Everyone’s acquainted with the monotone singsong of the AA’s introduction being rattled off, so do me a favor and imagine that when you read the following sentence:
I’ve written three novels (two of which have been published internationally). I have a university degree. I’ve been a copywriter for almost 20 years now.
I can write.
As I sit at my desk to start work, there’s always a little barb in the back of my mind that wonders, “Is today the day my talent runs out?”
For years I thought I was alone with this crippling self-doubt, but recently a writer friend admitted she felt the same. And then another did the same. And then I Googled it and saw my computer struggle not to crash under the weight of the “crippling self-doubt writer” results.
It’s no wonder some of the greatest writers we’ve ever known were alcoholics.
Think Ernest Hemmingway, Dylan Thomas, Dorothy Parker. I’m not up to speed with each of their childhood issues, but I’d take a good guess that at least some of that addiction was an attempt to relieve the pressure of writing, to silence that little barb in their minds that told them that they might not be as good as they thought they were and that any moment someone was going to find out.
Alcohol is one way to make that voice in your head be quiet, but it’s not an ideal one. Setting aside the part where you can do irreparable damage to the very brain that got you into the writing business, it’s not a health way to deal with the stress of the world (or the writing life).
But for writers, are there other options? What works to make the doubt be quiet so we can get down to the business of hammering out copy for websites or ads for air conditioners or hey, even that novel we’ve got locked a drawer somewhere?
You can try the “suck it up, sweetheart” approach, which works to a point, but it’s not much fun after you get over the giggle of saying it in a James Cagney accent. It’s a daily battle with yourself, and eventually you run out of scrappiness. You look for a way to get out of the fight altogether.
Which brings us to Option B:
Admit that writing is hard. Admit that it comes with doubt. Admit that this is not the easiest life path you’ve chosen for yourself.
And give yourself a freakin’ break.
Find an activity that lets you relax and turn your mind off. Some of you eyed the alcohol when I said that – “have a drink after work” seems like a great way to unwind, and those of you who feel particularly social might even add “with friends” on the end.
But again: you’re not looking for a way to kill the brain cells; you’re looking for a way to pep them up and make them feel that the world is a pretty dandy place, especially when it allows you to write for a living.
Raise some chickens. Plant herbs on the windowsill. Start meditation. Go for a walk or a run or a swim or a climb a rock wall. Learn how to refinish furniture or knit or blow glass. Heck, do something totally pointless and relaxing: run a bath, stare into a crackling fire, cuddle up with your honeybun.
Do something that occupies your mind so that it doesn’t have any spare energy to fret.
While you’re at it, you’ll have the satisfaction of an activity you enjoy, something that has none of the weighty associations of keeping up your writing talent. You just learned how to stain a shelf – congratulations. You’re not worried about losing that skill forever tomorrow, are you?
Of course you’re not.
That gives you perspective. You’re not going to lose your talents overnight. Tomorrow, you’ll still know how to feed the chickens. You’ll still know how to run a bath.
And you know what? You’ll still know how to write, and write well. Go to.