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It's a Writer Thing -- Is THIS Why You Are Struggling to Finish That Book?

This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss.

Hello, Wonderful Writers! Not too long ago, someone in the Electric 18’s group shared a video by Brene´ Brown, Ph.D. I majorly LOVE this woman’s work. In case you’re not familiar with her, she’s a researcher who focuses on studying shame and vulnerability. If you haven’t read her books, I really recommend them all. She talks about how being vulnerable is one of the most courageous things we can do, that vulnerability comes with great rewards, “because vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, trust, empathy, creativity, and innovation. 

That’s right. 

What she’s discovered through her research is that without vulnerability, we cannot create. If we’re going to make art, or put ourselves in the “arena,” as Teddy Roosevelt called it, then there is “one guarantee. You will get your ass kicked. If courage is a value you hold, this is a consequence. You can’t avoid it.” And who does this ass-kicking she speaks of? The critics. There are many kinds of critics (and I highly recommend you hear her talk or read her books for the full discussion), but today I want to focus on one—the worst critic.

The worst critic, she tells us, is ourselves.

I’ve always loved doing art. Drawing, painting, crafts. You name it. Back in my teen years, I did a lot of sketching. There’s nothing like a perfectly-sharpened pencil and a blank sheet of paper. There’s nothing, alright—nothing scarier. I’d sit there, thinking about what I wanted to draw, the tip of my pencil hovering over the page, and I’d be stuck. What if my drawing was a ginormous failure? What if the image I had in my head didn’t match up with what I achieved on the page. What if my subject was sucky or corny or boring? And of course, even though there was no risk of this happening—like ever, because I was never taking my sketch pad out of the safety of my house—but what if some one saw this sucky, corny, boring hot mess of a drawing? In my head, even if I locked up my pad in a steel safe, I could catastrophize until I ended up at school with the sheet of paper somehow magically glued to my butt, unbeknownst to me, out in the world for all to see. Yeah. It gets scary in there sometimes.

So, what did I do in response to these “gremlins?” I armored-up. I still put pencil to page, but I didn’t draw my own creations. I copied photos or book covers. Someone else already decided those pictures were worth making, so I played it safe and copied them. Sure, I was practicing my skill, and I got better at drawing, but I wasn’t creating. I wasn’t making art. Thinking back now, it would have been better if I had made a terrible version of the awesomeness in my head, even if the outcome was cringe-worthy. Better because it would have been mine. I would have made art.

Now, I’m creating a new kind of art with my stories, and I can’t help but wonder if this is the same process that causes us to get stuck. That causes us to stall partway through a work in progress. Are we so afraid of making a sucky, corny, boring hot mess of a book that we can’t create? Is our fear of vulnerability causing us to armor-up so securely that all we do is cut off the natural flow of our wondrous imagination? And all this even before a single soul has laid eyes upon what we’ve written—all except for ourselves. The worst gremlin of them all. 

So what’s a writer to do?

Brene´ Brown tells us that we must expect the critics to be there, including the one inside our heads, and that we must be prepared for what they’ll say about us. What’s the worst thing your internal critic tells you when you’re sitting there, fingers hovering over the keyboard? Find out, then tell that voice that you aren’t interested in his or her feedback. Lock those gremlins up in a closet where they belong. If you need to, find a mantra, like a magic spell, to keep them in there. Then, all that that is left to do is WRITE. Because you can do it. You can write!

Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand. 

Check out Jessica's other posts:

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