Creative Writing Tips #6

“People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.”

― Epictetus

(Click on the the media player to listen to the podcast as you read the transcript below. In the event that you are unable to access the audio please be courteous and let me know.)

This is Jason Youngman, your host of Creative Writing Tips. Welcome to the 6th episode. Today we are going to touch on the notion of cognitive distortions and how they can negatively affect our writing. Let’s jump right into things. Cognitive distortions are ingrained tendencies of thinking that skew our perception of things. Everybody is affected by them, and they can significantly hinder and bias our writing. Therefore it may be prudent to get into the practice of locating them, so as to remove or lessen their impact.

You may be familiar with the idiom: Making a mountain out of a molehill. Well this is a good example of a cognitive distortion. It demonstrates the sheer force of irrational thinking, by needlessly magnifying an issue into unrealistic proportions. Another term for this kind of thinking is called catastrophizing, which can be helpful if your goal is to write some kind of gloom and doom, end of the world saga; however, when we get into the habit of magnifying the negative and minimizing the positive elements of life, we could end up fabricating some kind of mountainous barrier to our writing.

So besides catastrophizing, becoming overly obsessed about minor things, what other cognitive distortions can a writer be on the lookout for? How about overgeneralization? This thinking error has to do with drawing a general conclusion based on insignificant evidence. If something bad happens to an individual then he or she expects the same thing to happen over and over again. With this kind of irrational thinking we make the assumption that all people or things are alike based on one example. We are over-generalizing if we say I am unable to write at a coffee shop because a customer spilled her latte over my laptop, therefore people in this district are clumsy and must be avoided.

Another distortion may come about through comparing ourselves with legionary authors such as Jane Austen or Stephen King. If we constantly compare ourselves with that of the greats, taking notice of how we never measure up to them, then we may end up feeling disappointed, which over time may take its toll on our motivation to write. On the other hand there is nothing wrong with availing of role models so that we might emulate the principles that enable them to bring brilliance to their work.

Being overly self critical about our performance can also put a damper on our progress. Some years ago, while participating in a creative writing circle, I can recall feeling inadequate about my output, which somewhat squeezed the joy out of the experience. You see, I was wasn’t keeping up with the rest of the group in regards to my production, my word count, and so I found myself thinking thoughts such as you must be really slow, or if you were a natural writer like the others then you would be much faster. This kind of thinking triggered discomfort within me, and in turn affected the quality of my writing, which reinforced my pessimistic thinking.

In other words our thoughts affect our emotions, and the way we feel influences the way we behave, and our behaviour affirms our thoughts. Getting caught in this kind of loop is no laughing matter. It can sabotage our ability to create and take away from the joy of writing.

We may never reach a point where we are completely free from cognitive distortions. At least being aware of these tendencies can help us to offset its crippling cycle. In areas where we are being disparaging about ourselves, we could elicit kindness in order to restore balance. For example let us say that we berate ourselves every time we discover we made a spelling mistake, instead of stirring agitation within ourselves, we could use this opportunity to lookup the origins of that word. In the process of becoming more intimate with its use, we will not only come to know its spelling, but we will have gained more kindle for the imagination.

In the next episode we will attempt to expand the concept of creativity by comparing the notion of art with creative art. Joining me will be a professional writer and fellow creative. Her insight will no doubt rock our world! You’re listening to Creative Writing Tips. I am your host Jason Youngman, encouraging you all to expand the parameters of creativity!


About Philosopher Muse

An explorer of volition and soul, a song under a night sky and a dream that forever yearns to be.
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