A parting of the ways

I have had an email from a lovely former client. By mutual agreement (rather bewildered on his side) we agreed, months ago, that the coaching relationship we’d established wasn’t going to work. He still can’t quite understand why.

The reason is simple though – he likes to suffer. Not in any kind of BDSM way, but for his art – and I won’t accept that premise, nor work with creative poeple who believe they must pay in blood and heartache for their art.

I don’t think writing is always fun and laughter, and my personal experience contains periods of excruciating doubt and misery, but I do believe that any activity that isn’t largely positive, and isn’t imposed on you by necessity or coercion, should be removed from your life. As an example, dialysis is not fun, but it keeps many people alive, and they endure it stoically because they have no choice. However, creativity should not be like that – it should be rewarding, it should be meaningful, it should enhance your life and widen your horizons. If it doesn’t – stop doing it!

Now, to my client. He’s been a fortunate man; he retired early, having made a heap of money, he’s happily married with three grown-up children who are all healthy and contented, his work led him to many regions of the world where he explored beautiful and remote sites which he now writes spare and elegant poetry about.

And …?

After a few months working together, where he displayed much angst and many agonies, I suggested that he was choosing to suffer. For a while he resisted this idea, and then finally admitted that yes, it was a bit like touching wood – his life had been so fantastic that he was subliminally fearful that if he was also to succeed in poetry, some other area of his life would have to ‘go wrong’ in compensation and he couldn’t risk his health, his family or his savings so he’d rather accept that the pain of writing was the price he was going to pay for being successful in literature too.

To be honest, this strikes me as complete codswallop. Like any supersition it’s a limiting behaviour – it prevents somebody doing something for fear of the consequences, and while there might be some small logic to not walking under ladders (although probably not; Professor Richard Wiseman has proved that people who are the victims of superstition are actually much more ‘prone’ to ‘bad’ luck than those who aren’t, in his excellent book The Luck Principle) there is absolutely no logic to suffering for your art.

So although he emails and suggests we work together again, I won’t coach him again until he agrees to let go of this damaging belief, not just because I don’t want to, but because a large part of coaching is about showing people their limiting beliefs and behaviours and helping them surmount them, so the elephant in the living room in our coaching relationship has to be expelled before we can move onto anything else.

If you are one of those folk who believes every word must be wrung from your veins with agony and despair, try this experiment. For one week, make yourself think that every word will arrive with the fizzy easy of a champagne bubble rising in the glass – don’t allow your old thinking pattern to take over; tell yourself it’s only one week and be tough with your mental processes. Write as usual, put the writing away for a month and then look at it. I am willing to bet you now that you will be surprised at how good the writing is – and how easy it was to produce.

Given the choice between the agony method and the champagne system, I choose champagne every time!


  1. Sara
    10th June 2007

    Gosh, I like the sound of the Champagne method…but why do I feel that words that come so fizzily are lit-lite?

    I’m struggling at the moment with being frozen despite a deadline looming. I just refuse to write, then spend hours berating myself. So very silly.

    I hope your client manages to break through his own negativity.

  2. Kay Sexton
    14th June 2007

    Okay, this is why – it’s another myth – the myth that hard work is the only work that has value! Let’s talk about this in another post because it’s an important subject and St Paul is to blame …!

  3. Martin
    25th June 2007

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve see this self imposed suffering stop many artists.

    I haven’t quite figured out what’s so daunting about success and why people try to sabotage themselves. Any ideas, Kay.


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