A couple of weeks ago I happened to see a tweet by a writer who seemed to be having a bit of trouble. Specifically she said she was having some problems with something called “negative self-talk.”
Now I don’t know about you guys, but I’m kinda dumb, and I had never heard of this “negative self-talk” stuff. So I asked.
The writer explained that negative self talk was that voice in your head, the one that tells you you’re not good enough, that your writing sucks, that you’re fooling yourself thinking you’ll ever get anywhere trying to make this writing thing into a career.
Turns out I knew more about negative self-talk than I thought. Because I’ve had to deal with this a lot. And if you’re a writer, I can guarantee that you’ve had to deal with it too. Maybe you’re dealing with it right now.
Man, that inner voice is mean isn’t he? I mean, you’d think he’d care a little more about your feelings considering that he lives inside of your mind. But somehow he seems to take great delight in bashing you over the head again and again with your inadequacies.
I bet you wish you could be rid of him don’t you? You wish you could tell him to go away and never come back.
Well that isn’t what today’s post is about.
See I’ve been thinking about this mean-spirited inner voice, and I think he gets a bit of a bad rap.
As a writer I understand the number one thing a story needs to be compelling is conflict. If the Hobbits just took a leisurely stroll down the road to Mount Doom and tossed the ring in just before having a tasty picnic, Lord of the Rings would have been a really crap story.
But what we often fail to realize is that conflict is an important part of real life too. Just like out stories would be boring and uninteresting with no one to oppose the protagonist, so our lives would be a bit pointless if we never faced any obstacles.
And just like in fiction, the obstacles come from within just as often as they come from without. Am I saying that horrible condemning voice inside our heads is a good thing? Well, in a way, yes.
See, the reason our characters need conflict in fiction is because they’ll never change without it. And we’re the same way. If the path was easy we’d never get stronger. The higher the mountain you climb, the harder the path is. You’re going to need to be one tough cookie if you want to make it to the top.
If you think about it, that inner voice is really doing you a favour. Because odds are we’re not as good as we think we are. And none of us is beyond improvement.
And that inner voice knows that a cheerful “You can do it!” isn’t going to cut it. So he berates you. He cuts you down. He insults your dreams. He tells you that getting published is impossible.
Now it’s up to you to decide what you’ll do with that voice. You can curl up and whimper that it’s no use. Give in and give up.
Or you can get pissed off. You can rebel. You can tell that inner voice to take a hike, because you’re going to succeed no matter how long it takes. And in so doing you will get better.
And trust me, it does get better. When that inner voice says you can’t do something, prove him wrong, and he’ll get just a little bit quieter.
It’s not that he’s gone. It’s just that he’s served his purpose: to make you a better writer.
And after a while you’ll be so far up the mountain you’ll hardly be able to hear him at all.