Exploring the barriers to an artist’s personal growth

Recently I shared a writing concern on Twitter, asking “Is there a word count at which you start feeling like you’re wading into custard?”. At around 25,000 words into my book, I felt as if I was running out of steam. My natural inclination was to go back and start tinkering with what I’d already written, but the advice from an excellent writer-friend of mine was to keep going – because from her experience of taking part in NaNoWriMo five times, 23,000 words was where you generally worked out if something was good enough to be taken forward.

23,000 words before you knew if something was worth persevering with. 23,000!

You can imagine how long 23,000 words takes (a long time). You can imagine how frustrating it would be to get there and realise it wasn’t worth continuing (very frustrating).

I chose to follow her advice and persevere; after that 25,000 words, things did start slowly getting less custard-y and more high quality, and eventually I felt I got some important, core ideas into the writing which I wouldn’t have reached had I stopped sooner.

When you grow, without aim but purely with the commitment to growing in mind, you’re going to hit some walls.

My growth experience with writing this book wasn’t to get to a certain total number of words, but to write a certain number of words each day for a specific number of days. I had a commitment to the project in mind, and was working on forming a habit around the project; not aiming for some final outcome but a commitment to the process.

Committing to growing, personally and professionally, is like this. You’re a seed thrown into soil and you’re trying to reach the light. As you stretch up, you’re searching for the path which gives you the most light, the most nutrients, the most space. But searching for that path means twisting and turning around everything that’s in your way so you can find it.

Trees grow like this in the forest; curving round each other and following the light, the rain, the wind to more effectively grow. When they reach another tree, a hillside, a cliff face, they grow ‘round’ it. They don’t stop growing when they meet resistance; they move past the resistance. They are committed to the process – the process of surviving and growing.

With your creativity and personal development, there will be walls thrown up consistently and constantly which may deter that artist inside you from reaching out and continuing to commit to the process. These walls can appear inside your own mind, in other people’s language, in your life’s priorities – anywhere. At any time. Without warning!

You cannot predict all of the walls which will emerge when you start out on your journey of growing, just like a tree can’t predict or ‘see’ what barriers will be in its way in the depths of the forest. You can only manage them when you get so very close to them that you begin to sense that custard-like slowing of your own movement.

This is part of growth and something I’d like you to consider in the coming days of your own growth journey. Not to run through every prediction of “This specific part is going to be difficult” because doing that is really, I sense, only going to deter you from growing at all. Instead, I would like you to consider whether you can recognise that sensation of slowing and sticking – the sensation of reaching a barrier and realising you’re going to have to round it.

I’d like you to really drill down into that custard-like feeling. What does it feel like in your body? What becomes difficult? Where does your mind skip to in those moments? What mythologies do you begin to repeat – about yourself, about creativity, about change and growth?

Recognising that feeling is part of the process; it’s part of committing to growing, no matter what. And once you’ve recognised that feeling, you can start to say to yourself, “Ah, I remember this. I remember this sticky, frustrated feeling. How can I get round it?”.

And being aware of this feeling moves you one step closer to something so important in your creativity, development, personal growth and humanity: a deep belief in yourself and your own agency.


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