You sit down at your desk. In your head your characters are alive and grooving and your plot is rock solid. You are ready. You poise your hands above your keyboard (or pen above notepad). Then the negative self talk begins. You hear a voice say, “You can’t do this.” You find yourself nodding. I can’t, you agree. Or perhaps you are halfway done. You pause mid-sentence. Someone whispers, “This book will be a failure.” You look around and there is no one in the room but you. You think that the voice is a sign. You had always felt like a hack anyway. Sometimes the voice is indirect. It urges you to wash the dishes, to rearrange your bookshelf, or to wash the car. These once-remote activities have now become urgent. You shut off the computer. You are done writing.
Often, we are motivated but once we sit in front of the computer, we freeze. During moments such as these, I turn to exercises I have learned from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.
Recognize Inner Critic
Recognize the voice for what it is. It is merely a block to deter you from writing. These are your inner critics, the voices you have internalized and now live with you. They could be your parents, your third grade teacher, or even a recent creative writing teacher. Those voices are determined to keep you from success.
Look for the Source
I think hard about the source of my doubts. Who is telling me I cannot do this? Who is telling me that I will be a failure? Search for the voice that is haunting you and try to figure out where the original comment came from.
Purge the Voices
Cameron lists a myriad of ways to deal with those voices that are blocking you from the confidence you need to complete your work. You can draw cartoons of your critic then throw darts at him. Anne Lamont once wrote in her essay “Sh*** First Drafts” that she keeps her critics in a jar. Play with different ways of getting rid of your critics.
Journal Your Worries
I have found that the best way for me to deal with my own inner critics is to use Cameron’s journaling suggestion. I write nearly everyday, airing my concerns and my worries. By the time I sit down to work on my story, I have already purged the negative self talk voices.
I am convinced that all writers, no matter what stage they are in their careers, are plagued with self-doubt. You must acknowledge that it exists and comes from somewhere, locate that source, then do your best to get rid of it. Even if those voices do not die, hopefully most of them will fade away so that you can return to doing what you love to do. Write.