When Writing Feels Like Group Therapy

When Writing Feels Like Group Therapy

Group settings make me really nervous. I’m not talking about mingling at a party or laughing with a group of girl friends over margaritas. I’m talking about sitting in a circle, candle burning, pouring out your heart in a small group while the upwards of ten people stare wide-eyed into your soul. These kinds of settings make me want to hangout by the coffee maker and pet the cat while reminding the group periodically that I’m good not volunteering to open my deepest wounds today, thanks.

I had a recent experience in a small group setting, a place I ironically pay a lot of money to open my deepest wounds in, where I was rambling on about some kind of feeling I was having and heat started rising up through my stomach and splaying out all over my face. I became really nervous about the eyes that were looking at me and the eyes that were looking at the floor and I started catering my words towards the people in the circle. Is everyone engaged? Make it more interesting! Is this too intense? Tell a joke! My words stopped being the truth of what was happening inside of me and started being a desperate plug to get people to like me.

Halfway through my rambling, a leader in the group said, “Chelsey, will you close your eyes while you talk?” Close my eyes while I talk? Are you crazy? How will I be able to gauge the reaction of the people I am talking to if I close my eyes? I knew what he was getting at, though. He wanted me to stop paying attention to the faces around me and start communicating what was actually true, the feelings that were actually happening inside of me. I quickly declined his invitation, but I started to think about the depth of this invitation, and how it speaks directly to the artist in me.

Isn’t this a picture of the creative process? Isn’t this a picture of the way I am always tempted to write? Sitting down at my desk often feels a lot like sitting down in group therapy. I am being asked to share my heart, to tell my truth, so I begin to. I start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) but then I make the mistake of looking around. That person looks engaged, but do they have questions? Maybe I should extend this point. This person may need a little bit of humor; let me go ahead and throw in a random anecdote. What if Sally likes poetry and extended metaphor but Joe likes short sentences? Better throw in an abundance of both!

And it starts becoming more about the audience, more about pleasing the people who are staring wide-eyed at me while I pour out my heart than it is about me and my story. I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in dealing with artists or writers or friends who are manipulating me with half-truths just to get me to like them. I don’t want the kind of friend who is just a product of who they believe I want them to be; I want a friend who is unafraid to show up as herself. Who invites me into her story with authenticity and a type of realness that says, “I am a human and here is all my human junk, you are not alone, I swear.” When we make our writing about our audience and not about our truth, we become robots built by what we think others will approve of and we strip our art of its humanity.   

Of course, there is a time to edit. There is a time to expand on this point and edit down that sentence for the sake of the audience, but we often jump straight to this. We forget that our creative process must begin with the invitation to close our eyes and just offer our hearts to a piece of paper. To forget about the people who exist around us and be with ourselves enough to tell the truth and give our stories a life that is honest and real.

At the end of the day, your creativity is for you first. Just as your feelings in group therapy are for you first. They can be bridges that connect you with people and allow you to share in community, but if you are not listening to your heart and making telling the truth your number one priority, it is impossible to invite people into your space, into your art. This is your invitation to stop looking around, stop listening to the voice of fear that tells you to cater to everyone around you, close your eyes and just create.  


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