How Creativity Coaches Work With Artists
Creativity coaching in action with a blocked screenwriter.
Posted Dec 13, 2012
I’ve been working with creative and performing artists and other creative souls, first as a psychotherapist and more recently as a creativity coach, for almost thirty years. Over the course of the next few articles I want to paint a picture of how a creativity coach works with his creative and performing artist clients. By the way, if you’re a creative and performing artist who could use a little support, please check out the note at the end of the vignette.
SCREENPLAYS STILL TO COME
Janet kept herself busy. She had children; she and her family moved to a new, larger house; she started a home consulting business. It all made sense—except for the disaster about which she tried not to think. She had come this close to succeeding as a screenwriter and could still succeed, given her connections, talent, and understanding of the business. But the marketplace had battered her so badly that she had given up her dream.
She kept herself busy and most of time managed not to think about her twin disappointments: her disappointment at the screenwriting marketplace for cavalierly mauling her scripts and her disappointment at herself for letting that business reality stop her from persevering. The marketplace had failed her—and she had failed herself. All of this pain and bile she tried to lock out of consciousness awareness—where naturally it continued nattering away.
In fact, she’d had some real successes. Three of her scripts had been turned into movies-of-the-week and the last of those three was about to air in a month or two. Janet might have experienced these as real accomplishments if only she hadn’t hated what had become of each script. The finished movies were dreadfully dull and sappy. Each script had been doctored by a team of rewrite specialists, whose job it was to cut out the script’s heart and replace it with the usual hack effects. The experience made her crazy.
Janet came to see me about her consulting business and not her screenwriting life. She remarked only in passing that she’d previously sold three scripts but no longer pursued a screenwriting career. I knew we had to stop right there. When someone has invested that much meaning, done that much work, and had so many real successes in an art discipline, it’s imperative to check in and see what’s going on.
“I need us to talk about the screenwriting for a minute,” I said.
“Selling three scripts is a real accomplishment.”
She grudgingly agreed.
“They got butchered. The finished movies embarrassed me. I can’t go through that hell again.”
I nodded. “But you have other scripts ready to show?”
She heaved an enormous sigh. “I have three script ideas I love. I’ve worked a bit on all three of them—but I just don’t want to subject them—subject me—to the … butchery that happens when a studio gets its hands on a script. I can’t stand picturing my beautiful work murdered by some rewrite team.”
“Interesting,” I said. “Interesting that you’ve chosen to go for words like ‘butchered’ and ‘murdered.’” I let that sink in for a moment. “I think your language is harming you,” I said. “You’ve turned a real world problem into an even worse cognitive problem. It’s one thing to think about a script as your ‘baby.’ It’s another thing to start using the language of infanticide.”
She thought about that. “It’s what I feel.”
“Language needs to serve you, not make problems harder. Don’t you think?”
“You keep telling yourself that you hate the business, you hate the business, you hate the business. How often do you remind yourself that some beautiful movies get made?”
“Almost never.” She bit her lip. “Never.”
“Have you seen a beautiful movie this year?”
“Several—some from the big studios, lots by independent filmmakers, and a bushel of foreign ones. Some stunning movies.”
“And when you see one of those, do you say, ‘Oh, look, good movies get made’?”
“You’re cognitively hooked on hating the business. Is that serving you?”
Tears came. At first they were tears of sadness: sadness at having lost so much time through adopting a language of hatred. Then they became tears of relief. She understood that she could think about the film industry differently—and the difference was huge. She could think of it not only as a place where films got butchered but also as a place where beautiful films got made. That mental adjustment changed everything.
“All right,” I said. “What do you want to do?”
It took her a bit of time to gather herself. Once gathered, however, she knew with perfect certainty what she wanted to do.
“One of my three script ideas I love to bits. I want to do the treatment for it and then start writing it. When it’s ready I have people I want to show it to—I’m incredibly lucky in that regard.”
“Talk me through your new language,” I said.
She had to think about this. “I’m not going to use any ‘hate’ or ‘kill’ or ‘murder’ language any more. Instead … ” She shook her head. “I’m not sure what I’m going to say when I think about those first three scripts. I don’t know.”
“Of course. No reason why good substitute language should come to you in a split second! But let’s stay here. What might you say instead?”
“That … I had a learning experience.”
“Maybe … That I’ve learned a lot.”
“And that I sold three scripts! I can’t seem to celebrate that. I just get fixated on … ”
We both smiled.
“On how the studios murdered them,” I said.
“On how the studios murdered them,” she laughed.
I knew that she would return to the fray. Was she likely to get battered again? You bet! Might she yet see a future script turned into a beautiful movie? If she could watch her language, aligning it with her hopes and her ambitions and not with her disgust for the industry, it was entirely possible. Those three sold scripts certainly meant something—even if the movies upon which they were based left everything to be desired.
Note: Starting in January 2013 I’ll be facilitating a new cyber support group for artists. This group is perfect for writers, visual artists, musicians, and anyone who wants to effectively meet the challenges of the creative life. The group will be limited to 12 participants, so please sign up now if you’re interested. To learn more and to join:
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of more than 40 books including the forthcoming Making Your Creative Mark (New World Library, 2013) and Why Smart People Hurt (Conari Press, 2013). Widely regarded as America’s foremost creativity coach, Dr. Maisel founded natural psychology and leads workshops nationally and internationally. You can learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, trainings, and workshops at http://www.ericmaisel.com. You can learn more about natural psychology at http://www.naturalpsychology.net. Dr. Maisel can be reached at email@example.com.