There’s a little man in my head. He tells me I can’t do things, that things aren’t going to work, he tells me I’m a hack and that people won’t understand and that no one cares and that the whole world is a giant toilet when I’m trying to do something productive. He’s a shitty little guy, but he’s only about three inches tall, so at least he’s easy to take in hand to hand combat.
Oh, and he looks like a little green army man, one of the plastic ones. I don’t know why. I never asked. But he’s a seriously huge asshole and sometimes, once in a while, I really want to set him on fire. For example, he’s been causing me huge problems with a new undertaking, telling me how stupid it is and how stupid I am and how stupid this whole idea is. He’s a cunty, cunty jerkface.
Meet Doubt, Destroyer of Souls
This little green fuckhead is, as far as I can tell, my doubt personified as a plastic soldier. I’m sure you all have your demons. Men in rabbit costumes or clowns hiding in drains… everybody’s got one (or more) of these monsters. I can assure you all writers are plagued with them. They tend to make an appearance when money gets tight or we’re starting a new venture or we try to cross genres. These little fuckers wreak havoc with our lives, our jobs and try to eat our souls.
These are the kinds of teeth that can’t be defeated with mere platitudes. In fact, if a platitude has ever helped you grapple your demons, you need to spend more time sinnin’. I’m not going to tell you that you’re awesome or that you can do it. I don’t fucking know you, maybe you can’t. Maybe you really are awful. I know some people who are truly frighteningly awful writers, but still keep on trying.
Forget Psychological Bullshit
I’ve been a writer since I can remember. One of my earliest memories of school was being punished for writing a short book about my dog instead of doing the assigned lesson in second grade. Fuck school. Anyway, that was it. That was the beginning, and even though I was not given a light sentence, it never stopped me. The thrill of creation, of breathing a thing into being, was just too delicious. It was a way to turn my own private movie theater into a world I could share with everyone else.
Oh, I know that you think I’m a fucking hack or a sell-out because I write copy most of the time, but two things. First, go fuck yourself. Second, even an aspiring writer has to eat. Food is brain fuel. Trust me, you’re not going to spin beautiful tales when you’re hungry, stressed, homeless and dying. Been there, done that. Don’t do that.
Forget all the advice Psychology Today has to offer. They mean well, but their advice is meant for novices. This is not hardcore advice for those of us who have been doing battle with those fucking monsters for decades. This is real life, tried and true advice from a real writer who is still making a living putting words to the page. You can’t get much more real than this, unless the advice you’re getting is from someone who fucking matters. So, let’s begin.
- Put On Your Armor. You’re a motherfucking warrior. You’re not going into battle with this monster unplated, are you? Read some of your old stuff, some of your really good stuff. Look it over with the distance you’ve put between you and it — and appreciate what you do well. If your work looks like shit, well, you need to go back to class and study up.
- Round Out Your Weak Points. A friend told me that that little Green Bastard is sometimes worth listening to. Although I doubt her, like I doubt him, there might be something to what she’s saying. If your demon gives you specific feedback, like mine does, maybe it’s a good idea to take a step back and consider if they might be trying to protect you from something foul. Show your problem piece to someone you trust and ask them to be honest and answer his taunts. “Am I, in fact, Stupid, my friend?”
- Learn New Skills. Two points here: First, you should always be honing your craft and learning new things. If you think you’ve run out of things to learn, try to master a new writing style. That’ll kick your ass back and forth and up and down until you’re ready to admit that other genres aren’t anything like yours. Second, while you’re learning new stuff, make sure you learn how to fix those problems that the Little Green Army Man loves to point out when you’re feeling down.
- Stare Down the Competition. When you’re really delusionally doubting, take a look at the competition. Read other writers and see what you think — but be objective. If you’ve been a writer for a while, reading others can be painful because you see their flaws sticking out like giant neon signs. Look at those bad spots, because we’ve all got them. Even Stephen King has written some real turds. None of us are perfect all the time.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. I’m suiting up, I’m fighting my demons. A storm is coming and it’s me riding a motherfucking dragon to war. Are you ready to join the battle?