Happy Holidays and season’s greetings, it’s officially eggnog season! And candy cane season. And cookie season! So much to be excited about.
I feel like what you’ll learn here is especially important around this time of year.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get a little down on myself at the end of the year. I look back at all the plans I had at the beginning of the year. I look at what I accomplished, but also, as you cannot have the sweet without the sour, I also see the things I didn’t accomplish.
So, with that in mind, let’s get into this week’s post all about negative self-talk and how to effectively bind and gag it.
Writers come in all variety of flavors!
Cherry, watermelon, hehe, just kidding.
What I really mean is, we have:
- Plotter, writing with a plot of some sort, whether it’s a list of scenes, a carefully structured three-act outline, a narrative summary, or any other type of outline.
- Pantsers, writing into the dark, discovering what the story is, telling it to themselves. Also called discovery writers or organic writers.
- Plotsters, writing with a loose outline, or some ideas, alternating between seat of the pants and plotting to get to The End.
- Linear, writing from start to finish
- Non-linear, writing scenes here and there and stringing them together.
For every one writer there’s a different way to write a book, and this list is not exhaustive by any means.
Then there’s the way writing fits into our lives:
- Writing could be a hobby or a passion or a calling
- Writers who only write during November.
- Writers who are ruled by their writing. It’s something they must do. It’s such a solid part of their identity, when they don’t write, they might feel incomplete.
- Writers who write for themselves as a way to make sense of the world or to escape this crazy world we live in.
- Writers who do this because they love it, and they probably have success, but it doesn’t own them.
- Again, the possibilities of types of writer are limitless!
It doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are, there will be days in which you question yourself.
“Am I a Writer?” you might ask.
The answer is, Yes. Yes, my friend, you are.
Because no matter what kind of writer you are (or person for that matter), negative self-talk will still find its way into your mind and whisper nasty little things at you.
I like to think of them as my annoying siblings. It takes some of their power away.
So, allow me to introduce to you, the Negative Self-Talk Siblings: Self-Doubt, Impostor Syndrome, Perfectionism, Inner Critic, and Fear. After this introduction, I’ll give you some tactics to effectively bind and gag these meddlesome kids.
First we have Self-Doubt.
Self-Doubt is your annoying little brother or sister. For the sake of keeping pronouns easy to follow, I’m going to say brother.
Not only is Self-Doubt annoying, but he’s the little brother who gets away with everything. Throwing dirt on you, kicking you, and the worst, saying mean things to you. Things that make you second guess yourself, or make you feel like you aren’t good enough at anything, especially writing.
Self-Doubt has one of those old metal Tonka trucks. He likes to push it up and down the hallway, blocking your path. It’s full of rocks because, well, it’s a dump truck. He doesn’t let you pass, calling you names, saying mean things, running over your feet, and all you want to do is get to your room at the end of the hall so you can shut the door and stop hearing his annoying voice and cutting words.
In this metaphor, your room at the end of the hall is your book. You have to get to your book and to do so, you have to get past, or at least placate, Self-Doubt. No lolly-pop or ice cream will do it. It might help, but ultimately, bribery does not prevail.
Next up is Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome is Self-Doubt’s older brother. He’s 13 or 14, gangly, pimple-faced, but he has a really awesome head of hair, which he styles in such a cool way, no one notices he’s wearing a nerdy t-shirt and jeans that are too short (and not in a cool way).
He’s a poser.
He wants you to believe you are worthless because that’s how he feels, especially when the cool girls walk by giggling behind their hands and looking at him like he’s grown an extra arm.
His diva sister is in that group. She just rolls her eyes at him. No support there. He tells himself they’re looking at his amazing hair, maybe even runs a hand through it with some debonair flourish of some sort.
As soon as they’re around the corner, though, he notices he has ketchup on the front of his nerdy t-shirt.
Impostor Syndrome seeks you out to make you feel bad about yourself, because putting you down makes him feel superior and better about himself. But really? He’s just a kid trying to fit in. Just like you.
Now onto Perfectionism.
Perfectionism is Impostor Syndrome’s older diva sister. She and her friends a Plastics and she is the Queen Bee. She is Regina George, you know, from Mean Girls.
Just as every eyelash on her gorgeous face is in order and in place, she wants the same for your manuscript.
Every page, every paragraph, every sentence, every word must be precise and exact.
If it isn’t perfect, oh, she will judge you, and in judging you, you will begin to judge yourself. You will spend endless amounts of time tinkering with your sentences. Moving the same comma in and out and around the same sentence over and over again. Changing a word back and forth. Maybe even writing a new sentence only to find you already wrote that sentence in a later paragraph.
Perfectionism not only forces you to stay in the safety of your first or second or thirtieth draft, but sometimes she lets Self-Doubt tag along, and once he comes into the picture, you know you’re effed.
Because then you start to doubt your supposed mastery of the English language–or whatever your native language is.
Together they mock you. And that’s when Inner Critic comes down the hallway. You can hear the condescension and judginess in his footsteps.
