2 Questions That Will Stunt a Writer’s Progress

ConfusedWriters 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:

  1. Am I a writer?
  2. 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


About Christi

Christi Craig is a native Texan living in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Family Matters Contest, 2010. You can send comments or questions via her contact page.
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15 Responses to 2 Questions That Will Stunt a Writer’s Progress

  1. You’re a damn good writer in my book. 🙂

  2. Nona King says:

    You are writing about me! 🙂

    These 2 questions seem to come in cycles, and I begin to wonder if they are used to test our mettle. How determined are we? Writers (and others of creative persuasions) face opposition, critics, and our own malicious internal editor on a daily basis. If we don’t have the strength to get ourselves out from under these 2 questions, then how will we face the calling behind our writing passion? Fiction and non-fiction alike serve as an outlet to touch the minds of our readers. To witness to them. To comfort. To lead.

    Each time these questions begin to creep back into the back part of my mind, I immediately seek my writing partners (sometimes this is my husband) who help build up my confidence and remind me that my call as a writer goes beyond the stories and the characters. There is a purpose. So, I pick myself and trudge onward and relish the love I hold for this blessing and curse called writing.

    • Christi Christi says:

      What a great comment.; you bring up some great points here. Thanks so much for stopping by. I agree, too: those questions do cycle. I think remembering that will help me as they come up again (and again).

  3. I believe we all ask these questions of our selves. I found a great article yesterday on Writer Unboxed by Kevin Cronin about a Five Minute Rule. For every setback or success in our writing career, allow yourself only five minutes to feel sad or be joyous about the development, then move on.

    Same in this situation, let’s allow ourselves to ponder these questions for only five minutes, then move on and return to what we love to do; write.

  4. Lynn Wyvill says:

    Thanks for this post, Christi! Those two questions have been popping up often lately for me. The sage advice – good stuff to heed and just what I needed to give me a boost! I agree with Nona, this writing is a blessing and a curse, but I love it.

  5. Jan O'Hara says:

    I have a blog post from Seth Godin in my inbox called Reconsidering Decisions. I saved it because these kind of questions haunt me all too often. Here are the relevant bits:

    “There are two common mistakes here:
    Frequently reconsidering decisions that ought to be left alone. Once you enroll in college, it is both painful and a waste to spend the first five minutes of every morning wondering if you should drop out or not….

    In addition to wasting time, the frequent reconsideration sabotages the effort your subconscious is trying to make in finding ways to make the current plan work. Spending that creative energy wondering about the plan merely subtracts from the passion you could put into making it succeed.”

    Sometimes it helps me to see the writing questions reframed in a different language — in this case, it’s entrepreneurship.

    • Christi Christi says:

      “Spending that creative energy wondering about the plan merely subtracts from the passion you could put into making it succeed.”
      Boy, that’s perfect, Jan. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Christi, of course this resonates with all of us … even those who have been published or garnered awards. This is a solitary journey and sometimes we need to pull over to the side of the road and fill up for the next leg … love this post 🙂

    • Christi Christi says:

      I think that’s the most amazing part: that even well-published authors still struggle with these questions. Like Nona said, we cycle through them time and again, and probably for some greater reason — like not being complacent, maybe, in our skills and our stories.

      Filling up now…. 🙂

  7. Larry P says:

    Hey Christi–Loves this post–for me it is a keeper–thanks

  8. Nina says:

    Oy vey those two questions . . . how accurate you are. This is such a helpful, useful, honest post. I think ALL writers can relate!

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