I had a bad writing day today. So, instead of being happy and delighting in the hope and promise of the New Year, I shut down, stuttering helplessly over the outline for my new book on writing. It was as if I wanted to go to Paris, but every time I got near Kennedy Airport, I turned around and went home.
This kind of self-doubt is a recurrent problem for me, as it is with many writers, and the only good thing I can say about it is that this time I saw it for what it was, an old feedback loop in which I both suffer and take no action to relieve it. No, I couldn’t stop the mental torment, but at least I knew the territory, a form of self-imposed punishment with a double-negative benefit—not only am I miserable and unproductive, but there’s no fast way back to the path ahead. This is because, inside, I feel I’m supposed to wallow in non-productivity, because somehow I must deserve it.
Finally relief came, late in the afternoon, in the form of my friend Amy, on Skype.
“Hi,” I said glumly.
Amy took one look at my miserable puss and said sharply, “You’re trying to think your way through this! You’re second-guessing yourself. Stop it! Reconnect with your heart.”
Indeed, she had me at hello, and so I closed my eyes and took a breath. I immediately realized I had become overwhelmed by the scale of my new project and all the marketing challenges associated with it. Thank goodness for great friends!
“Didn’t you decide on an outline?” Amy continued.
“It was great. Just stick to it. Like we agreed.”
The sun came out!
I laughed. I’d had the same conversation with a student of mine not two hours before. Of course in that case I’d been playing Amy’s role. So, I retraced my steps and asked myself when I’d first noticed the bad feelings coming on. I realized that it was right after I’d downloaded and listened to a new marketing program I had purchased. When I told Amy about it, she laughed and said, “Oh, that program is the worst! Everyone knows that.” Amy works in direct marketing, so she would know.
Once I realized that there was a physical trigger to my self-doubt, I was able to accept the problem as being of my own making and move on. But how can we keep ourselves from repeating this kind of downward spiral and instead put that energy toward our work?
The answer is what I call the Power of Distraction.
Basically, as soon as you feel that self-doubt coming on, act as if you were dealing with a small child having a tantrum and distract yourself with treats like ice cream or shiny toys until you experience a shift towards positivity. (Obviously, I’m using ice cream and toys as metaphors, though ice cream is never a bad choice!) Here are three ways to do it so that you can feel better and get back on track fast:
1) Eat something you like. OK, not too much, but rewarding yourself instead of giving in to the desire to suffer can yield great results.
2) Move your body. Whether you put on some music and dance or just go for a walk, any physical movement will distract and soothe your troubled soul. (And it’ll help you work off that ice cream!)
3) Watch a favorite movie or TV show. This has the dual effect of both distracting you from your dark thoughts and inspiring your creative side.
While these ideas may seem simple and obvious, remembering to do them when you’re feeling low is not. In fact, I put a note on my computer to remind me to nip my own brand of negativity in the bud. (I’m also returning the marketing program and getting a refund!)
To recap, when you start to lose confidence in your writing, instead of compounding the problem by getting down on yourself, distract yourself until you feel better. Then get back to work.
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz