How To Break Up With A Dysfunctional Writing Relationship (In Three Easy Steps)

frustrated writer breaking up with his writing relationship

If you’re struggling to appreciate your relationship with the written word, these ideas may help shift your perspective and give you a new lease on writing.

Writing relationships are complicated. There are expectations, mental tethers, judgements, and, of course, tremendous hopes. I never questioned how this frequently dysfunctional relationship was formed. I took its complexity as a given. Not surprisingly, the more complacent I was about what I believed writing should be, the more frustrating and fruitless writing became.

Then, after years of stagnation and feeling invisible, my true desire could no longer be ignored. I could no longer be ignored. It was time to claim writing sovereignty and finish my elusive book. However, I soon realized that to do so, I’d have to break up with the dysfunctional writing relationship I’d been in for most of my life.

Where I was in my relationship with writing

At first, the unsatisfying writing process was tethered to my old ways: Sit in front of computer. Stare at a blinking cursor. Argue with a heavy head full of shoulds.

I should write 10 pages. I should write every day at 7 am. I should be intellectual, cute, funny, poignant, brilliant.

Then, should’s cousin judgement would appear. I’d finally get a few forced, fragile paragraphs down, then judgement would throw them away.

This sucks. It makes no sense. No one will read this. Mrs. Jones from 11th grade English was right — I’ll never be able to un-dangle dangling participles.

Because I desperately wanted a different outcome, I told myself I’d have to think, do, and relate differently to writing. I believed writing still loved me, and I knew, despite the drama, I still loved it. So, how could we renegotiate our relationship? Could we learn to see each other with new eyes?

Breaking up in three steps

1. Turn expectations into invitations

Without question, expectations and shoulds had to go! There was no way to creatively and productively flourish in a supported writing relationship under such unrealistic, unloving demands. Inspiration is not a condition that must be met. I replaced the idea of “expectation” with “invitation.”

From this fundamental, yet profound, shift, everything flowed. As an “invitation,” I could write or not write. I could tackle a difficult topic or not. Once I truly believed I had the option of inviting myself to write, not as demand, I had much more desire to do so. I wanted to be with my words. I looked forward to our rendezvous.

2. Believe in yourself (as a writer)

That led to the understanding that setting aside my true ideas for the sake of pleasing others had to go! The same is true for you. It’s time to declare your voice in the relationship. Recognize that your unique way with words is a gift! See yourself as a writer in your relationship. Remember that you, as a writer, have value. You have every reason to put your book of dreams out into the world.

The Do's and Don'ts of Planning a Book LaunchIf you attempt to write — especially something as involved as a book — while second-guessing if what you have to say matters or feeling that you’re an imposter, you’ll struggle to write a complete sentence. Remember, the most important voice to express from and listen to is your own.

If you write your words in ways you think others want to hear them, you could extinguish your most valuable contributions before they have a chance to breathe. At the end of an involved, honest writing process, you’ll learn so much more about yourself than you imagined. By shifting habitually negative, appeasing, or unconfident beliefs, you strengthen your own relationship to your words, thoughts, beliefs, and creativity.

3. Write for writing’s sake

Believing that writing had to “do something” had to go! Writing is so much more than function. Once I started to question the dysfunction of my writing relationship, I began to see that I’d been conditioned to believe that writing had to serve a purpose. Writing had to be “productive,” otherwise the process wasn’t worth it. Writing had to fulfill some professional function, and any other form of exploration was futile.

This was a completely disincentivizing belief that kept me far from my words and desire to dream. Why write a poetry book if it doesn’t do something? Why write a collection of short fiction stories if they don’t persuade, sell, or educate? I think of all the times I had a creative muse appear only to be told she wasn’t welcome. There’s no room to grow in a writing relationship with such limitations.

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Kick ‘em to the curb

Kick expectation and shoulds to the curb. Instead, invite yourself. It’s amazing what a difference writing invitations make in both desire and output. You’ll be glad to be in a writing space instead of being expected to be there.

Next, kick writing-to-please-others to the curb. Write from your heart and about things you care about. It’s better to be in a relationship as ourselves than to try to live up to others’ expectations or beliefs about who we are.

Finally, kick notions about writing having to serve a functional purpose to the curb. You may be the next greatest poet. Or short story author. Or you may come come to discover you’ve got an incredible children’s book waiting. It’s hard to see the beauty of the muse if you’re only looking for the formula of function.

Old ways of being in a dysfunctional writing relationship can be broken. You can be valued, loved, and part of an exciting new partnership where your words and worth flourish!

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  1. Great article, Janna. The three points you bring out here are so true. Once I learn to do these daily (through a long osmosis), I enjoyed writing so much more. Thanks for the thoughtful article.

    • Thank you Rick for taking the time to read this and share your feedback. I’m happy to hear that you’re in a place where you can reach enjoyment with your writing. It makes such a difference in our experience when we allow for such engagement. Cheers to your words and inspiration! :-)


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