January 31, 2020

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Guest Author

How Therapy Made Me A Better Writer

New artists are selfish.

New artists are selfish.

When creative expression is first given a stage, new artists want to dump their creative guts all over it and leave the audience to clean it up.

Why is this? Because when there is a promise of a listening audience, then people realize how desperate they are to be heard.

They are desperate because we grew up in an “raise your hand please,” red ink all over the essay, parent-shushing society. We are so often taught to quell unpolished thoughts and newly surfacing emotions that when there is finally a chance to “let go” - what tumbles out is everything we didn’t even know we needed to say. And that is AMAZING! Everyone deserves to be heard! And all art must start from somewhere. But, for me, I realized there were different spaces for my raw, fresh uncoverings verses the things I wanted to share in my finished plays.

When I started writing, my characters were just two versions of me fighting about something my subconscious hadn’t ever dealt with. To me, this was fascinating and full of feeling. To an audience, though the argument may have been interesting, it lacked character development and plot and a real story arc. But that didn’t matter to me, because it just felt so good to get these words on paper. It felt so good to hear myself.

But that’s the important thing about creative expression - we cannot grow unless we start. And in the beginning, we need to explode. Art should be a messy, beating heart. It just also, in my opinion, works best when it lives in a body that gives it structure and rules.

Starting therapy is a lot like starting to write. You don’t know the things that are going to come out of your mouth, there are so many road-blocks, you go around and around and around in circles. Sometimes the first few minutes of therapy are total fluff, small talk before you get to the Big and Scary (which overtime become just big and scary, and then over more time just big.) But therapy works because it has a structure, a repetition, a flow from start to finish. And there is a guide, your therapist, holding the space of that container.

When I began therapy, my writing flourished. I learned as a rule that I typically needed to get rid of the first few pages of fluff, and let myself dive into the Big and Scary. My plays became focused, dynamic, each character had a different story to tell, I charted out plots and arcs and my ego faded so much that I could slice out chunks of texts that I thought were clever and brilliant but didn’t serve the play. All those plays about me arguing with me? I didn’t need to write them anymore. I was acting them out in therapy. They were not scratching at my throat and splashing all over my computer. I had given myself a space for all that mess, and a system to sort it into a filing cabinet in my mind, and so I could reach for the folders that would serve the scripts I was working on - and leave the rest for another time.

Nowadays, my therapist and I read my plays together. Behind all the structure and technique lives that raw and messy heart I brought in with me that first session many years ago. We talk about how each character is, still, a representation of me. They are just layered now with many more details of other folks I have learned how to listen to over time (because I gave myself lots of space, first, to listen to myself.)

When I say new artists are selfish, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Take your stage. Let yourself bubble over with all the life jumbled inside you. But, overtime, learn that we take that stage not only for our own creative expression, but for our audience too. My plays still feature Haley arguing with Haley, but nowadays I know to let someone win. The play has to end, after all.

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