Cheap Therapy

By Milli Thornton

Sometimes, even when I’m completely eager to work on my current story, I have fear of starting a new writing session. There’s that fear I won’t know where to go next with my story. Or only slightly less intimidating (if I have an outline to work with), that I won’t know how to get the characters to live up to what’s in my head.

As they might say in New Age self-help books, it’s really all an illusion. It’s not “me” who has to write the story. That’s just what my ego thinks. My imagination came up with the story in the first place; I’m just hijacking it with my petty anxieties.

But understanding that the fear is an illusion doesn’t help one bit. (It sure doesn’t feel like an illusion.) What helps is a trick I stumbled on one day when I decided to talk out my anxieties. Something told me it needed to be spoken out loud, so I turned on my dictation program and started telling it about my block.

First I described the most recent happenings in my story. And then I described what I felt my big dilemma was. Before I could even wring all the drama out of my dilemma, I had a breakthrough. Next thing I was rushing to open my screenwriting software so I could write the next scene.

I decided this therapy was a keeper. But instead of systemizing it (as I love to do with various things in life), I decided to keep it basic. My story therapist is undoubtedly my muse—which is either an immortal goddess in a bower somewhere or simply my own imagination—but I never get that personal or analytical about the process. I treat my therapist like a nameless, faceless entity; one to which I owe nothing but a quick thanks as I leap off the couch to use the material that just came flowing in.

I actually think my therapist prefers it this way. No etiquette, no assertiveness homework or gratitude journals, no case files.

And the talk therapy works every time. You can’t beat that for value.


Milli ThorntonMilli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli also blogs at Milliver’s Travels and Screenwriting in the Boonies.

26 Responses to Cheap Therapy
  1. Patti Stafford
    Twitter: pattistafford
    February 14, 2011 | 10:16 AM

    Oh Milli, that sounds like an excellent idea.

    I often use your trick to berate myself/muse through writing and it works really well.

    Sometimes I try to tell Kevin how “less than perfect” I am. Of course, he will hear nothing of such non-sense. LOL. But, he is also a form of therapy, because as I’m trying to beat myself up, he’s countering that with all the good, positive things he sees in me. It’s also another form of cheap therapy. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this great tip.

  2. @fearofwriting
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    February 14, 2011 | 11:08 AM

    Pattikins, I smiled really big when you talked about your Kevin therapy. I sometimes get that from Brian. He’s not the kind of guy to give compliments lightly, so when he points out some specific value of mine, I sit up and take notes! 😉

    Heart-shaped hugs to you.


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Milli & j, Milli Thornton. Milli Thornton said: RT @fearofwriting: Cheap Therapy | Fear of Writing blog […]

  4. Laura Best
    February 14, 2011 | 12:51 PM

    “There’s that fear I won’t know where to go next with my story.” Oh, I’ve felt that one before and “I won’t know how to get the characters to live up to what’s in my head” is often difficult one to pull off. Seeing what the story is about is much easier than putting that down on paper. I’m struggling with a one story as we speak. I’m sure it seems a much better, stronger story in my mind. Great post and nice blog you have!

    • @fearofwriting
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      February 14, 2011 | 1:38 PM

      Thanks, Laura. It’s always comforting to know someone else shares the same fear(s). Good luck with your current story struggles. Maybe burning something minor (like a can of Spaghetti-0s) would be good therapy (wink).

  5. Tricia
    Twitter: Tricia_Sutton
    February 14, 2011 | 1:12 PM

    I fear if I had to playback a recording of my dictation, my OCDs would surface and I’d hyper focus on the sound of my voice, the slight lisp, and the lazy drone of it. Then I’d wonder how anyone could stand the sound of me, and I’d go into a deep self-depreciating depression. whew. Glad it works for you, though.

    One of my biggest fears of success would be a public reading of my book. Maybe you’ve just uncovered something valuable here. Thank you for my therapy.

    • @fearofwriting
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      February 14, 2011 | 1:45 PM

      Oooo-nnnnoo, I don’t listen to a playback of my own voice. I use Dragon, which converts speech to type. So I only have to see my OCDs in writing—and I can delete that quicker than Dragon can spew his fiery breath on it if I need to. So it’s painless dictation.

      (I have a friend who says she could never use Dragon because she fears talking to herself out loud in an empty room, but I don’t have that problem at all. Some days I talk to myself more than I talk to other people. ;))

      I totally relate to your fear of reading from your book in public. I dread my monotone voice in situations like that one. I have fear of pitching my screenplay for that very reason.

    • Patti Stafford
      Twitter: pattistafford
      February 14, 2011 | 4:01 PM

      Oh Tricia, did you write that first paragraph or did I? LOL

      Actually, I’ve gotten a bit used to hearing my voice on tape. What bothers me is seeing myself on video. I have a crooked mouth and a lazy eye–which is why I either don’t smile in pictures of smile as big as I can without breaking my face. LOL

      I haven’t always had those two quirky features though. Apparently something went hinky in my brain at one time and I wasn’t aware of it.

