A few years back, author Joshilyn Jackson posted a story on her blog about meeting an author who was without a doubt his own biggest fan. I can’t find the post at the moment, but this author literally introduced himself with the words, “Hi, I’m award-winning author *name redacted*”. All that was missing to make it perfect, Joshilyn Jackson wrote, was for him to have said, “It’s such an honor for you to meet me.” Because she is hilarious and awesome.
My point, to be clear, is that that’s not the kind of own-biggest-fan I want to talk about today. Because honestly, I don’t think too many of us suffer from the kind of over-inflated ego of Joshilyn’s acquaintance. (And, really, who knows what kind of hidden insecurities the poor guy was trying to mask with all his posturing? I’d be willing to bet it was more than a few).
D.W. Winnicott famously wrote that, “Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.”
[pullquote] “Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.”[/pullquote]
Not to go all tortured-artist on you, because as artists go, I’m not especially tortured, I’m really not. But that state of being– that tension between those two opposite extremes of communication and hiding– is a very vulnerable place to live. In my experience, all authors struggle to some degree or another with an internal critic, a nasty little voice hissing a litany of YOUSUCKYOUSUCKYOUSUCKYOUSUCK in your ears. I personally have never written a book where that nasty little voice didn’t rear it’s ugly head (yes, I know, that’s a hideously mixed metaphor). The difference, 19 books into my career, is that that voice has to be positively screaming a NOREALLYTHISBOOKHASASERIOUSPROBLEM kind of a warning on the sliding scale of you-suck-itude for me to pay it any attention at all.
Where this is all coming from is that this past week I got an e-mail from a fan, saying that she wished she could find the courage to pursue a creative career, but doubted that she ever would. That kind of statement just makes my heart hurt. Because she didn’t say that she wished she had the talent or the passion or the discipline to pursue a creative career. No, she wished for the courage.
Make no mistake, it does take courage to write or pursue any kind of a creative career. Especially in the very beginning, because the odds are overwhelmingly likely that anything we write or produce as your first effort isn’t really going to be all that good. It’s hard to keep believing in ourselves, hard to keep silencing the nasty voices that tell us to just give up and not to bother.
But wait for a second. Pretend, just for a moment, that you’re your own best friend– or your mother or your sister or husband or brother or whatever. Pretend that you’re not you, you’re someone that you care about, coming to yourself for encouragement or advice. What would you tell yourself?
I’m guessing it wouldn’t be a variant of YOUSUCKYOUSUCKYOUSUCK.
It does take courage, and talent, and passion, and discipline and a whole host of other qualities to be a writer. But I think the component that we often miss is simple kindness— kindness and patience, both in regards to ourselves and to our stories. Next time the why-are-you-even-bothering demons start whispering, try silencing them with what you’d say if you were your own biggest fan. Tell yourself that there’s no such thing as a perfect story, but that there’s no story so imperfect that it can’t be improved. Tell yourself that you’ll get better, because as long as you keep writing, you surely will. Love your own work– love all the words and the sentences and the chapters you put down on paper. Because if I know one thing, it’s that it all starts with you: if you don’t love your writing, it’s a sure bet that no one else will.
Don’t be the writer who gives up when the inner-critic demons come to town. Those nasty voices will never go away, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen. Instead, be your own cheering section. And above all else, write on.
What about you? How do you silence your own inner critic?