don’t listen to the voices

As a child, my creativity was not exactly nurtured and encouraged. Attempts at art were met with laughter (“What is it supposed to be?”) When I tried to learn the violin, I was accused of aural torture (“It sounds like you’re trying to kill a cat.”) When I showed off my ‘ballet’ dancing, it was made clear just how wrong I was about my skill level there (“As graceful as a herd of elephants!”) As a child I didn’t understand that art has to be practised before it gets better. If I was bad at something, then I needed to stop doing it right away.

Literature and art were valued by and important to my family in some ways. But it seemed that the making of art was for other people.  I grew up believing that only geniuses and special people could be painters, dancers, musicians and writers. And since I wasn’t a genius or special, any of my attempts to paint, dance, play or write would be met with laughter and a sort of nervous contempt. Who do you think you are? People are just going to laugh at you. You’re not good enough.

No wonder, then, that it took me a long time to take my writing seriously and call myself a writer. I still reel at the amount of courage needed every time I say, “I’m a writer.”

No wonder, too, that sometimes self-criticism disables or diminishes my ability to write well. It is hard to devote time and energy to writing when in your head the voices are reeling off reasons why you’re so very wrong about everything.

It helps to say to myself, as often as possible, “You are a good writer.” I don’t say it as some kind of affirmation, thinking that if I say it enough times the universe will make it come true. I say it because it IS true. Speaking the truth gives me courage. Without courage, I can’t write.

I am a good writer. I do have talent. I have the ability to move people with my words. That is not a little thing. That is not something that can be discounted or thrown away. It’s a gift, one that I should be proud of. A gift that I should protect and nurture and grow.

To say I am good doesn’t mean that I think I am great, the greatest, a genius, a wonder. Just that I am good enough. Good enough to sit down to work and try to become better. Good enough to try. Good enough to use the gifts I have in order to make the world a better place, even if it’s just a tiny little bit. Good enough to tell myself: keep going. Good enough to shout down the voices that tell me I’m an idiot for trying, that I’m hubristic for wanting to be better, that I’m making a fool of myself.

So what if I make a fool of myself? The alternative is to never risk anything. I think that’s what frightened my family – taking those risks, looking stupid to others, being vulnerable to criticism and rejection. Yes, those things are hard as hell. And sometimes (often) you do get rejected, and you do get criticised, and you do feel stupid. It hurts. But it doesn’t kill you. What kills you is never using your gift, never exploring your talent, never following your heart. What kills you is giving up. So don’t give up.

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4 Responses to “don’t listen to the voices”

  1. Rich says:

    My mom used to associate any form of creative writing as juvenile and possibly a symptom of underlying mental debilitation.

    e.g. “You’re not still writing those little stories are you?”

    Even when I began to get stuff published in magazines she wasn’t impressed or even interested. It wasn’t a “proper job” and certainly not something she could mention to friends and relatives that would compensate for other ways in which I’d disappointed her.

    Probably best I don’t tell her about the adult stuff I’ve been submitting to Circlet Press then :-)

  2. george says:

    Yeah, I think that a lot of us have these negative, critical voices about our writing or other creative pursuits. It’s the terrible childhood that turns you into a writer in the first place – and then the terrible childhood sends monsters after you to try and stop you being a writer. I’m not an advocate of ‘positive thinking’ in the sense of uncritically and unquestioningly being positive and upbeat about everything (those people do my head in), but for some of us, a dose of realistic positive self regard is called for. Being proud of your achievements, even if your mother isn’t proud of you (she should be!) is a good thing, for example.

  3. Rich says:

    Well one or two things in the last two days have made me think more positive about my writing. Not least has been a burst of creativity on a number of fronts and a couple of unexpected emails. But still there’s that small voice nagging away saying

    “This has been done before, you’re just copying ’cause you’ve no ideas of your own. [Famous author] did this years ago and was not only ahead of his time he was better than you’ll ever be…” etc etc

    But then I see the derivative drivel that *does* get published and I don’t feel so bad.

  4. george says:

    Yep. Don’t listen to the voices! They are talking shit.