Writers are inquisitive people. We’re always asking questions, about our characters, our story, plot points and structure. About the spelling of that word we read every day but that looks all wrong as soon as we type it on the screen. There are two questions, though, that writers should be wary of asking too often:
- Am I a writer?
- Am I any good?
Spend more than two minutes obsessing on those two questions, and you’ll find yourself shutting your laptop and watching Netflix movies that you’ve seen a hundred times already. Or knitting dishrags. Not that I’ve done either one of those things.
Am I a writer?
This question kick starts a writer’s insatiable search for the perfect qualifier: a blog that people read, a published piece, then two. Maybe an award. Yes, that’s it. When I win an award, then I’ll be a writer.
I’ve been calling myself a writer for a few years now. I even have a t-shirt blazoned with Mother Writer on the front, and I wear it. On occasion. When I’m feeling extra brave. You see, even with my work published and an Honorable Mention on my resume, I still let that question sink its teeth into my confidence. I don’t get paid to write, and, as Carolyn Roy-Bornstein says in this post on Beyond the Margins, “Here in America, [doesn't] that still disqualify me from calling myself a writer in public?” Sometimes I let it.
Am I any good?
This one gets me even more. Just when I stake my claim as a writer (which should have been self-evident already by all the books, pens, and paper I carry in my purse), “Am I any good” creeps on up to the surface of my conscious and brings with it a nasty little lackey: “You’re probably just wasting your time.” On a bad day, I check my email with the sole aim of finding a message in my inbox from the universe (or some editor of this or that) that will confirm my late-night efforts at this writing business, give me a boost of confidence, and keep me going for another year. Because, as long as I dwell on these kinds of questions, I can’t find that confidence in myself.
What helps is to read what others are saying….
Jody Hedlund, on the brinks of publishing her third novel, addresses negative self-talk in her post, “Is All the Hard Work Really Worth It?”:
[I]f we ever want to ‘make it’ we have to practice the power of positive thinking. . . . when we fill our minds with ‘is this really worth it?’ we’re essentially talking negatively to ourselves. While we’re wise to evaluate our situations from time to time, we can’t let those negative thoughts cloud our view—at least for long. We can’t walk around threatening to quit every time something discourages us. . . . the writing journey is a marathon not a sprint.
…and to listen to sage advice from those who’ve gone before us.
This month, The Sun reprinted excerpts from Citizens of the Dream, Cary Tennis’ book of advice on writing and the creative life, and that very question – “How can you tell if you have talent?” – is answered with these wise words:
[Writing] is an important act regardless of whether it garners fame or praise. So your question about talent is moot. It is more a question about how to persist in writing through the fear, discouragement, and disappointment that are endemic to the activity. . . . All the practice you get makes you better. Whatever stops you from practicing makes you worse. One thing that may stop you from practicing is the belief that you are no good. So the belief that you are no good may prevent you from becoming good — unless you persist in writing despite it.
Then, and most importantly, he says:
For reasons psychological, spiritual, and philosophical, one must learn, through practice, to regard one’s creative work with some compassionate detachment and not to equate it with one’s worth as a person.
Negative mind-chatter will kill my creative energy and ruin my day. I can choose to listen to it, or I can recognize it for what it is: fear, and a bit of a bruised ego at times.
One final note from Carolyn Roy-Bornstein’s post:
Attitude is important. We may be what we do for a living, but we’re so much more than that. We are our goals.
How do you turn off that negative self-talk?
*photo credit: Guudmorning! on flickr.com