Why (sometimes) Shutting Down Helps You Open Up

Writers, by nature, are in tune with their emotions. One of the dominant characteristics of an artistic (i.e. writer, artist, musician) person is the ability to feel, assess, understand, and translate feelings into a creative medium, which is used to communicate to a larger audience of people.

Writers are intuitively empathetic; it’s a gift that enables them to warm the blood, set the pulse, and give life to their characters. Characters that are only one-dimensional beings that exist on a flat page until a writer’s imbuement of emotion transform them into three-dimensional people living in readers’ minds.

The emotion, however, is not only created but also felt by the writer. A good writer does not simply produce emotion because if he or she knows that the story will not be as expressive or affecting. Manufactured sentiment hollows out a story, leaving the reader feeling little more than discontented.

It is because a writer’s creative mind is often filled with ideas (i.e. storylines, character development) and because they are empathetic individuals who feel beyond their own capacity for emotion, writers can feel overwhelmed. Weighed under by the pressure to write especially when the task is in addition to facing the other challenges of daily life.

Although writing can also be a catharsis for the daily stresses and struggles existing off the page, it can also be a pressure point pressing on an already busy mind and actively engaged sense of emotion.

The overstimulation of a writer’s creativity and feelings can ironically cause writer’s block, in which a writer seems to feel no creativity or sense of emotion or at least not enough to put words onto a page.

The result is a writer who can’t write.

It is a frustrating problem but NOT an unsolvable one even if the fix is counterintuitive.

When writers are unable to “open up” what they need to do is “shut down.”

Before proceeding, it’s important to first define my usage of both these terms. I’m referring to “opening up” as emotional articulation, the free flow of thoughts, ideas, and sentiment specifically in the context of artistic expression (e.g. writing).

Conversely, “shutting down” is not necessarily the cessation of emotion but rather a safeguarding of it by blocking any outside stimuli that causes additional stress and hinders creative demonstration.

There are many ways for writers to productively “shut down” without shutting down their imagination or closing off their emotions. It is different for every person and the amount of time taken and the ways utilized are completely contingent on the individual.

A simple and basic way to shut down is to eliminate stimuli, which isn’t useful. It is not allowing excess “noise” into your life at a time when your mind is already loud. The purpose of shutting down is to have time to actually hear the thoughts and ideas that are important and helpful to you and your writing.

The ways in which you do this and the amount of time you take depend upon you. I personally have at various points taken anywhere from a week to months. During this time, I gave myself the opportunity to miss writing, desire it again. I didn’t press for the creativity to flow instead I allowed it to come in its own time.

It is only when I shut down that I again was able to open up. Doing this is analogous to allowing a muscle to rest to become stronger.

Many times, writers try to push through their blocks, which can be good and work during particular times. However, pushing when you have little energy to do so can cause exactly what you, as a writer, don’t want—manufactured emotion.

In order to channel your emotions effectively into your characters, you have to sometimes shut down those emotions until you are ready to feel them and therefore be able to direct them properly.

It’s only then that you can create a piece of writing that causes the reader to feel what your characters feel, making your writing better and your story great.

Write on, friends.

Thank you for reading, I look forward to your comments.

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About Sherry Parnell