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April 03, 2007

Two Steps Forward/ One Step Backward: What Resistance Can Look Like in a Writing Workshop

At the first meeting I introduce freewriting. The particular group I’m thinking of now is a small, highly motivated group, several people who meet every other week with the express purpose of recovering from depression. I have agreed, at the invitation of a psychiatrist, the group leader, to meet with the group for six sessions to explore writing and healing. Many in the group are new to freewriting. They try it—and seem to like it—the freedom it offers—the bit of release.

At the second meeting we continue with freewriting and concentrate more on bringing in strong, sensory details. The images that begin to emerge are both strong and sensory. High school bleachers. An empty chair. Cold water. The taste of sour apples. That whole second session could be described in a single word: flow. A flow of images and sensory detail and the release of emotion.

Then the third meeting. Ah, the third meeting. I go in to the third meeting with a rather vague expectation that we will simply pick up the flow and keep moving. I know better than to go into a workshop with expectations. But still I do it. I go into the workshop looking for a continuation of flow. I like flow.

We don’t flow.

I begin by offering a prompt for writing—and, I add, as I always do, write, if you’d rather, about something that is on your mind or heart. Go on. So we write. And we begin to talk about the writing—like the weeks before. But something is different this week. There’s a sense that everything has slowed down—is stuck—is heavy—like molasses—like quicksand—like slow motion.

“I was going to ask that we not write tonight,” someone says.

I nod.

Here’s the thing. I like flow. I prefer flow. But I’ve also begun to learn that if one is going to do any of this—this writing—this healing—over the long haul—more, say, than for one weekend—or one week—then resistance—a resistance to going forward—this sometimes-stuck-in-molasses-feeling—is part of the deal. I’ve seen this before. And I’ve seen it not infrequently after a period of strong flow and creativity. It’s as if there’s some natural check and balance, as if flow itself is wary of going on for too long unimpeded. An obstacle arises. An impediment to going too far too fast. The writing that for a time seemed exciting and freeing now seems boring, or fairly useless, or faintly ridiculous.

“This is really hard,” someone says.

I know, I say. Sometimes it really is.