Inner Critic is the eldest of the siblings. To me, he’s a guy named Curtis, so for the sake of this argument he’s their big brother.
Inner Critic gives the others permission to speak into our psyches and essentially muck up our creativity.
My inner critic is a guy named Curtis. Not a real guy. Completely fictional, but maybe Curtis has the voice of those who ever doubted me.
Curtis wears glasses with lenses so shiny you can’t see his eyes. He doesn’t want you to see his eyes, because his eyes are full of fear. He has a comb over and carries a clipboard and a clicky pen that he insists on clicking repeatedly. He does a lot of throat clearing, but in that way in which you know he’s writing something about you on his clipboard. He wears a white shirt with a red tie and black slacks and shoes with soft soles so you can’t hear him coming. He’s a sneaky bastard.
He wants you to fear him, but you shouldn’t. He’s just another average human who is just trying to do his best with what he has.
In fact, he might fear you more than you fear him.
Maybe he wanted to be a novelist or write a book about self-doubt.
Maybe he gave up his dream of being a creative because his parents told him he should focus on education that will actually make money. Maybe they scoffed at his creations.
Are you starting to feel sad for Curtis? He’s just like us, isn’t he?
With all the inner trappings of being a person with an active brain that sometimes has a mind of its own?
Don’t feel sad for him. He’s not your friend.
He’s a backstabber. The moment you think he’s on your side, bam, he’ll give you some backhanded compliment that’ll at first make you feel good about yourself, then question yourself, then feel bad about yourself.
He analyzes everything you say, do, think, feel, all of it. He scrutinizes every word you write, not the way Perfectionism does, but in a different way.
In a way that says, “Are you sure that’s what you want to say?” He’s the one that makes you censor yourself and delete bad sentences even during first drafting when everything and anything goes (as you’ll see when I talk about the tactics later in this post).
He tells you your writing is rubbish.
He might sound a little bit like Self-Doubt, but while Self-Doubt just jabs and pokes and is a meanie, Curtis the Inner Critic is precise, focusing on one thing: your perceived weaknesses as a writer.
And seeing your weaknesses in the eyes of your inner critic is what triggers fear to show up.
Fear is the middle child of the siblings. Perfectly positioned in age between the oldest–Curtis the Inner Critic, and the youngest, Self-Doubt. Fear holds the siblings together. She has the ability to play on either side of the age fence. She brings the siblings together, and they listen to her, because she has a commanding voice.
Fear is the one who holds us back, makes us play small, makes us tinker and toil instead of moving forward. While Curtis allows the other siblings to talk, Fear allows Curtis to talk.
She shows up as fear of failure, fear of success, fear that no one will like your writing. No one will buy it and your dream will be demolished…
Or maybe even worse, fear that people will like it and it will be a big deal, and you’ll have to come out of your little hermit hole where you write and face the light of day and hear kind words that make you uncomfortable.
I, for one, love to hear how people enjoy my books, but it also used to make me uncomfortable. I used to gloss over their words with hardly a cursory thank you, but I’ve stopped doing that and I take the time to thank them and tell them how much I appreciate them for reading my books and telling me they enjoyed them. Because the people who love our books and stories are our people. We need to make sure their praise is appreciated.
On the other hand, there are also people out there who will read your books (they might know you or know of you, like a work associate who recognizes your name because you got an award at work… seems specific because it is, lol).
They’ll read your books whether or not they usually read the genre, and then they’ll tell you, “I read your book… I don’t usually read this genre.”
Will they shower you with praise at how you’ve opened their eyes to a new world of stories in a new genre?
No, they’ll say something like, “It was… [and here they pause for far too long]… interesting.”
I should record an entire podcast in which I vent about how dumb it is to listen to people like this. They don’t read your genre! They don’t know jack squat.
Furthermore, if they don’t read your genre, why even read your book in the first place? And why must they tell you?
Let me just tell you this, straight up:
Someone’s love of romance or thriller or fantasy or some other genre that isn’t the one you write, does not mean your book is trash.
Let me say that again. Someone’s love of a genre that isn’t the one you write, does not mean your book is trash.
Okay okay, I’ll put my soap box away.
Now you have met the Negative Self-Talk Siblings.
You probably knew them before I even told you about them. Maybe you knew their names, maybe you have different names for them, maybe you didn’t know what to even begin to call them, and now that you do know what to call them, you can see them.
You can be more aware of them and recognize them for what they are. From there, you can effectively bind and gag them.
I don’t use the word defeat when it comes to moving past negative self-talk, because, unless you have reached some enlightened state, chances are, you’ll come across these lovely siblings time and time again throughout your writing career. I know bestselling authors who still battle with them!
To effectively bind and gag our negative self-talk siblings you only need to do three things:
Know your purpose, trust yourself, and keep writing.
Know Your Purpose
What is your purpose? That’s a huge question… let me whittle it down a little.
What is the soul purpose you want to write this particular story?
I’m not asking why you are The One to write it. I’m asking what was that little spark that spurred you to take on this challenge of writing a book?
