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Battling Your Dragons: Your Insecurities Think You are Tasty and Good with Ketchup

(A repost you all haven’t seen. Written a few years back. Enjoy!)

Something I’ve noticed about writers is that we can be our own harshest critic. We get frustrated when the words don’t come. Perhaps it’s because we’re all striving for perfection, because we have something to say. And damn it, we’d like to be appreciated for it. (Great Caesar’s Ghost! When did I start talking like I’m the Representative of Writers Everywhere?)

In my more difficult moments, I’ve threatened to make a bonfire out of everything I’ve ever written. Or shouted something like, “This is why Hemingway DRANK!” I’ve looked at lines I once thought were brilliant (or, at the very least, good) and felt a sickening dread, convinced that they’re actually crap. Crap, spread heavily on Shit Toast. (That image won’t leave your mind for a while. Trust me.)

But the question is this: how does someone combat fear and insecurity? The short answer is ‘any way that you can.’ You know, as long as it doesn’t involve cocaine, reenacting a scene from Rebel without a Cause, or clowns. Clowns are horrible minions of Satan. Or did you miss that memo? The Bobs are always forgetting to circulate the memos. (Suddenly, I’m wondering if enough people have seen Office Space. You must.) All joking aside, there isn’t an artist out there who doesn’t wonder if something he/she has made is crap masquerading as brilliance. There are going to be days where you wonder why you bother, and if what you’ve done will be appreciated. (Remember: Momma said there’ll be days like this.)

So, when your ego cracks wide open, and you’re twitching on the floor (or rocking in a corner), there are a few things you can do.

  • Reach out and touch someone. Call someone. A friend. A family member. It doesn’t matter. We all need an ego boost that originates from someone who believes in us. Don’t be afraid to need that.
  • This too shall pass. Whatever happened to make you internally cringey will pass. That feeling isn’t permanent. It’s like having a Confidence Flu. Sure, you might be all shaky and feel like crap. But once things run their course, you’ll be fine. And you will be.
  • Compare yourself. Now, like inconceivable, this doesn’t mean what you think it does. I had an epiphany once, and it might not be entirely advisable (the specific epiphany, not epiphanies in general). It is, however, worth mentioning. I bought a book (surprise!), because the blurb on the back sounded interesting. I didn’t know anything about the author. I had a couple of days to relax, so I plowed through it. And honestly? Worst book I ever read. Not only were the characters flat, uninspired, and un-compelling (not a word, I know. As an English major, I reserve the right to make things up. Shush), but I spent the entire book waiting for something to happen. It was almost as bad as reading Dickens. (One day, I’m going to rewrite Oliver Twist just to piss off that man’s ghost. He made a semester of Grad. school a living Hell. *shakes fist*) Not only was the plot awful, but the entire manuscript was riddled with horrible grammar and a plethora of typos. (Every writer’s worst nightmare. Or close to it.) So, it occurred to me: if that book was published, then there is no reason on this earth that mine won’t be. Maybe that’s a buggy way of looking at things, but it helped me.
  • Put one foot in front of the other. The important thing is to keep at it. Even if you’re unsure. Keep going. Do not underestimate the act of simply pushing on. If you give up, or scrap everything, the only person you’ve given up on is yourself. If you do that, I will hurt you. Well, maybe I won’t. But I’d like to. Because you’re the only one who can write what you’ve written or are writing. No one anywhere can produce what you are creating. And if you take that uniqueness from the world, how are the rest of us supposed to benefit from it? What if Shakespeare decided to pack it in? What if Barry Eisler got halfway through Rain Fall and decided that it was too difficult? Or Deanna Raybourn simply forgot her manuscript of Silent in the Sanctuary in a drawer, for some reason? Hell, what if e.e. cummings gave up on himself, because was too quirky and too left of the middle? One of my favorite poems would not exist (“somewhere,I have never travelled gladly beyond”). What if someone out there is waiting for inspiration, and your novel, short story, poem, mixed media collage, or song is IT? Where would I be, today, without Sarah McLachlan? Or coffee? (Oh, god. Please let us NEVER find out.) You see, the hard truth is this: no one ever wins by quitting. And other people might lose out. Think of all the people who have inspired you. What if they never happened? Bad picture, isn’t it? “As a writer, you can’t allow yourself the luxury of being discouraged and giving up when you are rejected, either by agents or publishers. You absolutely must plow forward.” ~Augusten Burroughs
  • Boost your own ego. Is there something you’ve made that you’re really proud of? Do you have a note of praise from a teacher, professor, friend, colleague, or critique partner? When you’re feeling crappy, go read it. Read it and realize that people see value in you, even if you currently don’t. Hang on to that truth.
  • Objectivity isn’t a stable creature. When I’m feeling insecure, I am the most appalling judge of my own abilities. I will look at a poem I absolutely loved and loathe it with all my heart. I will find so many faults with it, so many ways it falls short. I will wonder whatever possessed me to write the damn thing in the first place. And why I wasted my ink, pencil lead, or time typing. But the truth is that I am not my audience. Yes, I write what I like and what pleases me. (I’m not about to sit down and plunk out a history book.) But it’s not about whether or not I love the work I’ve made; honestly, I am fickle and a very harsh critic. I realize that I can’t always be my own cheerleader. But then I think about why I’ve written what I have. If I’ve created something that says something, leaves an impression, evokes an emotion, or proves a point—then I’ve done it right. So, I shrug off the feelings of insecurity, grab a cup of coffee, and move on. Find out what works for you. I guarantee you, there is a way.

Well, there you have it. Just a few tricks that might help you. Truthfully, I can’t force you to believe in yourself. But I can help you try. And, at the very least, I can remind you to fake it, if necessary. Every published author has rejections lurking in a corner. Every artist was looked at quizzically and without appreciation. Gone with the Wind was rejected 25 times. Perseverance is essential. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it is. But in a way, we are all responsible for our success. Push on. Otherwise, you’ll be the one to get in your own way.

There are so many quotes out there about why writers write. The simple truth is that we can’t help it. There are stories in our heads and characters speaking in our dreams. Sometimes, it is an act of will. We want you to see something a certain way. But most of the time, we’re just out to tell a story. Or at least that’s how I see it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got miles to go before I sleep and lots of coffee I need to drink.

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