It’s perfectly normal to question your own writing abilities and to worry that you’re not up to the job. But when those questioning voices shout too loudly, pessimism and procrastination can take hold. There is a way to quieten your inner writing critic and manage the anxieties you have – and that’s to postpone them for a specific time.
Manage your inner writing critic
We often see writers coming to a standstill because in one way or another, they experience anxiety and self-doubt. These worries come in different shapes and sizes. Many worries are of the ‘what if?’ variety and often soul searching in nature:
- I’m no good – what if I don’t improve? What if I can’t figure it out? What if it’s not as good as last time?
- I’m just not good enough (compared to X). My work’s not original (as someone else’s). I’m not progressing quickly enough (unlike Y).
Postpone and worry less
Whilst the inner critic will never be your friend, you can minimise its impact by using a technique based in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The technique has four elements to it:
The first step towards managing your writing anxieties is to identify them. You can’t manage what you don’t know is there. Some people find it helpful to keep a diary or write these down in a notebook. When you start to feel anxious about your writing capture your concerns. What are you anxious about? How do they make you feel? For some writers, the simple act of tracking can be a liberating experience as this already creates a sense of control over emotions that can feel overwhelming.
Once you’ve made a note of your worries, the next step is to label them in one of two ways. The worries you experience are either hypothetical or practical. Hypothetical worries are of the ‘what if?’ variety we met earlier and normally involve a negative prediction about what the future may hold. These worries make you feel powerless because there’s little you can do to address them – that’s why they’re damaging. Practical worries are different. These are concerns that you can do something about. They are worries that you can take a specific course of action to solve.
Can you solve your hypothetical worry with a practical action? Think about how you can address them by taking an action of some kind. For example, if you’re concerned that ‘you’re not good enough’ how could you find out whether this is accurate? How could you address this worry? Are there any practical actions you can take? If you can’t think of any practical actions you could be taking – this is a hypothetical worry not a practical one. So with that in mind…
If hypothetical worries remain, accept them, but then park them. Parking does not mean ignoring your worries, brushing them under the carpet or trying really hard to forget about them. It means acknowledging them but moving past them – if you can’t find a practical solution. One way to do this is to postpone hypothetical worries to your ‘worry time’. Choose a particular time and place in your day and reserve 20 minutes to dedicate to worrying – this is your ‘worry period’. When ‘what if?’ worries crop up, don’t ignore them but don’t dwell on them either. Note them down, reserve them for later and park them for your worry period. Think about them then – don’t let them derail you in the present.
Banish your inner writing critic
Having a worry period to address the hypothetical anxieties you have about your writing is a powerful way to help you gain perspective and ensure that you don’t get pulled away into a spiral of negative thinking.
It might feel odd noting down your worries and setting aside worry time, but we find that when the writers who use this method often come back to those concerns – they won’t seem so significant. But remember to only allow yourself to worry in small chunks of time – don’t let your worries spiral.
Also, writers who use this method often find it helpful to cross off the worries that no longer concern them and rip up their list of anxieties after a session is complete – always turn your attention to the present moment once your worry time has come to an end.
The inner writing critic can strike at any time or place in the writing process – often without you being aware of its exact triggers. As such worrying can interfere with your progress – and your happiness. By learning to postpone your worry it will be less intrusive in your life and you’ll manage it more effectively so you control it instead of it controlling you.