I don’t buy into the mythology of writer’s block.
“You’re crazy, Gina!” I hear many of you saying. “I’ve felt it, been there. My ideas stink. I don’t know what I’m doing. I KNOW I’m blocked.”
I know what it feels like to be at a dead end with my story or simply unable to put a single word on the page, and I had accepted that writer’s block was a fact in a writer’s life, prevalent and unavoidable. But now I know it’s not.
Writer’s block is not an inevitable occurrence in a writer’s life.
Would you like to believe that too? I invite you on a journey with me into a new way of looking at what holds us back from writing. I hope you’ll travel with me to learn a few concepts about the human brain, and about how we feel, take action, and get results.
These concepts are not invented; I didn’t make them up, nor did anyone else. They are universal. I do credit Brooke Castillo for creating the CTFAR Model I use here, which provides the language necessary to talk about, understand, and apply the concepts.
This model is called CTFAR because it focuses on our Circumstances, Thoughts, Feelings, Actions, and Results.
- Circumstances are events that happen (or have happened) that we cannot control. Circumstances also include other people and their actions. Circumstances are facts, neutral and provable: a meeting occurred, someone died, a co-worker made a comment about your hairstyle.
- Thoughts are a response to what happened. We tend to consider our thoughts to be facts, too, like circumstances. But they aren’t. A thought is simply a sentence in your brain.
- Feelings are a one-word description for the vibrations or energy in your body: sad, angry, depressed, joyful, fearful, elated, etc.
- Actions are a behavior, something you do; this includes inaction, by the way.
- Results are the outcome of those actions.
What does all this have to do with writing and writer’s block?
Let’s look closely at each element of the model and some real-life examples to understand the amazing effect applying the model can have on our writing.
Circumstances Are Real
Most of us believe that what happens in the world drives what we feel.
For example, I might believe: (a) rainy days make me glum, (b) a friend’s criticism makes me angry, (c) my unfinished book depresses me. The root of these lies in pure Circumstance: (a) it’s raining, (b) my friend made a statement, (c) the book’s ending hasn’t come to me yet. These are all neutral facts, i.e., circumstances I cannot control.
Our tendency is to blame circumstances for how we feel.
But circumstances aren’t responsible for feelings.
If our feelings arose from our circumstances then people in the same circumstances would never experience different feelings about them. If a rainy day (circumstance) caused glumness (feeling) then everyone would be glum every time it rained. I know plenty of people who are cheerful on rainy days.
Thought Before Feeling
Feelings do not come from the circumstances themselves; they arise from the thoughts we have about the circumstances. Put more simply, our thoughts cause our feelings.
I appreciate the confusion. . . . Introspection is HARD. Blaming circumstances for our feelings (especially negative ones) is easier than being self-aware enough to identify the original thought that caused the feelings. Believing our thoughts cause our feelings requires us to accept responsibility for noticing our thoughts in the first place, which can be terribly uncomfortable.
Our brain prefers to stay with the old thinking where it’s safe and familiar.
But noticing our thoughts is key to interpreting why we feel a certain way and, more importantly, is crucial for seeing what is in our way (our so-called “blocks”).
Taking Action Toward a Result
The feelings that emerge from our thoughts drive us to do something (an action) or we chose to do nothing (an action, too). That action then brings about some result. Here, my friend, is where this all becomes incredibly revealing . . . and humbling.
That result produced by your action is the evidence that supports your original thought.
Taking in that last bit can be pretty heady, maybe even a little confusing at this point. So before we walk through examples, take a breath and see what the CTFAR model looks like:
Applying this model to real-world situations is the best way to grasp its phenomenal impact. So, in my next post, I’ll outline how the model plays out for several writers who consider themselves to be “blocked.”
In the meantime, try this exercise if you’ve been having some negative feelings about your writing practice. Identify the emotion you currently have; find one word that best describes your feeling. Then, ask yourself (1) why you feel that way, and (2) what you do when you feel like that. With your responses on hand, you’ll be prepared to walk through the model with your own thoughts in our next blog post.
Gina Hogan Edwards is the founder of Around the Writer’s Table. When she isn’t hosting writing retreats and supporting authors in creating a writing life on their own terms, she is working on her novel-in-progress, Dancing at The Orange Peel.