One Does Not Simply Walk into Mordor

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.

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21 responses to “One Does Not Simply Walk into Mordor

  1. I think you’re right on when you said we should take that voice and make it want to prove it wrong.
    I don’t think that it will go away once we’ve reached “success” or even proved it wrong. It’s a habit of negative thinking, and it will only fill the void by saying new nasty stuff.
    Sometimes the voice makes me want to prove it wrong. But most the time it makes me curl up on the couch with a bag of cheetos and watch a Veronica Mars marathon.

  2. oh. if that is what a negative self talk is, then i must have been negatively self talking since forever. and correct! the sweetest success is to conquer that negative voice from within because, in fact, that bother voice from within is more difficult to deal with than all the external chaos around us. you have a great post here! =D

  3. Loved this post. So true. We all face the negative self-talk and it’s all in how we deal with it that matters. I typically take a hard line with mine and tell it to “shove off” while I continue on my merry way. Sometimes, in moments of weakness, it can slow me down and make me pissy. In those moments, I try to take a break from the task at hand and do something fun and inspiring like reading a good book, taking a walk, or just playing with the dog. Anything to lift me out of the funk and put me back in the right spirit. But so true, the voice definitely keeps me fired up and fighting the good battle.

  4. I think it can be summed up in one quote: “The hottest fires forge the strongest steel.”

    Proving one’s self-doubts wrong is sweet, but the thing that is missing is the triumphant “told you so!”. One wins the battle, but there are no accolades save the one one gives oneself. This is the growth process, I think. One looks back and thinks, hmmm. That wasn’t so bad.
    The best thing about the negative voice is this: it’s YOU. If you have those self doubts, it means that you ARE a better writer than you thought, and this is the process one goes through of proving. People who write drivel and think it fabulous without a bit of editing (and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting……..) aren’t writers, merely scribblers. Long live the negative voice, for as long as we keep it in context, it will always help us in the long run.

  5. This is nice! I can definitely relate there are times when we need to be more positive however the negative side of us will be able to help us in our endeavours not just in writing but also in our lives.

    Kudos!

  6. A refreshing viewpoint on a classic conflict. Without both the positive and the negative, we would be a bit off kilter, wouldn’t we? And without a doubt, not get to where we want to go. As long as we recognize each as having its own value, and maintain the balance, I believe we can achieve anything. Many times it is easier to know what we don’t want [the negative], and through that process of elimination, decide what we do want [the positive]. Thank you, once again, for giving me something to think about.

  7. “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.”

    True.

    Thank you. 🙂

  8. Pingback: I’ve been thinking « My Loopy World

  9. Interesting take on that “inner voice.” Writers tend to be their own worst enemies. I’ve never thought of that doubt as a means to push you forward, but I see that now. Great post!

  10. Author Kristen Lamb

    Your writing just gets better and better and BETTER! I LOVE this!

  11. Wonderful post! This is something I struggle with in many aspects of my life.

  12. Great point that this voice can help us with character insight. And proving that voice wrong can be strong motivation. Great post! Everyone needs this kind of pep talk periodically.

  13. Excellent point, and well-expressed. I found you through a tweet by Kristen Lamb. Will be back.

  14. Well… I suddenly feel a whole load better about my little voice. I did temporarily cave into it and not send a submission I was preparing. But you’re right! I’m going to prove that sucker wrong and send the submission. That will shut her up for a bit!

  15. Great post. This puts things into perspective for me at a much needed time. I have a harsh internal critic, but I suppose if I got along with the voices in my head, I wouldn’t be a writer.

  16. Al, I’m dedicating this week’s Gig post to you and this post.

    This was beautiful.

  17. Pingback: What Right Have We to Write? « The Gig

  18. Great post. Loooove the title. And a great reminder I need to write about ‘negative self-talk’ as it’s a key issue in coaching. Our brains are smarter than we think :-)…getting all positive and cheery works, but it’s gotta be believable. As with all things, if we want a more positive, encouraging voice, it’s a matter of selling it well. And I for one prefer the friendlier voice, although getting really pissed off at the negative one works too.

    • There’s nothing wrong with being positive. After all, fighting against the negative voice is what this post is about, and there’s no better way to do that than with positive thinking. My only concern is that people put so much of a focus on positivity that it becomes an end in itself, when really it’s just a means to get you where you’re going.

      • Sarcasm and humor work best for me :-)…and I guess humor is what I mean when I think about the positive voice as far as writing. When I find myself staring at the screen and realizing what I just typed for the past few hours has nothing to do with what I wanted to say or how I wanted to say it, I have to laugh…and ‘praise’ the work…and laugh some more at how ridiculously bad it is…and then start over. The “oh, you can do it, you’re such a good writer” doesn’t do much for me…to that I usually reply “yeh, yeh, whatever”. And you’re right, getting caught up in the positive thinking project while losing sight of it being a tool rather than an end in itself is sort of like focusing on upgrading a computer and spending less & less time actually using the programs. Or similar. lol

  19. Didn’t think of it that way. Thanks for the enlightening post!

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