Thursday, 2 July 2009

Brown Balls

I have a head like a malteser. After four days of dragging the wee fella up and down the Ayrshire coast in the sunshine, my bald napper has gone a deep brown. The rest of me however, has only edged from enamel-white to vanilla. If you can think of a suitable simile for what this apparition might resemble let me know.

I digress, as is my wont I hear you say. Sue me, is my reply.

See. I can have a conversation all to myself. Any similes for that one?

Talking about having a conversation to yourself – yes we were, keep up - one of my American bloggy friends intrigued me the other day with one of her posts.
Marley talked about how one such version of this ongoing conversation can be quite harmful to a writer. How those internal voices inhibit our writing and stop us from getting on with the work.

We all know this isn’t particular just to writers, don’t we? How many time have you been on the verge of an action and that little voice has pipped in just at the right/ wrong time. The things your internal critic might say can range from...
- Man, that sucks. What are you thinking about?
- Go watch telly, you don’t have to expose yourself to the possibility of failure while doing that.
- Dude, you are basically just crap. Go find a cave and hide.

You can bet your sweet life any entrepreneurs out there don’t allow this voice to stop them getting on.

In this blog Marley opined that she doubted if her poet friend (moi) would allow this voice to interrupt his creative endeavours - I had to consider this for more than a moment. Do I? I certainly used to. What changed?

It’s how you train the internal voice to phrase the question.

I used to walk into Waterstones and think, Holy Book Covers, Batman look at the number of books in here. How the fuck am I going to get published when all of these writers are vying for publishers attentions?
Now I walk in Waterstones and think, Holy Crime Section, Batman, if these guys can get published so can I.

I used to send out poems for publication while thinking, who wants to hear what I have to say? Who’s going to be interested in my sad wee efforts at poetry?

Now I send it off, or read it at public events while thinking that my opinion; my work is as valid as anyone else’s.

I trained my brain to re-frame the question in a way that I would seek positive results. I didn’t arrive at this thought process overnight. It took some work. The first thing I had to work on was “the work”. If I’m going to be sending out work or reading it at public venues it has to be the best I can make it. So I worked on my craft, attended workshops/ conferences; read books on the subject and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. And then wrote some more.

What was key in this process was assessing where I was along the way. Were my poems being received well by the magazines I sent them to? BTW, I remember my first submission to a poetry mag as if it was yesterday. The poems came back with a comment that my subject matter bodes well for the future, but at times my choice of words were clich̩d and too everyday. I was fecking furious. Who the feck was he to say this to me? A friend pointed out that most people just get their poems returned without comment. What did this mean, I asked myself? A Good Question. That somewhere there was merit, I just had to dig it out. It was only a while Рa long while later I could see that this guy had given me excellent guidance.

The next part in the process was finding someone whose opinion I valued and who was willing to read and give constructive feedback on a regular basis. A First Reader. The crucial part in this process is listening to the feedback – I mean listening to, and considering the feedback while ignoring the whimpering little worm of your ego that is squirming on the skewer of your FR’s opinion - and that ain’t easy. The trick here is to separate the work from the ego. The feedback is ALL about the work. ONLY about the work. The ego should only be allowed access once the poem is accepted for publication and then it can do cartwheels in a tutu. But not in front of my neighbours. Again. And if you decide to ignore the feedback be sure that you’re doing so because you disagree, not because your little ego is hurt and you need to ignore the FR to make yourself feel better. As Stephen King says in On Writing if you hear yourself saying, “yes, but...” to such feedback then really you are trying to defend the indefensible. This is surely a time when you should STFU and take the feedback on the chin.

Next in the process is listening to this horrible little internal chatterbox and asking yourself if what it is saying is valid. If it is voicing a “belief” that is limiting then you should find a way to re-frame the question/ statement as I showed you earlier.
More examples...

Why am I such a failure? Could be changed to ...What will get me what I want?
Why aren’t I better at this? Could be changed to ...What can I do to improve?

Asking yourself the right questions will send the boys and girls in the boiler room (your sub-conscious) off looking for a solution, instead of focusing on the problem. Repeat those last few words a hundred times...looking for a solution, instead of focusing on the problem.

Eeesh, I’m coming over all Life Coach here and that wasn’t my intention with this blog. Still. Its’ relevant. And valid. Do with it what you will. Make the changes, or print this off and wipe your arse with it.

Did I say I had a head like a malteser?


  1. I'm convinced that nasty nagging internal voice is essentially evil... the horns and tail kind of evil... and it relishes destroying my self-esteem. Fortunately I've had enough success as a journalist to know that I'm not a bad writer. But on some of the more challenging writing days it's can still be difficult to ignore the negativity. I agree that having a FR (or for me it's a critique group) to offer unbiased feedback is invaluable. I may not always agree with their opinions but if several are suggesting the same things I know I need to pay attention.

    Thanks for your post. It's warm and sunny here this week, too, but I haven't managed to get outside in it much, so no sunburn as yet.


  2. Must.gag.evil.interior.voices. :)

  3. Spot on as usual. All I'd add is - accept the effusions of people who tell you you're a genius with the same bucketfuls of salt as the wankers who say you're crap. Deep down, in the end, we're honest enough with ourselves to KNOW when we're writing substandard stuff.