As a writer, you are probably used to having voices in your head. You are probably even grateful that they are there – the voices of your characters telling you what they want, what they need, where you’ve gone wrong in your story, and how to get it back on track. No matter the time of day or night, the world inside our skulls is always filled with the murmur of these voices playing out myriad lives in the space between our ears. For a writer, this is not an inconvenience, it’s a necessity.
But, then there are the other voices – the crazy ones that talk over your characters and inner muse. These voices are rude. They are disruptive. They kind of suck. I’ve written about them before in a post aptly titled Must. Stop. The Voices in which I covered the three types of inner dialog that plague me: Distraction Mind, Inner Critic, and Eternal Editor. Bunch of blowhards.
This week has been very taxing in terms of both the quantity and complexity of my writing tasks. Amidst the joyful insanity of summer chaos (including my daughter being home without any camp and the two of us having to scramble to keep up with all her dog walking clients) I had to hit two major deadlines: a 5,000-word ebook on a complex, “thought leadership” topic and a half dozen hybrid case study/personal stories for a medically-focused project. I got it all done (well, the personal stories are almost done …), but I had to battle past The Voices each step of the way.
While the part of my mind that was under my control tried to focus on getting the next word down, the unruly part of my mind split itself in two and commenced an unremitting barrage of unwanted commentary. On the one side, a boorish and disdainful voice kept up a ceaseless drone of disparaging remarks about my abilities. This voice tried, by any means necessary, to convince me that I didn’t have what it took to even finish the piece, never mind do a half decent job. It played out imagined feedback from my client telling me that this wasn’t at all what he had in mind, that he was sorry he made the mistake of hiring me, that the whole thing was a mess and we’d have to start from scratch.
In the other corner of the ring, a much more supportive, but still unwanted voice tried valiantly to undo the damage of the first voice. This kinder, gentler voice quietly reminded me of my past successes, my experience, and my skill. It encouraged me to, “Buck up, kiddo,” and have faith that I would not only meet the deadline, but deliver a draft that was as close to perfect as could be expected for a first draft. This voice assured me that the client would be duly impressed, complimentary, and thrilled to have found a writer who “got it” as well as I did. This voice did everything short of picking up a pair of pom-poms and giving me a rousing cheer.
I felt like a child trapped between two warring parents – one telling me that I’m a useless, talentless, hopeless excuse for a human being and the other telling me that I’m incredibly smart, creative, and capable. I hated them both. I wanted to put my hands over my ears and scream, “Shut up! Just shut up!” But, try as I might, I didn’t seem able to drown them out. It was like they couldn’t even hear me screaming, they just kept talking over me – sparring with each other and completely ignoring my presence.
I share this story not because I can provide a cure. I can’t. I share it because I don’t want you to think that you are alone, or perhaps crazy. You’re not. These voices are totally normal. I cannot remember the source, but the best bit of advice that I ever heard about dealing with these intrusive voices was to take a moment to acknowledge them, but only long enough to pat them on the head, tell them you understand what they are trying to say, and then inform them – gently but firmly – that they must run along now and let you get your work done.
And if that doesn’t do it, put on your headphones, roll your eyes at them, and just get back to work.
What I’m Writing:
I have been beating myself up a bit over how often this space in the Weekend Edition is filled with lame excuses about why I’m not doing much writing. Part guilt and part shame, this feeling is like a little rain cloud in the otherwise bright blue sky of the time I spend writing this weekly post. And then, earlier this week, I read a piece by Matt Cheuvront (@mattchevy) called Look at It With Their Wonder. Matt reminds us how important it is to pause and look at our accomplishments with the eyes of someone who doesn’t take them for granted:
Whatever it is you’re building – creating – making – and/or working toward, you’ll undoubtedly have moments where you’re absolutely sick of thinking about it/working on it. But once it’s out there for the world to see, create a ritual for yourself similar to my own.
Set aside time, even if for just a moment, to admire your hard work, experience it, and look at it with their wonder.
With that in mind, I decided to take an informal inventory of the writing I have done so far this year:
- 15 columns for my local paper
- 47 posts here on Live to Write – Write to Live
- 15 case studies
- 2 marketing ebooks
- 7 point-of-view papers
- 3 ghost-written articles
- 7 brand messaging briefs
- 12 architectural house descriptions
- 5 websites
All told, I have cranked out in excess of 100,000 words since January 1st. (And that doesn’t include all my journaling which would add about another 100,000 words, or the bits and pieces of fiction practice I have managed which would probably add another few thousand words.). Also – because all but 10,000 of these words have been for paying jobs – I have been able to support myself and my daughter with this work.
Does this writing represent my legacy? No. Is it the novel I want to write? No. But I shouldn’t let those truths besmirch the accomplishment or belittle the value of the writing. I should look at that list and that word count with wonder and appreciation and gratitude. And I should stop beating myself up for “not writing.”
What accomplishments do you need to inventory? What have you done – writing or otherwise – that you need to look upon with wonder in order to appreciate its value? Go do that now. You’ll feel less guilty, and – interestingly – more inspired.
What I’m Reading:
Like writing time, reading time has been hard to find these past few weeks while the workload has been so heavy. Though I’ve stolen a few minutes here and a few minutes there, I haven’t had the chance to sit down for a real read this week. This morning, before I sat down to write this post, I decided to treat myself to a quick reread of a favorite “tiny book” that was calling quietly from the bottom shelf of the bedroom bookcase.
The book is called A Short Guide to a Happy Life, and it was written by novelist and columnist (not to mention Pulitzer prize winner), Anna Quindlen. My friend bought me a copy of this slim tome when she went to see Quindlen speak at a local college. I wasn’t able to join my friend, but she kindly not only purchased a copy of the book for me, but stood in line to have it signed. I have wonderful friends.
The book is very brief, but it is what they call a “little gem.” The text is an essay about learning to appreciate life and really live, instead of just existing. There are no earth-shattering epiphanies in Quindlen’s words, but the earnestness and truth of what she says always strikes me at the core. I also love the design of the book – its small format, rough edges, and the collection of beautiful photographs that she chose to complement her words. The book is a lovely and perfect little gift that you can open over and over again, and always be filled with delight.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral by Jessica Davis via @jeffbullas
- Time Lost and Found by @AnneLamott
- Self-Publish or Perish: Why I Made the Leap from Traditional Publishing to Indie by @eileengoudge via @janefriedman
- The Truth About Vanilla by @bernadettejiwa
- Are You Cultivating Knowledge, or Just Consuming Information? by @GregoryCiotti
- How Relevance Magically Creates Time by @JayBaer
- Forgoing the “New and Shiny” by @DanBlank
- Do your thing – even if in stolen time. by @tarasophia
Finally, a quote for the week:
Wishing you a week filled with listening (but only to the right things – the things that matter and make you happy), seeing (with wonder and gratitude), and telling all about it in your writing (whatever kind of writing you do). Have a lovely weekend. See you on the other side!
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally – trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
Illustration behind the Mary Oliver quote is from a vintage children’s book called In the Middle of the Night, written by Aileen Fisher and illustrated by Adrienne Adams.