As I started thinking about what to write this week, the busyness of “back-to-school” made it more and more difficult to focus. Then it happened… my daughter’s first spelling list came home. My daughter is 8. She has struggled in the past with spelling and writing. However, this past summer, she improved by leaps and bounds! However, when that first spelling list came home, she quickly fell back to her go-to phrase…. “I CAN’T!!!”. If you have a daughter, you know how dramatic that phrase can become. You also know how quickly you start trying all the cliché phrases to help her overcome this feeling of self-doubt, because, quite frankly, you want the studying to be over as much as she does, and we’re never going to get there if she is expecting failure at every turn.
What does this have to do with me helping authors? Well, how many times have you picked up your pen, or hovered your fingers over the keyboard, and just thought “I CAN’T!!!”. Ok, maybe you whined and wailed a little, too…even if only in your mind. But the fact of the matter, is that in that moment, the task felt too big. The pressure too strong. The end result not clear. The fear of failure so monumental you just didn’t want to press the first key or let that pen even touch the paper.
Anytime we think we can’t, we won’t. It’s human nature. The negative thoughts start taking over, and we begin to believe them. This can happen at any stage of the writing process. You could be 5 chapters in, with an excellent plot and well-developed characters. Then, someone in your writing group read 3 sentences in chapter 3 and had a less than favorable critique, and suddenly you believe the entire work is trash.
So, how do we get past “Can’t” and carry through to reach our goals? Aside from telling you that you must believe in yourself (because, whether you believe you CAN or you CAN’T, you’re right! Right?), there are some other things you can do to remain positive and see that yes, YOU CAN!!
First, don’t be a pleaser. You will never please everyone. There will always be a negative critic. There will always be someone who doesn’t believe in you. There will always be someone who does all they can to stop you from achieving. Remember, you are writing for yourself. Your job is not to make everyone else ok. Your job is to reach a goal that you set for yourself. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone. Focus on your task at hand and be pleased with that!
Second, and this is one I struggle with a LOT!…Remove comparisons! My daughter is always concerned with how well her classmates are doing in comparison to her. I worry about what other coaches and consultants are doing compared to me. Your book is yours. Who cares about the other books in your genre! Your work is unique. It’s supposed to be!!! No one wants to read a book, just to turn around and read another one just like it. Don’t concern yourself with how someone else writes a book. Just because it took them 20 years, doesn’t mean you getting it done in 6 months makes yours less than. That author in your group has a ton of speaking engagements and is selling books like crazy, and you are terrified of speaking…that’s OK!! You will find YOUR own way. Stop comparing.
Which leads us to our next thought… Make a list of your accomplishments. What are YOU good at? What have you achieved? What do you enjoy? This will help you put the focus back on you, and you will see that while you were doing all that worrying, great things were actually happening! Have you already written your first chapter? FANTASTIC! Do you know how many people have a story inside that haven’t even gotten that far yet? Do you shy away from speaking, but social media is second nature? GREAT! You just found where you can start marketing! When you focus on what you do well, and cast aside all those negative thoughts, everything becomes more positive and suddenly, YOU CAN!
Speaking of negative thoughts – they will always find a way to creep into your brain. The trick, is to be able to do a quick 180 with those thoughts. Recognize them, and squash them! Flip them around to a positive – immediately! You think “I can’t think of anything to write today” and turn that right around into “Where can I find inspiration today?”. You think “I can’t write a good book to save my life” and flip it into “How can I become a better writer?”. The flood gates will open – you will find the guidance you need, and before you know it, you’re writing.
Finally, and this is important!!!! Give yourself permission to be imperfect! Oh my goodness, we are not perfect. Just write…worry about spelling, grammar, structure, etc later. Just get that story out. It doesn’t have to be perfect! You will have time later to review and edit. It’s ok! There really is no failure – there is only finding new ways to do things.
Removing CAN’T from your thought processes will instantly propel you to new levels of success. My daughter? She may not score 100% on her first spelling test this year, but she will get some words right, and you know what? That means she CAN!