Why your mind tells you ‘I can’t write’ 

By Sarah Cannata

You can write a book.

You can run a marathon.

You can learn how to play the piano.

[Enter whatever aspiration feels wildly out of reach.]

As you read the above lines, you may notice an instant stream of thoughts feeding you reasons why you can’t achieve these things.

The importance of safety

While brilliant, the goal of our mind and body is to keep us safe. We are built for survival rather than excellence. The only problem is growth very rarely happens when we are comfortable.

Excellence requires us to stretch ourselves. To build enough resilience and capacity to feel the fear and do it anyway. Of course, I’m simplifying this point because there are several reasons why people may struggle to leave their comfort zone.

As part of my embodied processing certification, I’ve learned about nervous system regulation and trauma. According to the teachings in embodied processing, trauma is any autonomic nervous system response that isn’t fully completed. Embodied processing is a body-based approach to working with trauma.

While I’m not going to explore the nervous system and trauma in-depth in this article, I can’t write a piece like this without mentioning trauma. If you are struggling with trauma, consider seeking professional support.

The one who watches our thoughts

If you’ve consumed any of Michael Singer’s work, you’ll be aware of his notion that we are not our thoughts; we are the ones watching our thoughts. Read The Untethered Soul if you’d like to learn more about this concept.

Beyond Michael Singer’s take on the mind, anyone who has engaged in personal development work will likely accept that our thoughts aren’t always our own and more importantly, they aren’t always true.

Worse still, when we have a negative thought, our mind often goes out of its way to confirm that initial thought. That said, there is no division of the ‘mind’ and ‘body’ and one impacts the other, quite like a sea-saw. 

A personal example

I never recall being an ‘easygoing’ kid. I always felt like I was trapped in a movie, watching the world pass by. I needed to feel comfortable in my environment and remember constantly scanning everything and everyone around me at all times.

‘Normal’ (whatever that means anyway) kids enjoy sleepovers. I liked the idea of a sleepover, but I never genuinely felt comfortable anywhere besides in my own house and bed. Now and again, my parents went out, which meant a sleepover with relatives.

Whenever I went to my aunt and uncle’s house, I’d spend the entire night wide awake with a stomach ache. This pattern happened at least five or six times; far too often to be purely coincidence.

In hindsight, there was nothing wrong with my aunt and uncle’s house. It was a fun place to be, and they always made sure my brother and I were happy. I simply did not feel safe in that house for whatever reason. However, my mind believed otherwise and roped my body into proving its point. The mind-body connection is strong. 

What does any of this have to do with writing?

Recently, I wrote an article for Elephant Journal titled, Why “Writer’s Block” is a Complete Fabrication that seemed to strike a chord with many of you.

In that article, I drew on statistics from Action Education that state that 773 million adults around the world cannot read or write through no fault of their own. Being genuinely unable to do something (like writing) and failing to take action are two very different things. If you can jot down letters and words and form sentences, you can write.

What really stops most people from writing

Let me get the most common excuses out of the way:

  • I’m too busy
  • I forget to write
  • I have no idea where to start
  • I’m always too tired to write

I’m not putting these excuses forward to mock or dismiss them. On a daily basis, we make decisions about what to do with our time. We each have the same amount of hours in a day. Every now and again, I share hard truths with people I mentor that sound something like this:

  • The reality is you chose to watch Netflix for 2 hours over writing for 20 minutes
  • The reality is you spent 40 minutes scrolling through Instagram rather than writing for 10 minutes
  • The reality is you know you forget to write, but you won’t put a calendar reminder in your phone 

What’s actually going on when people think or confess that they ‘can’t write’

They are scared of what will be unearthed 

This fear is more common than you may think. As I continue to say, it takes guts to stare down a blank page daily and tune in to what’s really going on for you mentally and physically. 

Most people live their lives like an untuned radio. Writing helps you to dial into your personal frequency and at times, something unexpected happens and everything changes. All it takes is one sentence in some cases (I’m speaking from experience).

They fear being empty

So many people aren’t living their own lives; they are playing out someone else’s dream. (Such as a parent or another significant person in their world.) 

When we spend a lifetime denying our truth and what we yearn for most, our well may run dry for a period even once we give ourself permission to express our deepest thoughts and desires. Why waste time and energy dreaming about something that’s unlikely to ever happen? Remember, the goal of the mind and body is to keep you safe and in many cases, that means avoiding change.

The beautiful thing about writing is that we can dream on paper and our words are for our eyes only. If you are concerned about someone discovering your work, use a shredder or burn your writing (I opt for shredding as I am highly clumsy). Life is short, and we never know what may be around the corner. Dare to dream, and once your truth is staring right back at you, map out your next steps.

They are unable to allow their thoughts to roam free

Why are people often so serious? Research shows that play is not optional (Google Brené Brown’s research on this topic if you’re keen to learn more); it’s key to thriving and attaining happiness. 

“The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression.” 

Brian Sutton-Smith

I challenge you to grab a blank piece of paper and a pen and set a five-minute timer. Start writing and see what happens. Oh, and before you begin:

  • Who cares if you spell a word incorrectly?
  • Who cares if your sentences don’t make sense?
  • Who cares if your grade six teacher would be disgusted at how much your handwriting/penmanship has regressed?

Don’t be afraid to ask for support

Ever thought about investing in a writing mentor? Like a personal trainer for your nutrition and training at the gym but for writing. If you are genuinely interested in using writing as a tool to improve your health and well-being, let’s chat about how I can help: info@sarahcannata.com

Note: one-on-one writing mentoring places are limited so that I can provide people with the best possible guidance and support. You must also be an existing Storytelling for the Soul member.

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!