What is positive parenting, and how does it relate to writing?
Positive parenting boils down to two F words: firm and friendly. Instead of demanding, controlling, yelling, or criticizing a child to bend to your will, positive parenting approaches children from a place of connection. Parents give firm but friendly boundaries when assigning tasks to their children. Allowing them to fulfill expectations by choice, rather than force, helps children feel confidence and personal growth because it's ultimately their choice—to brush their teeth, do their homework, or put on underwear!
The parenting advice industry bears striking similarities to the film industry in that it's filled with DON'TS. Don't helicopter parent, but also don't tell your children no! Same thing in the film industry—take the infinite number of articles on what not to do as a writer. The Twitter argument on Bold vs. Underlined sluglines, anyone?
A writer can spin out studying the conflicting don'ts.
What I like about positive parenting is that it provides advice on what to do. Do listen to the child, no matter how silly the problem seems. Do get down on the floor and play with your child when they get upset. If they make a mistake, do encourage them to try again.
So how do you positive parent your inner writer?
There are three main ways:
Talking to yourself with kindness, taking actions in your career that prove you are capable, and playing/having fun as a writer.
To expand on using a kind voice, double-check your inner critic. How do you talk to yourself in your head? Do you ruminate on why you aren't writing? Are you nagging yourself? Do you berate and punish yourself into writing? Do you give yourself "the talk"—that you're wasting your time, that you'll never be good enough, that your script will embarrass you, that you'll disappoint the people who read it? Are you operating from the other F word? Thinking "F^%K" and "I can't do this" with every writing task? Here's some of mine: "I'm so stupid. What the F^%K is wrong with me? Why can't I write? Why didn't I write? I need to be more disciplined. I need to write every day. This scene sucks. You suck. Why can't I do this? Why am I procrastinating? What's wrong with me? Do I belong in this room? Am I even a real writer?" (Hint: I am, and you are, too.)
Try talking to yourself now, listen to your inner critic, and discover—how often are you operating from a place of shame? We don't often tangibly think about shame or how it affects our writing routine. Instead, that dark guilt of past rejection and failure lurks underneath, permeating our subconscious and killing our joy.
Anxiety and fear prevent you from doing your best.
That inner voice can be challenging to change because they've been with you your whole life, likely from kindergarten or first grade when your nervous system developed. But it is possible to change your inner voice (I recommend art therapy). But what you can do on your own is to consider your relationship with mistakes.
To use an actual child as an example, here's a true story—a kid goes into the first grade, happy and excited to learn. But he has a hard week because he's dealing with loss at home, so he cries over a lost pinecone. He gets removed from the classroom and sent away from his friends, from where he knows he belongs, to the office, which only escalates his crying. An admin tells the parent, in front of the child, that he's so bright, but he refuses to use his calm-down tools, and he's acting like a toddler. She tells him that if he wants to continue to attend this school, he'll have to invest in said school. So now this sad six-year-old child is wondering what's wrong with him because he's acting "like a toddler." He feels ashamed and doesn't understand what "invest" means. He no longer believes he belongs in the room. Therefore, he spends the rest of the semester in fight-or-flight mode, making more mistakes because he's so desperately worried he'll get kicked out.
And so it becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy where he ends up having to leave this school, and his inner critic has solidified in a place of shame.
Children will make mistakes as they grow, and so will you as your career begins; kindness and compassion for yourself is the key to success. As you write, are you worrying over your past errors and rejections and bringing that energy into new opportunities? Are you hyper-focused on what other people think about your scripts, trying to write what some exec will like?
When a child or writer worries about how someone will react, they cannot make good choices, and more mistakes happen. The prefrontal cortex gets blocked, and reasoning goes out the window. People get stuck in a state of panic, and the fear-based amygdala takes over. The brain operates from a place of fear, and we can no longer connect to our project or anyone else in the room. We worry about what others think of us instead of building cooperation and joy to get the project made.
Self-doubt kills more careers than actual failure.
Writers can take these two crucial steps to stop this fearful shame cycle of self-doubt.