That little spark will give you the fire to ignite your flame thrower and blast those sons of biscuits out of the inner trappings of your mind, freeing you up to turn that flame back over to your passion and keep going.
If the little spark isn’t enough, remind yourself why you write.
What do you get out of it? What is your reason for doing it?
As you know, if you’ve read my about page, I’ve been writing since I was six years old.
For me, my ultimate why is because I have a TON of stories to tell, and I love to write, and if I don’t write, my life is almost meaningless. I say almost there, because there is more to life than this, even for someone like me who has always since the dawn of time when I could pick up a pencil and scrawl letters wanted to be a writer.
And if I could not be a writer, I wanted to be an ice cream store owner, a candy store owner, a zoo keeper, or a ballerina.
Always at the top of my list was writer. I have an immense imagination, and if I can’t write to share that imagination with others, it’ll just go to waste.
Or, it could potentially send me to the nut house, because I love to live in imaginary worlds, and according to my husband, 50-70% of the time, I already live in an imaginary world. He gets me.
Writing for me is akin to breathing. I might just die if I can’t do it.
Okay, with breathing, yeah, I would totally die if I couldn’t do it.
What I mean is, it is such a part of who I am, that when I don’t write for days and days or work on some creative outlet, I feel the effects physically. Just like I feel the effects of skipping exercise mentally.
So, what is your why?
It doesn’t have to go back over three decades like mine does.
It could be, Yesterday I was walking along and I found a dead body and I wanted to write about what happened to it. Or even simpler, you were struck by an Idea and you thought it would make a cool story.
Don’t think too much about your why. It’s not rocket science (unless rocket science is actually your why, then why not?)
Just jot it down somewhere so when Curtis the Inner Critic comes around with his smug little attitude and his glasses and clipboard containing a list of mean things to say to you to beat you down until you are paralyzed with Self-Doubt sitting on your chest, you can turn to him and say, “Curtis, you can get the heck outta here, because here is my WHY.”
And Curtis will skulk away, mumbling and grumbling about how mean you are and the cost of gasoline.
He might even shuffle off to think about doing taxes because he is THAT miserable. Just like the trolls on the internet. They’re all just miserable people who want you to be just as miserable as them. There are enough trolls out there who will knock you down, why do it to yourself?
And if Self-Doubt sticks around despite you telling Curtis your why, and maybe Impostor Syndrome joins him in sitting on your chest, well, my friend, keep listening.
Contrary to what your inside voice might tell you, you do not need to seek validation from anywhere except within yourself.
I know, this is not a popular opinion. We always want to share our work with others.
And There is a time and a place for that, and in the beginning stages of your writing journey, NOW is NOT the time.
Whenever you think, “Oh, I should get So-And-So’s opinion of this, see if I’m heading in the right direction!”
Don’t look to So-And-So. Look inside yourself.
You know if you are heading in the right direction. Your meticulous outline (if you’re a plotter) or your gut (if you’re a pantser) will tell you.
When I write a first draft, I know I’ve made a not-so-right choice in the story when I hit a brick wall and there is no way around, over, under, or through it.
All it takes is a writing session to look back at some of the big plot points so far and see where I might have gone wrong.
Because I have many novel length manuscripts written by now, I have learned to also take both forks in the road.
Or all of the forks, if there are more than two. I will even spend the time exploring the different paths before deciding which one is the best.
Now, I don’t mean I write the story out and spend precious time writing the entire thing, no.
What I do is, I’ll step away from my pantsing ways and do a little plotting. I’ll list out what could potentially happen in each scenario and pick the one that has the biggest impact.
This is a great way to test out your gut to know which one feels the best. As a writer, you likely are also an avid reader. At the very least, you watch movies and shows. You know at your core what makes a good story. Trust your instincts. Trust your gut. Trust yourself.
So-And-So doesn’t know the story you have inside of you. They may have a completely different idea of what your story is.
The point of this is, trust. Trust that you have a good story to tell. Trust that you can tell it the best way you possibly can. Don’t let others try to tell you what your story should be by seeking their validation. Trust yourself.
And finally, keep writing.
It is the best way to get those negative self-talk siblings to pipe down.
As Vincent Van Gough said,
“If you hear a voice inside you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
The same goes for you, dear writer.
If that voice says you cannot write, then write and it will be silenced.
You are a writer. Don’t let anyone, not even yourself, tell you that you aren’t.
We battle with ourselves in the form of negative self-talk day in and day out. There’s no way to silence these inner voices, because let’s face it, even though I turned them into characters you can visualize, they are really just us.
They are our own brains trying to protect us from perceived threats.
Use the tactics from this post, use the tools from the plan for anything posts (part 1 & part 2), and for the love of everything holy, set your timer and go write!
Care to share?
Which one of the siblings is your most challenging to get past? Drop me a line in the questions/comments form below!
Maybe you’ll feel generous since it’s the holidays. If you’re enjoying this blog, I’d love for you to share it with a friend. Post about it on social media. Talk about it to your fellow writers. Link back to it on something you write. Get the word out!
I will be forever grateful!