So the other night I was in bed, trying desperately to let go of the day and fall asleep, and I was almost there when a little tiny voice broke in and said, "Maybe… maybe I’m just a boring writer."
There’s nothing better for waking you as you’re drifting off to sleep than a good shot of self doubt and insecurity. And at that moment I had no other thought than to get up, contact the editors at all the markets where I currently have submissions and withdraw them (I’ve done this before), then call up everyone in my critique group and beg them all not to read the novel portion I’d submitted at our last meeting. "My God, don’t read Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster!" I wanted to warn them. "It’s dreck, BORING dreck, and the hours you spend reading it you will NEVER GET BACK!"
A couple of hours later, I did drift off to sleep, no emails sent, no calls made. The fear still haunted me, though, and I had nightmares about boring people to death with my novels (oh, I also had a nightmare about a yurei-style ghost which was scary but also kind of cool; and for your edification, a yurei-style ghost is that Japanese ghost girl with all the long black hair in front of her face. See the pic below).
Like most of the nightmares I have, this one — the one about boring people to death with my novels, not the one about the ghost — stuck with me all day yesterday and bugs me still today. Now, I recognize this as an irrational feeling, especially a week after two of my short stories were published in print venues. But I’m no good at handling these things; when I get an idea like this stuck in my head, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, it rattles around inside my brain and sticks to the rest of my thought processes like Donald Trump’s hair piece sticks to his head. Concentrating on my writing gets difficult. My creativity goes like this:
ME: Oh, I’ve got this fantastic idea for how this conflict can be resolved, and how some of these characters can interact with each other, making the story more effective and funnier at the same time.
ME^2: No you don’t. You’re a boring writer. Boring, boring, boring! Take up something that more people will be interested in, like starting an online gallery of dryer lint and categorizing it by manufacturer, retailer, date of acquisition, fabric, and types of cat hair. No, really, It’s gotta have a wider market than your boring boring boring stories.
Yeah, like that. And surely no writer ever before in the history of mankind has ever, ever felt this way, right?
I thought not.
See, I told you I was special.
The party line for dealing with these thoughts, according to various folks I’ve spoken to, is to talk back to them, using reason and logic. David Burns in his seminal work Feeling Good, the essential popular work on "cognitive behavioral therapy", would recommend an approach which involves identifying the negative thought, identifying the fallacious thinking underlying it, and then developing a rational response based on realistic thinking. For example:
NEGATIVE THOUGHT: I am a boring, boring writer.
FALLACIOUS THINKING: Overgeneralizing, magnifying the negative, denying the positive, etc.
RATIONAL RESPONSE: Actually, I am quite an exciting writer who has published several stories, and any day now people will be lining up for my autograph.
I’m not sure how realistic this response is, but the point is to talk back to these negative thoughts with rational, positive thoughts.
I’m wondering if it might actually be more helpful to visualize these thoughts as things that can be squished. In the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer episode called "Fear, Itself", the characters are trapped in a house by Gachnar, a horrific fear demon which makes all of their most awful fears seem to come true. Like all classic fear demons, Gachnar feeds on the fear that it creates. As the episode progresses, Buffy and the Scoobies make their way through the house until they finally reach the attic where the portal to Gachnar’s home dimension has been opened. Bright lights swirl around the room, smoke billows forth, there’s a roaring sound, and the demon emerges.
Said demon is about six inches tall. All that fuss and bother for a demon who’s only six inches tall. My favorite bit of dialogue ensues at this point:
XANDER: Who’s the little fear demon? Come on, who’s the little fear demon?
GILES: Don’t taunt the fear demon!
XANDER (jumping back): Why? Can it hurt me?
GILES: No… It’s just tacky.
And as Gachnar continues to threaten Buffy and her friends, his little fist shaking and his little horns sparking, Buffy squishes him with her foot. See, all that fuss and deadly bother over a little tiny demon critter than Buffy can squish with a patent leather pump.
So I’m going to attempt to visualize these fears as Gachnar, the six-inch-tall fear demon. That way I can mock it and taunt it, tacky though it may be to do so. Since I spend too much time thinking, I’m told, maybe just resorting to mockery and taunting will be a better approach.
GACHNAR: You’re a boring boring writer who should never be allowed anywhere near a word processor and who’ll never be published again!
ME: Aww, who’s the little insecurity? Come on, who’s the little insecurity?
Then Sarah Michelle Gellar shows up dressed in black leather and squishes the demon under her stiletto heel. Or maybe not. I guess I should be learning how to deal with these things on my own, after all.
Of course, these little fear demons — insecurities, self doubts, and so on — will keep surfacing. I think it’s just part of being a writer. The best I can do, I think, is to keep mocking them by continuing to write and submit. Persistence in the face of self doubt is not tacky by any stretch of the imagination.