Free Your Pen · Writing

Abandon Hope and Other Crazy Advice for Writer’s Block

The writing of Free Your Pen was a long a convoluted journey and for a while I thought the book would never be finished. I had wanted to write it for years, but life had other ideas, as life usually does…

The book is about how you can release yourself from the blocks that stop you from writing, so it seems appropriate that I became massively blocked while trying to write it. Despite years of meditation, the dark undertow of my fears kept interrupting the flow. Sometimes I would get stuck for months, brooding, worrying, wallowing, and generally beating myself up.

It was frustrating, and exhausting. Why couldn’t I just write?

I needed a way to keep my mind focused, but it had to be practical and something I could apply directly to the problems I had with my writing.

Lojong was the answer.

Lojong is a Tibetan word that means ‘mind training,’ and it involves meditating with the aid of 59 slogans designed to poke holes in your carefully constructed false self, a.k.a. the ego.

In the book, I describe the ego as a defensive structure, the Ego Fort, that cuts you off from the flow of life and the voice of your true Self. The process of awakening slowly – or quickly – deconstructs the walls of your fort, leaving you free to live as life would have you live. So I began to work through the slogans and they helped me to excavate under the walls of my Ego Fort and dissolve my fears.

I wrote Free Your Pen as a challenge to myself. I knew I couldn’t write it unless I practised, so if I wanted to finish the book, I actually had to apply the slogans. And it worked!

But this meant the book came at its own pace and not always in the way that I wanted. The slogans worked on me as I wrote them, tripping me up and forcing me to confront myself. They wouldn’t let me get away with staying on the surface or bullshitting my way through the book. I had to dig deep and ended up covered in mud and goodness knows what else.

When I came to write “Trust Yourself” I had a mini meltdown because I realised I didn’t and couldn’t trust myself, not on that day. The day I worked on “Always Maintain a Joyful Mind” I was in a foul mood, full of bitterness and disillusionment. This was due to a collision of three events: not getting enough sleep, receiving yet another rejection for my latest novel, and reading one of the worst books I’d ever read – which was a bestseller and I couldn’t for the life of me work out why.

Every step of the way, the slogans kicked my arse and showed me things about myself I didn’t want to see. This might not be great advertising for the book(!), but the important point to remember is that I finished it – the book exists. I reached the end, and I couldn’t have done that without the slogans’ help.

The killer was “Abandon Hope.” By this point, the dream of finding a publisher for my novel was dead. I was struggling to have faith in the future and my life was turning into a checklist of failure, and there were only a couple of boxes left to tick. Then the world went into meltdown and the apocalypse inside my head was finally reflected in the world outside.

Sometimes, when the worst happens, it’s a relief. A wake up call. A line in the sand. It was time to let go of the future.

It was time to abandon hope.

That doesn’t mean you give up. It means you stop trying to manipulate reality into giving you what you want. You let things be as they are. When you do that, it frees you to become who you already are. You stop chasing things that are destined to turn to dust.

It’s not personal, it’s just what life does. Everything ends.

I was sick of chasing my own tail and driving myself demented. I was locked in a vicious game of chess with my ego. Every time I made a move to free myself, it checked me and sat there, gloating. I had become my own worst enemy, but how was that possible? It implied there was two of me.

One says yes and the other says no. One says up, the other says down. One is light, the other is dark.

I had to turn the no into a yes. But I realised the reason I kept spinning on my own axis was because I was splitting myself apart. And the driving force behind that was just a slip of the mind – a misperception of reality.

I knew very well what the truth was but I was being wilfully blind. I kept seeing the yes and the no – the light and the dark – as separate. But they’re not. They’re not even two sides of the same thing – they’re one. Stop clinging to either of them and they’ll stop spinning.

Stop resisting and come home to your true Self.

It’s how you live in the moment that dictates the quality of the experience of your life. Not what you’re doing. Not whether you’re successful or not. Not even whether you’re happy or not. Just whether you’re present.

The process of writing Free Your Pen taught me how to relax and go with the flow at the same time as being focused and disciplined. I can take care of the details without getting caught in the stress. It forced me to slow down and remember myself.

I thought I would never finish the book, but in the end, the book finished itself.

Available here: Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers

May your pen and your mind be free 🙂

Image: Chaos Beckons

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