In one of the Discord communities I’m part of, someone suggested writing a review of our own blogs as a writing prompt. I answered (with humour) that I never said anything nice about myself. I said it as a joke, but there’s truth in there. I have had self-esteem issues since I was a kid and still find it hard to see my good sides. But I have learned to at least be proud of what I did. So here’s a post about self-criticism and productivity, a topic most authors will talk about at least once during their career.
I Don’t Like Myself
I was one of the two coloured children in my class for a very long time and we became friends. Mostly because other children didn’t want to play with us (at first) but also because we lived close together. But I’ll never forget what I went through or how horrible people can be to someone who’s ‘different’. It hurt my self-esteem. And it wasn’t the last moment when people would say something negative about me which wasn’t true, but which I ended up believing. One of my teachers in elementary school underestimated my intelligence and wanted to put me on a lower level of education. My parents refused to take this advice and put me on the same level as my brother.
It’s becoming a normal thing where parents believe their kid to be more than they really are, which might hurt them later on, but for me, it was the right thing to do. I was good enough, better than what the teacher said. And it taught me to work for what I wanted, instead of becoming lazy and still getting good grades. But even in high school, I still experienced other people saying things about me that weren’t true. And I still believed them.
Somewhere along the line those voices were ingrained in my brain and my body caught up with those lies. At least that’s what I thought until I got my diagnosis at 21 and it suddenly made sense why my body was failing, why all those lies turned into truths. Since then I’ve been fighting these old believes and learn what’s really true about myself. I did my master’s and graduated, but it was only a few weeks in when I first started thinking that I wasn’t smart enough to be there. The low grades I’d get at the end of the semester proved it. And again, it was chronic pain that was the cause of it all.
The origin of that voice, that whisper gnawing at your brain, is probably different for everyone. For me it was my looks (try being a coloured kid with glasses in a mostly white school) and my physical limitations that caused most of the whispers. Both internal and external. The lies that turned into truths. The truths that turned into lies. Knowing where these voices come from and what the real truths are is hard and shouldn’t be underestimated. These voices of self-criticism won’t limit themselves to who you are, but also what you do, in your relationships, and in your professional life.
I Hate This Book
I think I can find hundreds of tweets from authors about the process of writing and all of them would have the phase of “I hate this book”. We love our babies and we hate them. We want to burn them alive, but also cuddle them. We don’t want anyone to read them, but we want to share our stories with the world. To write better stories, we need to out and around people, but we also really like our alone time. And writing is inherently a solitary job. The life of an author is full of paradoxes.
That voice whispering in your mind is annoyingly strong as you’re working on a story. Some of the whispers will be small and only criticize the phrase you just wrote as not good enough, or it’s a bad joke. Other times you’ll hear that your story sucks and no one wants to read it. What do you do when you hear that voice? You ignore it or you talk back. For someone with self-esteem issues and a personality that wants to avoid conflict at all cost, talking back isn’t an option for me. Even if that inside voice is my own, I don’t want to engage. I choose to ignore it. But what if the whisper turns into a scream loud enough to overtake any other thought?
There is this thing called impostor syndrome. You feel like you’re not good enough to do what you do. I think most people have experienced it in some capacity. Most authors do too, and I think it’s related to that self-criticizing voice. Even best selling authors still get that feeling (Neil Gaiman on his experience with impostor syndrome). But what can you do about it?
Just keep going. One step at the time. One word after another. Don’t think about anything else but the words you put on paper. That’s why another frequently given writing tip is to turn off your inner editor when you’re working on your first draft. This is especially important for beginning writers since it’s more important to learn how to finish something than to produce the perfect story the first time around. Some authors can do that, but there are many more who can’t. And it’s okay to be either in either one of these groups.
It’s what I try to do with my own projects. I want to get the story out of my head and then I’ll allow myself to think more about what it is and what it needs to be. This the stage where I start hating my stories. But even then, I keep going. Finishing is more important than what I think about it. Linking that much emotion to a story will be the end of you as a writer. That’s when one-star reviews will feel like a personal attack and authors will talk back to reviewers, desperately trying to defend themselves and the book they wrote. But in the end, anything we make and do, we have our thoughts about it, either as creator, observer, or consumer. And all of those opinions will be different.