Writing can be hard work.

Okay, I admit that I  have a well developed ability  to state the obvious, which I have just employed.  We all know that writing can be hard work. But, I dare to suggest, not nearly as hard as we sometimes make it.

Anybody ever hear about self talk? If you’ve ever been within 20 feet of a mental health therapist, I’m willing to bet you have. We all engage in self talk. Those little pep talks you give yourself in the mirror before heading out to do something, the talking-to in the car after you’ve really embarrassed yourself at work or lost it with your kids -that’s self talk.  Most of us also have an endless sound track that runs inside our heads, usually turned on low volume so that it’s not easily heard above the noise of daily living.  And there it hums along like an unseen virus, shedding a constant litany of our failures and short comings into our subconscious.

The symptoms are discouragement, depression, and a certain difficulty in getting anything done.  It makes itself known through little words and phrases, the way we look at the world.

I hear a lot of it from writers – on blogs, on Twitter, in person.

I only wrote 1000 words today, I should have written more.  I should have seen this plot problem coming. I should have plotted more thoroughly, I should have foreseen this conflict, I should have created a more believable character, I should be a better writer.

Sound familiar?

Of course, you never have these thoughts. You are a completely well adjusted writer and human being, able to accept your strengths and your weaknesses with complete equanimity.

I, on the other hand, and I suspect a few others, do have a bit of a problem with beating ourselves up.

There are cures for this sort of thing. I’m not about to offer an exhaustive list, but here are a couple of things to consider:

1. Really, really berate yourself. Every time you notice a negative thought about yourself and your abilities flitting through your brain, tell yourself how stupid, inept, and hopeless you are. Slap yourself upside the head.  But a cattle prod, and deliver an electric shock to your back side.  (Note: this is sarcasm. Do not try this at home. It will harm you and your ability to write the Great American Novel.)

2. Try a daily affirmation. Write it daily in your journal. Something like, “I am writing to the best of my ability. Every word I put on paper makes me a better writer, and leads me closer to my goal.”

3. When you catch yourself in one of those negative thoughts, note it, and then calmly rephrase. It is not helpful to launch into a diatribe of I am so stupid I can’t even stop having negative thoughts.

4. Try some guided imagery – you can buy awesome CDs online that will talk you through relaxation and positive affirmations. One of my favorite websites for buying this sort of thing is Health Journeys, where you might consider this wonderful program by Bellaruth Naparstek.

5. If you notice that your negative self talk is pervasive and severe and is keeping you from doing the things you want to do, consider finding yourself a compatible therapist or life coach. Sometimes we need a little help to change a thought pattern that was years in the making.

It’s hard enough to battle plot problems, unruly characters, and recalcitrant words, without having to fight yourself at the same time. All of those shoulds make it harder than it needs to be to put Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys, and get on with the business of getting words on paper.

Now, I don’t want to hear anybody saying, “I guess maybe I should try that.” The should word is evil, evil I tell you! Here’s my personal little trick, which has been turned back on me by my friends on several occasions.  When you hear yourself saying or thinking the word SHOULD come to a complete stop. Then substitute one of the following:

a) choose to

b) choose not to

It’s really that simple. I SHOULD go write for awhile, becomes “I choose to go write for awhile,” or the equally valid, “I choose not to go write for awhile.”

Get it? Good. I need to get going – I choose to write for awhile before bed.

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