The one who tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, deserving enough to achieve your dream. She tells you what you write is worthless, wonders why you’re wasting your time, prods you to eat cookie dough instead.
My Tuesday post about jettisoning negative people in your life brought about a discussion of our own negative internal voice and how to overcome it.
According to time-management guru Brian Tracy in his book Eat that Frog!, “Fully 95 percent of your emotions, positive or negative, are determined by how you talk to yourself on a minute-to-minute basis.”
So, maybe we should figure out how to talk to ourselves in a way that is supportive, huh?
It’s harder than it sounds. Thoughts enter our heads constantly, and half of the time we’re hardly aware of them. But we feel the results. We can be our self-esteem’s worst enemy, far tougher than anyone around us would be.
One of my blog readers named her internal critic Myrtle. I like that because once you’ve separated her from yourself, you can kick her ass.
For me, the first step is to pay attention to what I think. The second step is to rephrase harmful thoughts. Instead of, “this sucks,” I might say, “I’m sure this could be better, but I can fix it later.”
Then I keep writing.
Another method I like is based on neurolinguistic programming (NLP), something Tony Robbins is fond of in his seminars. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott recommends you take all the voices that scream at you and shove those “people” into a jar. Close the lid.
Add a volume control to the jar. Turn it up so you can hear the yells and mockery, then turn it all the way down. Get back to writing.
When distracting thoughts or images—say my latest agent rejection, or worry over my latest plotline—won’t leave me alone, I imagine them on a chalkboard in my mind, then I visualize wiping the board clean.
Other variations on this are giving the voice a funny pitch so it can no longer be taken seriously, balling up the thought and tossing it away, or dimming the image’s color and shrinking it before moving it to a far away corner of our mind.
I think part of the success of these strategies is that they give us a sense of control over the voice of doubt.
David Morrell, in his book The Successful Novelist, talks about asking his students why they want to write, and digging deeper and deeper until they get beyond the superficial reasons like money, fame, and the “writer’s lifestyle”.
When your inner critic is certain you should quit wasting your time on the worthless trash you call a manuscript, ask yourself how you would feel if you quit writing.
Would you be okay with it?
Would you be devastated?
Think about why you started writing, and why you still torture yourself with it. If you can’t imagine your life without writing, tell that hateful beeyotch to sit back and shut up.
And finally, know that no matter how much you think your writing sucks now, it doesn’t matter. Anne Lamott proposes “shitty first drafts”. If you know the first attempt is going to be bad, then you can just go with it and let the words flow without fear, because, hey, it’s supposed to be crap, right?
Instead of focusing on quality, which you have limited control over, focus on quantity. Set word count and time goals. The more goals you complete, the higher your self-esteem, and the better you’ll feel about your writing. The beauty will happen in the revisions.
Like Nora Roberts once said, “You can fix a bad page; you can’t fix a blank one.”
Take that, Myrtle!
How do you silence your inner critic?
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