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.
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:
- My writing is grammatically correct.
- I can use the word flagrant correctly in a sentence.
- I love my characters.
- I am pursuing my dream.
- 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?
Sylvia Plath: “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Sometimes self-doubt comes in fast & hard: the first rejection, maybe, and you’re wondering if you should even try to be a published writer. Sometimes, like in my case, it comes in slowly, easing itself along through the years, grinding you down a little bit more with every rejection or every not-so-stellar review.
It took me four years to write my first novel, Small as a Mustard Seed. At first, I loved the characters (still do), and the setting, and the story. But later, as the writing began to take on a life of its own (as it always does), I really started to doubt, not only the story but myself and my ability to write it. A few months into the work, the father arrived with schizophrenia and then, later in the process, became a Korean war veteran. Early on, it was set in a more modern time period then suddenly I realized it needed to happen in the 1960′s. It had two little girls, sisters, as the main characters. I had an overwhelmed mother struggling to keep her family intact.
Late at night, alone in my little writing room, my thoughts were these: I know nothing about schizophrenia. And really, what do I know about Korea? Or being a veteran? Or being in any kind of battle at all for that matter? I wasn’t even born in the 60′s, what do I know about that? I’ve never had a sister, how can I write that & make it believable? What do I know (because when I first started I didn’t have any kids) about being a mom? There were a lot of days I just wanted to quit & work on something else. Something easier, I told myself (which became kind of a joke, because there’s never really anything easier, is there?).
But little by little, I kept pressing forward in the face of all my doubts. I jotted notes in my journal like I need someone who knows about schizophrenia and ~ because the universe is a friendly place ~ a week or so later, I got introduced to a woman who had lived with an adult schizophrenic & who graciously answered all my questions about how it was to be with him when he was off his medications. I read books. I researched. I wrote about the relationship I would’ve liked to have if I’d had a sister. I knew how it felt to be overwhelmed, so I transferred that feeling to the character. I kept moving forward.
I finished it & sent it out into the world. It won two awards & got great reviews. I let out the breath I’d been holding.
Was the self-doubt gone? No. But it did fade a bit, and I got to work on the next thing. So this is my little pep-talk: Don’t let any self-doubt stop you. Don’t let it make you question your motives or your intentions. Don’t let it make you ask, Who even cares? The best advice I can give you is to keep writing through it. Trust in the story & trust in your ability to tell it. I know this sounds new-agey, but trust in the universe to get you what you need. And finally, this goes along with my post last week, find a support system of people who understand what you’re trying to achieve.
What about you? Have you struggled with self-doubt? If so, what have you done to overcome it?
Grand Prize Winner, Grant Winner, & Silver Medal Winner