By Kerry Schafer
"I'm a failure."
"I wish I were a better writer."
"If only I were smarter/had more talent/had a different brain…"
Most of us humans are really good at beating ourselves up. As writers, I think we are even more adept at this fun and dangerous pastime than the average denizen of the human race. We say things to ourselves that would be considered abusive if we directed them at our partners or our children or our friends. And yet we say them to ourselves, over and over and over again.
Conjure up some of the things you routinely say to yourself when you haven't lived up to your own (or somebody else's) expectations. Even better, actually jot them down. I know time is precious and it takes a minute, but it's worth the time to gain the awareness of the soundtrack playing out in your head.
Here's one of mine. Every single time I check my email and there isn't any (or there is only spam), or if nobody is talking to me on Facebook or Twitter at a given time, I catch these words running through my head and heart:
"Nobody loves me."
If there's no publishing news, this turns into, "My agent doesn't love me. My editor hates the book." Now, this is untrue and I know it. A lot of people care about me and have shown this over and over again. My agent is awesome and my editor is a dedicated professional who has done wonderful things for my novels. The truth is that the people in my world—family, friends, and publishing people--are busy doing many and varied things. They have lives.
The lack of activity on social media or in my Inbox has no direct association to the number of people in my world who care about me and my career. I know this. And when I catch those words running through my head I've learned to take immediate corrective action.
When I tell you I say this to myself, though, it's sort of acceptable, right? A little human quirk. Yep, writers are like that. No big deal. We tend to sort of shrug and smile and acknowledge that yeah, we're not as nice to ourselves as we could be. And then we keep right on with the self abuse.
Make no question about this: it is abuse.
Picture this. You and I are out for a drink or a cup of coffee, and I look at you across the table and say, "Nobody loves you." As soon as I say these words out loud and direct them at another human being I've stopped being quirky and turned into a bitch. Especially if I follow up with some other gems like, "You've got no talent. I don't know why you're trying to write this novel because it's totally beyond your grasp. Why don't you just give up? You're never going to succeed in publishing…"
At this point you'd be justified in throwing your drink in my face and never talking to me again.
Abuse is destructive. It does nothing toward inspiring creativity, motivating us toward goals, or becoming better human beings. And yet we go on, day after day, indulging ourselves in this litany of hateful commentary towards our selves. It's time to stop it, people. We've gone on long enough. We need to be kind to ourselves, encourage ourselves, motivate ourselves to be the best writers we can be.
For some of us that's a very difficult thing and some time talking to a good counselor might be in order. Since I actually am a counselor and have spent a lot of time working with clients on this issue, I'm offering five tips to get you started on changing the way you talk to yourself.
1. If you skipped the opportunity to write down your negative self talk, take a few minutes to do it now and then come back here. Done? Good job.
2. Now imagine that you are talking to somebody you love and value. Choose somebody who matters to you. A writer friend. Your child. Your lover. Image their face as clearly as you can, and now picture yourself saying these things to them.
3. Shift the self talk into something positive that you would actually say to somebody you were trying to encourage. (I suggest that you do write this down. There is something in the physical act of putting those words on paper that helps us rewire our brains.)
Example: "If only I had more talent…" might change to "I am working every day on mastering my craft and learning new skills."
"I'm never going to succeed in publishing" might shift to, "I'm going to write the best book I can. And then I'm going to write another one. The more I write and the more I hone my skills, the more likely it is that I will succeed."
Take the time to shift every one of the abusive self statements you wrote down earlier.
4. Monitor your thoughts. These patterns of self talk are engrained and don't just magically go away. Watch for them. When you have a sinking feeling of doom and gloom, check what's playing in your head and change the station.
5. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for self abusive thinking. Just don't allow it. When you catch yourself doing it, make yourself stop. Make the shift to something positive. Have some compassion for yourself, as you do for others.
Remember: you are stronger and braver than you believe yourself to be.
Kerry Schafer loves to hang out where the weird things are—in the space where reality and fantasy meet. She is the author of The Books of the Between, published by Berkley Press. Her bestselling debut, Between, is available in mass market paperback, Kindle, and Nook. The second book in the trilogy, Wakeworld, releases in April 2014. For more about Kerry, visit her website.