Thursday, June 19, 2014

Are You Hearing Voices?

What is it about being a writer that makes us constantly question our identities? Why do I hear that nagging little voice in my head that tells me "you're not really a writer"?

How often do you hear that voice? Published and unpublished authors alike are prone to fits of self-doubt. Listening regularly to that voice can seriously shake your confidence and derail your writing goals. Here are a few tips to help you silence that disparaging creature.

1. Listen to the Voice

The first step to fighting that belittling voice is to find out when it is most likely to come and what it usually says. Are you just feeling negative about your writing, or is there a larger pattern?

A Swedish mental health study in 2011 showed that, of people in the creative arts, authors had the highest rate of depression, anxiety syndrome, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and a 50% higher rate of suicide than the general population. (Read the article here.)

Depression has a voice and is very persistent. Its strategy is to isolate you and bombard you with negative thoughts. If you think you might be depressed, here is a link to a depression self-test.

I suspect most writers are like me, and it's more an issue of self-doubt. I don't hate my writing or myself. I just feel that somehow I'm a fraud, and one of these days the "real" writers will find out. Whenever I tell anyone I'm a writer, the little voice immediately hisses "No, you're not!" in my ear.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe the next step will help.

2. Find Some Cheerleaders

Your cheerleaders can be many different people. Friends and family are a great support. Even if they don't understand why you write (or what you write), as long as they back you up and are there when you need them it can be a huge help.

Two of my cheerleaders: my daughter, Emilia (right), and her best friend.
Another great cheering section is other writers. If you don't belong to a writers group that meets in a physical location, meet up with writers online. There are lots of great Facebook groups who welcome other writers. I belong to a couple and they are always there to encourage me when I'm feeling down or just want to vent. And they have wonderful advice, too.

Sometimes knowing you're not alone is enough to quiet that voice.

Most importantly, you have to cheerlead yourself. This leads us to the next step.

3. Talk Back

So you've listened to the nasty comments of that inner voice. Now it's time to use your writer brain to come up with some witty responses. I'm serious. You have to talk back to that voice to make it shut up.

When you tell someone you're a writer and the voice says "Fraud!" you better have something locked and loaded. You don't have to say it out loud. (Feel free! I bet a lot of us talk to ourselves already. Writers.)

If you don't want to worry about being witty, just be persistent. Every time that toxic voice says that you're not a writer, you tell it: "Yes, I am!" Every time. Tell it to shut up. Swear at it if you want. I won't judge.

Don't just talk back to that nattering in your ear, but declare you are a writer whenever you can. Even if you don't feel like one yet. Even if you are a beginner. Even if you aren't published. If you've read this far, you are a writer.

I've been reading a lot of Jeff Goins lately, and I have been really inspired by his book You are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). To my amazement I found out that Jeff felt just like me!

"When I started writing, I had all sorts of anxiety. Who was I, pretending to be a writer? How could I possibly call myself one when I hadn't even written a real book, hadn't been published or paid for my work?"

 Jeff talks about a pivotal point in his writing life after getting advice from Steven Pressfield (author of The War of Art, another amazing book). Steven told him, "You are (a writer) when you say you are." Jeff writes:

"So I started saying I was a writer. I put it on my Facebook page. Included it in email signatures. Everywhere I could, I wrote that I was a writer. It was kind of ridiculous, but something crazy happened as a result of this campaign. It actually worked.
Before anyone else called me one, I believed I was a writer. And I started acting like one." 

So get out there and declare you are a writer. Tell that little voice to take a hike!

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