Decluttering the Emotional Debris: How I Cleared a Path to Being a Prolific and Healthy Writer.

-By Donna Harel, PhD.

Photo credit: Edite Artmann

“I’m okay being a prolific and healthy  writer, even without any validation.”Last week I took the above “challenge statement” to my therapist’s very comfortable chair.* I worked through the baggage that keeps me from owning and living my ideal writer version of myself.

Think of all of the art, literature, music, science, or any creative endeavors that civilization would have lost had people waited for validation.

Our world promotes immediate and constant validation. These days, many people, particularly millennials, (dubbed the “validation generation“), tie their self-worth to the number of “likes” on a Facebook or Instagram post. I don’t pretend to be immune to its tug.

I know that if I want to own the identity of “writer” in a prolific and healthy way, I need to work through the validation bit.

To me, it’s worthwhile. Like many others, I feel an intrinsic need to write.

If you seek to put your creativity out there, it helps to clean out your inner closet.  I also have the hubris to believe that I might contribute something valuable.

I seek a “healthy” relationship with writing – by “healthy” I mean non-obsessive, less painful, and part of a balanced life. Writing often feels like giving birth: intense, requiring full focus, sometimes painful, always draining; it’s also deeply satisfying. And like giving birth, it has often called for validation: “Look what I did!”

Apparently, I’m not alone in my pursuit of writing. Some polls suggest that 80% of Americans would “like to be an author.” So I have slim odds of success.

The writing coach in me laughs at this statistic. I’ll encourage us all to forget that potential New York Times bestseller and write (or do any of our art or experiments) for our own reasons and with our own goals. We might be imperfect at it, but we do it for our own purposes. It’s perfectly fine to create simply because you feel that you have to, or because you want to make sense of something, or to touch even the smallest of audiences.

Two themes emerged as I worked to clear my path to prolific and healthy writing. Perhaps they’ll resonate for you too.

First, I had to confront my “imposter syndrome” – feelings of inadequacy even in face of information that the opposite is true. People who experience imposter syndrome feel chronic self-doubt. They feel like fakes who attribute their successes to luck or anything other than their talents and hard work.

This feeling haunted me during grad school. I mostly got over it when I earned my doctorate, but sometimes I still look at my diploma and wonder: when will they come to take it back? When I write, I keep thinking “Who the hell am I kidding?”

The second theme emerged as I sat in my therapist’s chair. Emotions connected to lack of fulfilment cropped up. This second theme might sound familiar to those who strive to create something outside of themselves that’s transcendent and enduring.

Apparently, I had an enduring sensitivity to how my late mother sometimes felt unfulfilled as an artist. My mom always busied her hands with needlework of all varieties, “wearable art” clothing, drawing, and mosaics. When I visited her at craft fairs during grad school, I witnessed her deep disappointment when people who came into her booth either didn’t buy or didn’t commend her wares. This strong impression about artistic fulfillment likely affected my own identity as a writer.

It’s no news that we can over-identify with the emotions of our parents, siblings and other figures in our lives. Fortunately, some mindful reflection can help us confront and move past those blockages.

I conjured, in turn, my feelings of both the imposter syndrome and over-empathising with my mom’s disappointment. I gave myself a chance to behold those uneasy feelings. First without judgment (easier said than done), eventually with compassion. The strong emotions and sensations eventually dissipated. When I finished this process, the goal – in this case, being a prolific and healthy writer – didn’t shake me up anymore.

I’m confident that other issues will nip at my heels as I journey further in my craft. Who among us gets to create in complete peace?

Still, I find our efforts to discern and confront whatever impedes us worthy. I think we do it best when we examine our emotional and experiential debris with honesty, compassion, and forgiveness.

Many people see this as an important process in our work as humans. It’s certainly a central component of my work as a writing coach. When we embrace this vital inner work, we stand a chance to move forward in our craft and in our lives.


*The therapy that I employ (with my therapist) is  Neuro Emotional Technique Therapy (N.E.T). In this approach to therapy and wellness, you identify a particular goal which you articulate as a challenge statement. The work is to then uncover whatever impedes that statement to resonate as true for you. The goal of the therapy is to clear out any obstructions on the path towards achieving that goal. I like this therapy because it leaves to me the onus of coming up with the goal.

I approach therapy and transformation (as a patient) inspired by psychologist Victor Frankl. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl identified freedom as residing within that “…space between stimulus and response.” Like Frankl, I think our humanity lies in our freedom to choose our reactions.