Bringing the Power of Small Way to Your Writing by Aisling and Trish Leonard-Curtin
What if you could achieve your big writing aspirations by taking small, manageable, cumulative actions that will help you expand your comfort zone and lead to more meaningful writing?
We would love to be writing a piece about how we always embraced the Power of Small way when we were writing our self-care book. However, at times we lost our way, found ourselves really stuck and fell prey to some typical traps that writers are vulnerable to getting caught up in. Eventually, when we applied the very skills we were writing about to our own writing, we found we already had the tools to overcome our writing blocks.
If we could go back and do it all over again, we would do things very differently, and perhaps would have met our original publication date of January 2018. However, we can’t go back in time and change the past, but we can take what we learned from our experience and apply it when we are working on our next book and share it here with you. We’ve complied three of the most useful insights, along with some Power of Small skills to help you work through some common writing challenges.
- Firmly Ground in your Values underlying Writing
Writing often brings up fears about the quality and relevance of what your writing has to offer the world. You may question yourself and your piece, and the fear of criticism, real and imagined, is often lurking over a writer’s shoulder. As such, it is particularly important to establish your values underlying writing. Because writing brings up our vulnerabilities, we need to firmly establish our values as a way to remain grounded, when even the most painful thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations and rejections arise.
Many of us, ourselves included, feel more emotionally connected and psychologically clearer when we write. You may notice that you start to become irritable and resentful when you don’t create the space to write. These internal costs of not writing and benefits of writing may highlight the value that writing holds for you personally.
Other values may be wrapped in the subject matter. For example, we wanted to write The Power of Small as we had struggled with anxiety and depression ourselves and wanted to help others who feel overwhelmed to learn skills, we’ve learned as psychologists, that could help them when everything feels too much. Similarly, you would most likely benefit in asking yourself why your writing subject matters to you.
Small Action: Answer One of These Questions to Firmly Ground in your Values Underlying Writing
- What are the reasons why writing is important to you even when it brings up unwanted experiences?
- What do you get from the process of writing itself?
- What are your reasons for wanting the world to know this story, at this time?
- Notice What Actions Bring you Closer Toward or Further Away from your Writing Values
Once you’ve pinpointed the most important values to you as a writer, each time you sit down to write for a block of time, set an intention in line with these values before you start work on your project. This way you can keep an eye on what we refer to as towards or away moves. We all engage in actions that help bring us closer toward the writer we want to be or further away. For example, in relation to writing, towards moves might include writing for 15 minutes. Away moves might include continuously putting off writing until some ‘ideal’ time in the future, that never arrives or only writing when you have a big long chunk of time.
Our natural tendency is to label ourselves as good when we write and bad when we don’t write. This is an extremely dangerous psychological trap for you to fall into. When you label yourself as good when you write, you essentially tie your self-worth into the process of writing. You may pay fall prey to the tendency that you can neglect your writing because you were good recently. Conversely, when you label yourself as bad when you don’t write, you are likely to fall into a shame cycle. Evaluating yourself as bad when you don’t write can affect your sense of self-worth and ultimately make it harder to do the very thing that your heart and mind crave to do– write.
It is far more helpful to think of writing as a process and a way of life. Certain actions bring us closer towards who and where we want to be as a writer, and certain actions bring us further away. Rather than beating yourself up when you notice yourself engaging in away moves, it is more helpful to recognise and change direction by engaging in a towards move.
Small Action: Ensure more Towards Moves in your Writing
You would benefit from setting aside five to ten minutes to acknowledge and record your toward and away moves in regards to writing, using the examples above as inspiration. If you find it challenging to notice your own towards and away moves, ask a trusted friend or fellow writer. Most of us find it easier to identify others towards and away moves that our own.
Next, set yourself an experiment. Pick the same time each day to check in and reflect on your towards and away moves for five minutes. Reflect on the past 24 hours honestly and gently to notice how much or little towards moves you engaged in. Then look ahead to the next 24 hours, set yourself a realistic toward move to engage in that feels manageable and will also help you in terms of bringing you closer towards the writing project that you are working on.
- Notice and Unblinker from Unwanted Thoughts about Your Writing
The vast majority of writers become blinkered by a whole host of unhelpful thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts may be true. Of course, it would be fantastic to have more time to write uninterrupted by family or other work. However, often the circumstances in our lives allow us less time than we’d like to write. As if this wasn’t challenging enough, we then become blinkered by such thoughts as ‘I need to have a whole day a week to write’ or ‘There’s no point in writing in small chunks, I won’t get enough written’ and we subsequently miss out on many opportunities to write, one word and one sentence at a time.
We also become blinkered by thoughts of not being good enough, fears of criticism and rejection, believing that we need to be clear in our heads before we write a word and a misguided thought that we need a bolt of inspiration. Whilst completely natural to have these thoughts as writers, when we become blinkered by these thoughts we find it extremely challenging to write.
Some popular beliefs make it seem like you need to get rid of these thoughts in order to write or that you should just think positively instead. These are neither helpful nor evidence-based thinking. The latest psychological research demonstrates that the more we try not to think a certain thought, the more it plagues us. We can learn a lot from these thoughts as long as we can see them for what they are and allow them to motivate us into writing action.
Small Action: Acknowledge and Unblinker from Unwanted Thoughts at the Start of the Writing Process
Set a timer for five minutes when you sit down to write. For this time, allow yourself to temporarily indulge yourself. Write down all of the unwanted thoughts that you have about your writing. This may sound like it will make it harder for you to write afterwards. Yet, the vast majority of people find this process freeing. Often when you write down the tirade of judgments, evaluations and comparisons that your mind generates, it helps you to see that your mind is on survival mode. It is only trying to protect you.
You can then keep your notepad or an open word document with these unhelpful thoughts nearby as you move to writing your piece after the five minutes. If you become blinkered by more unwanted thoughts as you engage in the writing process, simply add these thoughts to your notepad or word document. This can help you to take your mind a lot less seriously as you notice that it generates the very same judgements, evaluations and comparisons on a recurrent spin cycle. You do not need to change, minimise or get rid of these unwanted thoughts. You simply need to notice them and no longer allow them dictate your writing process.
(c) Aisling and Trish Leonard-Curtin
About The Power of Small:
Feeling overwhelmed? This is the book for you.
Rather than waiting for the big life-changing moments, which more often than not never happen, The Power of Small shows you how to take manageable steps to change your life, one decision at a time – emphasising self-compassion as a means to gently expand your comfort zone and open up new horizons.
Mixing personal anecdotes and story-telling with the latest psychological research, the authors reveal how changing the small things is a key to a much richer, fuller and more meaningful life, that really counts. The Power of Small will provide you with a toolkit of small actions and skills to help you break out of your comfort zone without becoming overwhelmed.
We need more Aisling’s and Trish’s to help people navigate their pain and learn to accept and live with it, which ultimately can lead to a far happier existence.– Niall Breslin
Learning how to move out of feeling overwhelmed has never felt more manageable until now.-
Ruth Scott, Radio and TV Presenter
This book is an invaluable manual for figuring out what truly matters to us, naming and tackling the things that hold us back from living a richer and more meaningful life- –
Jennifer O’Connell, Irish Times journalist
Order your copy online here.