Beware Of Your Own Voice In Your Head

Posted · 16 Comments

What are you telling yourself?

This one goes along with a post I did a few weeks back about being careful which people you choose to listen to (find it HERE). But this one’s about possibly your worst critic: your own self.

Anne Lamott, in her fabulous book Bird by Bird, calls that voice in your head the radio-station KFKD. You know the one. Your own voice saying: this stinks, it isn’t good enough, no one’s going to like it, I should quit & go get a real job . . . and on and on.

Here’s the truth: You listen to that voice & you really will be in a heap of trouble. You’ll deflate faster than a stuck balloon, you’ll stop writing (or doing anything toward whatever your dream is), you’ll slink off defeated. And the book you were writing (or whatever you’re pursuing), the one that might’ve been wildly successful, might’ve won awards, might’ve been a critical darling, will sit in a drawer gathering dust.

Don’t do that to yourself.

Yes, I’ve heard that voice, too. More often than I care to admit. It usually shows up on the days when the writing’s tough & not flowing & I’m sitting in front of my computer watching a blinking cursor. What I’ve learned is that if you nip it in the bud early on (say, the first time it roars up) then it won’t run rampant, won’t feed off itself until that’s about the only thing you hear in your head.

How?

Tell it to shut-up. Yes, you might feel like an idiot saying it out loud, but then again there’s power in words. Tell it that it’s wrong & to shut-up. Don’t argue with yourself. Just tell it to knock it off, mean it, & move on.

Another thing that helps:

  • Make a list of 10 good things about your writing (or whatever it is you’re pursuing). And if you can’t think of 10 good things, make it 5, or even just 1. Something good to combat the bad. For example:
  1. My writing is grammatically correct.
  2. I can use the word flagrant correctly in a sentence.
  3. I love my characters.
  4. I am pursuing my dream.
  5. I am happiest when I’m writing.
  • Post this list somewhere you can see it so when that voice starts up about your inadequacies, you have a visual reminder that no, you are not all that bad at all.
  • Add to your positive list daily.

Or how about this:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Or hum a tune.
  • Or light a candle.
  • Or take a deep breath.
  • Then take another.
  • Whatever it takes to calm down.
  • You can’t make good decisions with all that noise crashing around in your skull, so just calm down.
  • Calm. Down.
  • Then start working.

These are things that work for me. How do you combat your own negative voice in your head?

16 Responses to "Beware Of Your Own Voice In Your Head"
  1. Christy Farmer says:

    Shelli,
    This is a great post about confidence and why writers need to have it. When people need a break I would also recommend reading…a lot, and listening to Music. Great Post 🙂

  2. Whenever I hear that ugly voice, I remind myself that:
    1) perfection is in the eye of the beholder (no matter how hard I might try, I’m never going to please everyone, so I should just focus on pleasing myself and have fun), 2) if I’m happiest when I’m writing, then that’s what counts, 3) I’ve accomplished a lot–not many people can say they’ve written a book

    If all else fails (which, sadly, happens frequently), I give my husband the boo-boo face and he tells me how wonderful I am! 🙂

    Oh, and now I have a new tactic: read Shelli’s blog!

    Thanks!

    • Agree, agree, & agree! Number 1 reminded me of something Bill Cosby once said: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” I’m right there with you when all else fails; my husband comes to my rescue, too.

  3. Nils says:

    Hei, I just came across your blog randomly, and I love this post! I’ve been struggling with my inner critic, and this is a good reminder.

    I started a diary where, first thing in the morning, I write down that I am a wonderful human being and at least one thing that I like about myself, my life and/or my writing. I needed it because I kept forgetting, and I had this constant inner tirade going on about how every minute thing I did was wrong and pathetic. Now, every time I catch myself at it, I do two things: Remember to not beat myself up and that I am a good person.

    Also, listening to Lani Diane Rich’s “I am a Great Writer” speech always cheers me up: http://storywonk.com/?p=133

    • Hi Nils. Thanks for being so open & honest. I think it’s incredibly important that we tell ourselves the good stuff, too ~ and believe it. Thanks, too, for the link; I will definitely take a listen to her speech.

  4. Phil Giunta says:

    Thanks for this post, Shelli. At a time when I needed it most. I am working on my second paranormal mystery novel (my first, Testing the Prisoner, was published in 2010).

    I’m four scenes away from completing the first draft but at roughly 80% through it, (about two months ago), I started losing time. The demands of my FT job, home projects, a training course for work, etc. all chiseled away at writing time and had me on a fast track to burnout.

    I saw the quality of my writing diminish as a result of pushing myself when I was exhausted and unfocused, stealing time rather than making time because some rule told me that I should write for an hour a day…or else. Then the doubt crept in. Had I lost my touch? The draft was excellent up to that point and my first novel was the best thing I’d ever written. Was it all leaving me now?

    I realized then that I needed to complete the other projects for work and home instead of taking on too much. If that meant the draft had to be put aside for a few weeks so be it. Then I remembered the same thing happened with my first book more than once and when I eventually came back to it, I did so with fresh eyes and sharper focus.

    So now, I’m turning a deaf ear to the voices of derision. I looked back on all that was awesome about this draft and regained my confidence. Onward!

    • Hi Phil. Congrats on publishing your first book. I know all about the fast track to burnout, having done it myself. I love this ~ because some rule told me that I should write for an hour a day…or else. Early on, I used to listen to other people’s “rules” too. Then I realized, like you, that they didn’t work for me at all. I’m so glad you’re listening to your own self & tuning out everybody else who isn’t helping. Kudos to you!

  5. Alana says:

    I always enjoy your posts so much, Shelli. I’ve been in desperate need of a pick-me-up, and this definitely helped. Thanks!

  6. Eve Redwater says:

    Hi Shelli!

    Another great post today.:)
    Recently, I’ve been dealing with a severe lack of self-confidence when it comes to my work (I’m writing mainly poetry), and I’ve felt like it’s culminated into something I just couldn’t contain very well; that in essence, it was spilling over into my writing. I voiced these concerns with the followers of my blog, and was met with some really fantastic advice.

    One was: “Have faith in yourself, for it is all part of the journey.”, and another: “The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” — Vincent Van Gogh

    It’s the things like that, that keep me motivated. All too often I’ve had the ‘voice of terrible’ in my head. I don’t think it can be avoided sometimes, and that all creative people will meet with it every now and then. It’s advice like yours that can really help make a difference though! Next time, I’ll definitely try telling it to “Shut up!”

    Eve

    • Hi Eve! Thanks for the compliment. I’m sorry you’re going through the lack of self-confidence. If it makes you feel any better, you’re definitely not alone; I believe it’s true that all creative people will run into it at some point. I absolutely love the Van Gogh quote, thanks for sharing it. Yes, I’ve been known to holler “Oh, just shut up already” when alone in my writing room ~ it really does work for me. 😀

  7. I could always use a confidence-infusion when it comes to being vulnerable – and what’s more vulnerable than putting your writing out there for all to see? Thank you for sharing.

  8. Beduwen says:

    Where’s the “LOVE” button? We definitely DO need to be kinder to ourselves. Great post!

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