First, do not, under any circumstances, let your inner critic tally your mistakes. You will forever believe, "I can't do it, I don't know how, and I'll never be good at this." This tallying leads to a total halt in trying anything new.
Second, stop asking yourself why. Is your inner critic analyzing your past writing and career moves, making you feel ashamed, and asking yourself why? We do not need to know why we made past choices or mistakes. Would you say to a child, why did you break that? Why did you screw up so badly? It's better to learn from mistakes and not shame yourself by asking why. It doesn't matter why. Give yourself compassion!
And self-compassion is hard! I didn't even realize I used this nasty inner voice to drive myself to write until I went to art therapy. My therapist asked me to write messages of compassion to my past self, and I didn't know how. I was frozen. The only way I knew how to move forward in my writing was to bully myself with authoritative words and deadlines so tight I didn’t have time to listen to that inner bully.
Here I was, positive parenting my actual child but not allowing myself the same grace.
A firm and friendly inner voice that sets boundaries on when you'll write and for how long works better for the long haul. To get around your inner critic and find the joy of writing, practice using kindness as your inner voice: You can incorporate this positive (karate) mindset —I'm doing my best! I'll do better next time! And I will never give up!
But connecting with yourself is more than self-help talk. We can tell our children they are capable, but until they achieve a goal on their own, their belief in themself will waver. No matter how often you tell yourself you are capable, you must actively accomplish something that proves it.
To do so, set goals you can accomplish. Your career can build in small steps that you continue to achieve.
Write by hand for ten minutes daily, or simply open the document on your computer. And then set the goal of finishing a page, a scene, ten pages, and then an act. Then a whole draft. Take a class. Write something contained with limited characters if you're an emerging writer. Send your writing to a friend. Then send it out for notes. Try to place in a contest. Then send to a production company. Try to get a screenplay produced, or a book published. Consider your contacts in the industry and ask them to help you get it to the right people. The representation will come.
Successful writers still wonder if they are any good, so don't wait until you're 100% confident.
You can also read other people's scripts to get a solid foundation of what this industry expects from you. Once you have that muscle memory of what an arc feels like on the page, the fear will recede. Reading scripts can be the best way to learn.
You can also watch your favorite film twenty times—and I mean twenty! Grow your understanding of your favorite story. When you write something inspired by it, you will have that capability because your knowledge of that type of storytelling will no longer be just in your head. You will know it with every fiber of your being. And you can make choices with ease to put your story into action.
If you’re stuck in writer’s block or terrified to show your work, you may have to figure out where your inner child began to fear writing. For example, I used to shake as I heard my writing read aloud. And it took me a long time to realize that I didn’t believe I could be creative. I graduated college with a degree in art. But I can't draw. I was a photography major forced to take years of painting and drawing courses. I never drew anything in my life before college. I wasn't one of those kids who doodled. I didn't even think I was good at coloring, I remember crumbling when I couldn't stay within the lines.
My inner critic convinced me I needed to be perfect when I was still using crayons.
And this fear solidified when my college professor barked on day one, "draw hands." He assumed that anyone enrolled had an art background. But we didn't have YouTube tutorials or the internet to study drawing techniques. I skated my way through by drawing with messy charcoal, leaning toward the surreal, with eyes out of place and body proportions purposely off to create personality in my drawings.
Honestly, if I got anything down on paper, I was pleased. But I knew the truth—I was no real artist. I could not draw. I was not capable, and I never would be. I only recently understood how this dialogue destroyed my confidence in all my creative endeavors.
My foundation as a creative developed on the belief that I wasn't as good as other people.
Decades later, I purchased an online animation course for my child, but sat out the first courses. But when my son struggled, I wanted to show him it is OK to make mistakes. So, I drew a damn horse. And it looks like a horse! It's magnificent! I realized I am capable, but I needed the proper foundation. Did you know a horse's face starts with a simple circle? I'd have been off to the races years ago if someone had taught me that most shapes come from triangles, circles, and squares.
