By 1996, I had written two books, had publishers interested in both, and had walked away each time. Finally, in complete frustration, I gave up the dream of being a writer (I Abandon A Book – Again!). I still felt something was locking up my writing, but I had no idea what it was.
I spent several pretty miserable years not writing, believing I’d never get down to the bottom of the mysterious hangup that had effectively killed my path with heart. I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2002, returning to the part of the country where I had grown up. I began working with a healer — not quite a therapist, but someone who worked more intuitively. She came highly recommended, and I decided to give her methods a try.
We began working around the area of creativity. After some preliminary discussion and note taking, she did some energy work on me. She said there was something really deeply buried in my subconscious, and it had to do with writing. So now at least, I knew there might be a tangible origin to this block.
I had always thought my writer’s block was centered around my Dad shaming my poetry when I was 14 (I Walk Away From Publication), and had never considered another cause. In desperation as much as anything else, I decided to try a writing exercise – a conversation with my inner child. I had done those exercises successfully before, pulling to the surface buried memories of violence acted out on me by my Dad during my teenage years.
I was willing to go to any lengths at this point, so I decided to go the extra mile. In October 2003 I drove up to Farmington, the small town in Northwest New Mexico where I had lived from ages 5 through 16. I had some very good memories about that town, and somehow sensed this was the right thing to do — it was in that town that my inner child last remembered the feeling of being safe. And the safest place of all – in that town or any town — was the library. Librarians were the ultimate arbiters of quiet and safety. Even as a young child I knew that if something bad were to start at the library, the librarian would handle it, calling the police if necessary. So after checking in to a motel, I drove over to the library.
When I had done inner child exercises before, they had been in the format of what I heard called a Gestalt exercise or empty chair exercise. I would sit in one chair as the adult, and speak to the inner child. Then I would stand up, go and sit in the other chair, and answer as the child. But this time, it felt right to do it as a written exercise.
I set up at a table in the back of the library and pulled out a legal pad. I sat quietly and let myself relax for a few minutes, then I began to write. As I wrote from the adult perspective, I sensed that the child answering was around eight years old. I had for several years called that inner child Danny, or Little Danny Fear Child, because I could visualize a frightened young child sitting in a corner. I was hoping to set him free, so we could let go of the Fear Child part.
“Danny, are you ready to tell me what I can’t see? About why we get locked up on our writing? You know, the thing the therapist said was really buried. Danny, it’s time for us to write. Therefore we must let go of that old block. Can you understand that? You are safe now. And free to write. I will take care of you. Letting go of this block will lead to great, great joy. Are you OK with all of this? OK then, so just tell me. Just blurt it out — no shame, no blame.”
Danny talking. “I was afraid if I wrote and someone read it, they would not like me because I told the truth. If you tell the truth, people will know what’s going on in the family. They’ll know our family’s not all fine — and they might not like me.”
“OK, what else? Do deeper — what’s underneath that?”
“OK, you really want to know?”
“Yes, I do. Please tell me.”
“I knew when I was very young I was going to be a famous writer.”
“If I wrote and got published and people read my stuff and I got famous, they might think I was weird or something, and not want to be around me. And I’d be lonely. It would separate me from all the other people who didn’t write and I’d be alone — again. I’ve been alone too much and I didn’t want that. So I would lock up.”
“Why would you be alone?”
“Because writers are crazy — everybody knows that. And nobody wants to be around them.”
“Who told you that?”
“Mamaw did.” (Paternal grandmother)
“When I went to visit her in Fort Worth (during summer vacation). I was about eight. She asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a famous writer. She said I didn’t want to do that. Writers were crazy and if I were a writer people wouldn’t want to be around me. They might have to put me away — lock me up somewhere. I didn’t want that.”
“Where were you when she told you that?”
“We were in her house. I felt smothered by her always, but right then I felt killed.”
“What did she look like when she said that?”
“She saw the look on my face, and she smiled. It was a cruel ‘I won’ kind of smile.”
“What was the look on your face?”
“I’m sure it was horrified. My heart hurt, my face hurt and I wanted to cry.”
“Is there anything else?”
“Well, she kept saying it — all that week — until I wanted to go to Big Mommy’s (maternal grandmother) to get away. But I couldn’t tell anyone about it.”
“Because Mamaw was a nurse, and she worked for Doctor R.. She said he had told her that (about me being locked up), so he must know because he was a doctor. And she must know, because she was a nurse. And she said don’t tell anyone. They might think you were crazy just for asking and lock you up for that.”
“Do you understand that what she said was not true?”
“Kind of. Sort of.”
“Remember what Mom told you about writers one time?”
“She told you that writers were held in the highest regard. That they were revered in the world she grew up in. They were tremendously respected. Remember that?”
“Yes, I remember. But she told you. She didn’t tell me. And I didn’t know if you believed it or if I could trust you about it being true.”
“I understand. But it was true, and it is true. You will not be called crazy and get locked up if you are a famous writer. You will be honored, revered and respected as a person who sees and speaks truth. That is the truth. We’ll take all the time you need for you to get comfortable with that. OK?”
“Yes, that’s OK. I believe you now.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Because I really, really want to write, and it made me very sad when I knew I must not.”
“So you could write all along, but you thought you must not?”
“Oh yes, I could write any time I wanted to but there was, you know, the crazy thing. So it was safer not to write, because I didn’t want to be locked up.”
“OK, Danny, you just relax, and enjoy thinking about writing. And you and I will release that old belief. So you can write freely and fully — with joy.”
“OK. I can do that. I am happy now.”
So there it was. Now I knew what had locked up my writing and why I had walked away from publication. The writing exercise had just flowed easily, and hadn’t taken that long. Little Danny had been ready to unburden the secret he had been forced to keep for 45 years. This revelation was a huge thing to absorb. Later I was to discover there was more to be revealed. But for now, this was quite enough. What to do about it I’d have to figure that out later. For right now I just wanted to let the truth sink in.
“Big Chain” Shaycam @flickr.com Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
“Multi lock, etc” Mikebaird @flickr.com Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.