers in my own garden
Not all of these experiences turned out well. I fell in the river. My pikelets stuck to the pan. And some of my sunflowers died.
These things upset me. But like most kids, I looked at them as experiments, shrugged, tried again or moved on to other interests.
It’s only once life loses its freshness that serious self-doubt starts to set in. Past failures build up and society’s expectations begin to influence us. As we start careers and families, our time becomes shorter and more precious. We’re less willing to take risks and ‘waste’ time on something that might not work out.
As adults, anxiety and hesitancy have a nasty habit of turning up when we try something new.
And creative writing is always new. You might have written short stories or blog posts before, but this is your first time with this one.
You can fight this by returning to a child’s mindset.
It’s why so many writers have other interests.
As an adult, H.G. Wells followed his passion for playing war games with toy soldiers and guns.
Writer Colin Middleton Murry describes a childhood visit to Wells in the 1930s:
This interest led to the publication of a rule book for his game called Little Wars. It’s now recognised as the first recreational war game.
You don’t have to write about your hobbies. Wells is better known for his earlier science fiction novels. But Little Wars turned out to be a happy by-product for him.
Kurt Vonnegut was one of many writers who painted. In a video interview in 2000, he stated that:
Is self-doubt holding your words back?
Try looking at life the way you used to: with playfulness and curiosity.
What childhood activities could you revisit, either on your own or with kids if you have them?
I’ve recently started doodling and colouring. I’m not working on any particular project and I don’t feel the need to finish what I start.
Doing something lighthearted is a great way to reset a tired, anxious mind.
And creating for its own sake is a relaxing and reinvigorating process. I’m always surprised at how many writing ideas come to me while I’m colouring.
Playfulness is not just for kids. If your childhood interests no longer appeal, try something else. There are plenty of adult activities that can take you back to the same exploratory mindset.
I once tried a belly-dancing course. I was terrible at it! I couldn’t get my hips to move the right way, but it didn’t matter. I had a good laugh with the other students and enjoyed expressing myself in a different way.
Here are some other activities I tried for the first time as an adult:
Took part in a laughter workshop
Watched a live musical
Went to a speed-dating event
Attended scrapbooking classes
Was an extra in a short film
Learnt how to sail
Cooked kangaroo meat
Give yourself time to play, even if it’s something short and one-off.
Self-doubt’s not going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean you can’t push it to the back of your mind and get on with exploring.
The more curious you are about life, the easier it will be to approach your writing in the same way.
Write what’s important to you.
Because that’s where stories come from.
They might not be award-winning stories.
They might not be contract-winning stories.
But they’ll be the best kind of stories.
They’ll be your stories.