As a parent and a writing coach, I can tell you repeatedly that you deserve to be a writer, but you must take active steps to build this belief in yourself.
The third way to positive parent your inner writer is that children and writers must remember to play.
This idea of PLAY is the most important advice of all. In parenting, it's simple—if a child is upset, sending them away to their room further escalates the problem. Tallying and punishing fosters the inner critic.
We can find ways to play in every situation, making everything a game. If they're struggling with an assignment, we can make it fun. My child gets bored quickly with first-grade lessons, so he makes all his numbers and letters come alive by drawing eyes and mouths and creating a story for each letter or number. The letter C with his eyes says, SEE? See what he did there? He's playing.
And you can, too. What about your current project sparks the most excitement? Connect with your inner writer from that place of excitement that allows you to play, have fun, be joyous, and you'll begin to see how capable you are.
When editing, you can let your inner critic have their way. But it would be best to separate from them in your first drafts and again when sending it out.
To even out your inner critic's negativity, you can write a scene about something that makes you extremely happy. Writing from fear tends to be tedious, but writing from a joyous place will easily flow.
And try new things with your writing! Swap with a friend where you begin the scene and let them finish it. Or try something that scares you, like a scene with only subtext in the dialogue, but know that you will make mistakes. We get stuck if we never allow ourselves to play. Let yourself fail! Make many mistakes, and know you have the resilience to keep going.
Going into your draft with the spirit of play instead of perfection will deliver better pages faster!
If the idea of play sends you into a panic, your nervous system might be more used to tight deadlines and the chaos of moving quickly.
Writing for fun might be such a new concept that you’ll have to remember to take deep breaths. To reset your nervous system, you can picture (or actually paint) a mountain—breathe in with the upstrokes and breathe out as you go down the mountain to ease your way into writing.
I used to be terrified to send out writing because somewhere, someone told me (oh, let's be honest, I know exactly who) if I sent my writing out early, I'd never get another chance. Even though this isn't true, not for me or anyone, this has frozen me many times. But if I instead had been sending out my writing from the joyous and excited place that it might get made, that each time I send it is one step closer to telling my story, then maybe each project would have more legs, more sustainability to keep going.
Play helps you keep going, while shame freezes you.
And when you think of your project as play, you'll have an easier time working with others. Connection is the key to a successful career; we need each other to make film and TV. If your inner joyous child knows they're welcome in the room, they will bring an infectious energy that all will notice, and others will want to help you.
Your love of your project will help you find the right people to bring it to fruition. Your joy will act as a guide for everyone else involved.
If you let the inner critic take over, the play stops. Then everyone on the project will feel criticized and will become critical. If you can't connect kindly with yourself, then mutual respect, concern for others, problem-solving, and cooperation become highly difficult.
Choosing a career in the film industry means a life-long pursuit of collaboration because it takes so many people to make a film or a TV series. As writers, we're often more comfortable at home, in our pajamas, so to foster cooperation, start cooperating with yourself.
If you've been punishing yourself lately for not writing, headed down an inner critic doom spiral for not writing, tell yourself you tried, you'll do better next time, and have some damn fun! Write badly! Write the worst, silliest scene; I promise it will be amazing. Make your co-writer laugh! Make a producer laugh! But even better, make yourself laugh!
Focus on what you love about your writing and what you're trying to say. I want you to practice talking to your inner self with only one question: What story am I trying to tell? Have I accomplished this? If so, then your script is excellent!
If you need guidance getting your writing back to a place of play and excitement, try setting firm and friendly boundaries on what small step you will try to accomplish this week.
And if you fail to write, chicken out on sending something out, or can't get an agent this week, that's OK. Let yourself feel joy at this incredibly absurd and complex industry you've chosen.
Be kind to yourself—you tried! Tomorrow you can do better. And you won't give up.
Positive parenting aims to allow children to discover how capable they are. And that is the number one thing you need as a writer, a to believe in your capabilities. Like children, you must believe you and your writing are a significant part of the family/filmmaking team.
*Feature photo by Pixabay