      But as far as voice goes, I do have this horrid southern accent I can’t get rid of. One day I’ll move to England and get a whole new accent. 🙂

  6. Lois
    February 14, 2011 | 2:16 PM

    Excellent idea! I may need to use this soon, as I’ll be heading into the “unknown” of a short story tomorrow. I have about half of it written, but I haven’t been able to sit down and contemplate the rest of it (which will undoubtedly include action…what’s a Robin Hood story without action?).

    Thanks, Milli! You’re a veritable fountain of great ideas, and I appreciate them more than you know. 🙂


    • @fearofwriting
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      February 14, 2011 | 2:36 PM

      Thanks, Lois! And I appreciate you as one of our most loyal blog readers (and occasional guest).

      I hope the tip works for you. I haven’t tried do it as journaling, but I’m sure it would work just as well as talking out loud (if you don’t like to talk to yourself 😉

      I find the key points are retelling the most recent parts of the story, and then describing what my problem is with how to proceed.

      • Lois
        February 14, 2011 | 5:23 PM

        Thanks Milli. I’m sure it will work for me. I love the idea of using it with journaling, and that might be right up my alley. 😉

    • Patti Stafford
      Twitter: pattistafford
      February 14, 2011 | 4:05 PM

      Lois – I use several of Milli’s ideas too and not all are writing related. She turned me onto hypnosis tapes and angel meditations. 🙂

      Several hundred bucks later and I am perfectly normal. I am, seriously. Okay, maybe normal is pushing it a bit. LMAO!

      • @fearofwriting
        Twitter: fearofwriting
        February 14, 2011 | 4:09 PM

        LOL, Patti!

      • Lois
        February 14, 2011 | 5:23 PM

        Hahahaha! Very funny, Patti! 😛

  7. Sandra Williams
    February 14, 2011 | 4:22 PM

    Who’d thunk!? That’s brilliant, Milli. I’ll have to try it and see if I can get inspired to get off my!

    • @fearofwriting
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      February 14, 2011 | 4:25 PM

      Glad you liked it. So fun to see you show up right when the cheap therapy’s on offer. LOL!

  8. Giulietta Nardone
    February 15, 2011 | 9:47 AM

    Hi Milli,

    Love your writing therapy idea and that you didn’t systematize it. Most intriguing.

    Must be my personality — I’m not one to go gently into the systematize night — have always done better surrounded with looseness letting my muse guide the way.

    I will try this myself! Thx, G.

    • @fearofwriting
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      February 15, 2011 | 11:13 AM


      I have a combo personality – my organized German ancestors at war inside me with the otter who just wants to play and be silly. It can be challenging, but it teaches me a lot.

      I’m glad you have built-in looseness. And I hope you enjoy the cheap therapy trick.

      ~ Milli

  9. Patrick Ross
    Twitter: patrickrwrites
    February 15, 2011 | 2:45 PM

    I like the analogy of a therapist, Milli. Of course, your therapist is a lot cheaper than a psychiatrist, and it’s available 24/7!

    • @fearofwriting
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      February 15, 2011 | 3:21 PM

      Thanks, Patrick. It was fun to write the analogy. 😀

  10. j
    February 17, 2011 | 12:20 AM

    I have such funny stories about my use of Dragon when I broke my wrist. We had fun times. I wonder if I could relax enough to tell Dragon what’s going on with me. Not sure… but I could write it in my j-pages (formerly known as morning pages).

    In fact, I think that’s a good idea, Milli. I’ll try!

    • @fearofwriting
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      February 17, 2011 | 9:51 AM

      Let me know how it works in writing, j. 🙂

  11. Jenna
    February 17, 2011 | 1:36 PM

    I just stumbled onto your blog and feel I need to read the entire thing start to finish. Either that or buy your book. I need help quieting the negative voice that keeps telling me how much I stink! It’s so loud I don’t even sit down to write most days.

    But the stories are in me begging to get out.

    I am bookmarking your site now. 🙂


    • @fearofwriting
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      February 18, 2011 | 6:24 PM

      Hi Jenna,

      Glad you found us! I hope we can help you with your negative voices. I know how that feels when they’re having a field day. Apart from reading the blog, you can also check out our 10K Days and the online course (see the blog menu next time you visit).

      Your site looks like tons of fun! I love the pic of the kitty falling asleep at the keyboard. (I know how he feels.) The teddy bear on your e-book, Healing Touch, is adorable. I love that title too.

      I hope your cold feels better soon. 🙂

      ~ Milli

  12. […] “Cheap Therapy,” Milli Thornton, Fear of Writing: Talk aloud with your muse (and I’d add, let family members know you’re not going crazy). […]

  13. […] “Cheap Therapy,” Milli Thornton, Fear of Writing: Talk aloud with your muse (and I’d add, let family members know you’re not going crazy). […]

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