The Voices Inside My Head

The Voices Inside My Head

Main Points
• Writing is hard and the voices telling you you’re a failure can be overwhelming.
• Take a break to sharpen your saw.
• Switch tasks to keep it interesting.
• Celebrate small victories.
• Force yourself forward.

Writing can be difficult. Sometimes I’m pounding my head against the keyboard, wondering how to make it all better. Some days, I struggle to just get started or keep going. I get jealous when I hear about other authors (or friends) getting published. It’s frustrating to keep sending out query letter after query letter only to be rejected each time. I wonder if I’ll ever make it as an author or get published. All this when other authors are light years ahead of me and there are plenty more who succeeded earlier in life.

My doubts tell me I’m not good enough, that I can’t learn to write, that I started too late, that I should give up on trying to be an author. The worst voices of doubt tell me I’m a consumer only, not a producer. I’m a slave to buying books and other media, not selling them.

On top of that, every other form of entertainment is competing for consumers. Big budget movies spend hundreds of millions of dollars, with armies of actors, screenwriters, and animators that take years to finalize and they still fail sometimes. How will I ever succeed, competing against them and all the forms of diversion out there when I’m relatively by myself?

Writing is a long-term and lonely endeavor. Books can take years from start to finish whereas songs, poems, paintings, short stories, etc. can be created relatively quickly.

If you’re anything like me, you have your own voices telling you, you can’t. So how do we overcome these?

Take a break
Sometimes the voices win and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need to step back and do something that has nothing to do with writing. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote extensively about this. As he relates, it’s better to take the time to sharpen your saw before cutting down a tree instead of just hacking away at it with a dull blade.

Find what rejuvenates you. TV can be rejuvenating (in some doses). Video games can do this. Research shows walking around the block has numerous benefits to body, mind, and spirit, as does exercise, eating a good diet, and cleaning up clutter. Same thing goes for meditation. Even just running errands and getting other things done can give the mind a chance to relax, recuperate, and regroup for another writing session. Listen to inspirational podcasts, or speakers, or *gasp* read other novels! Do things that help sharpen your mind so you can write at full capacity when you do.

Switch Tasks
Of course, we can’t spend all our time avoiding writing and still think we’re writers. We actually need to get to work. Sometimes it can help to switch tasks. This blog is a perfect example of that. I was supposed to work on revising a novel today, but instead I’ve just been working on blog posts. Why? It felt better (plus I had spent most of yesterday revising when I should have been working on blog posts). You can switch tasks and still get in good writing time. Do a short story, switch to writing a first draft, or outlining a novel, either a new one or the one you’re currently working on. Often, doing this puts me in the mood of starting what I’m supposed to be doing. In the very least, I get something done.

Celebrate Small Victories
Decide to throw some time at whatever you’re working on. You might get partway into it and realize you’re finally enjoying the work. Or you might just sit at the computer screen, staring blankly for an hour. Either way, you can still decide that it’s a victory because you put in the time. If you continually do this, you’ll have a large number of small victories that can propel you on.

Force Yourself Forward
One day, while particularly feeling down, I told myself, “Any other author could make this book infinitely better than you can.” After pondering that for a while, I came to realize that voice was wrong. No other author can write this book as well as me, because these stories are mine. It’s like raising kids. For the most part, even if you’re a crappy parent, you’re all your kids have to raise them. When I eventually do have kids of my own, excepting some extraordinary circumstances, they’re going to be stuck with me. And I’m going to love them, help them, and do whatever I can for them because they’re mine.

The same is true with our stories. No one else will write them for us. Sure, if we gave our ideas/permission to other authors, they might do a better job of making that book, but that’s a HUGE exception, just like being a parent. They’re your books. So raise them the best you can.

The voices telling you “you can’t” will come. Some of them might even be right but don’t let that stop you. Take breaks, sharpen the saw, switch tasks, and celebrate small victories if nothing else but keep going. As for myself, I don’t know if I’ll become a real producer instead of just a consumer. But I know I’ll find joy in the meantime as I continue producing what I love.

Here’s wishing you the best in your writing and other endeavors. Comment on what’s worked for you to deal with those pesky voices of doubt. Who knows, you might just inspire me and others to keep going.

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