Thursday, June 2, 2011

Coping With the Negative Voice

Today I want to talk about something that I struggle with. As writers we all know that sometimes our characters speak to us and we can see the scene unfolding in our imaginations or hear a certain character’s “voice” as we write. But there is another voice that writers often hear that we should never listen to.

The voice of negativity.

You know that voice. The one that whispers, “this story is terrible. No one will like it,” or “that sounds stupid. Why did you think you could write?”

It’s so easy to listen to that voice sometimes, especially after a critique or rejection. Writing is such a subjective profession and because of this, we are going to get negative feedback. There’s no way to get around the fact that some people will love your story, and others will hate it. Some agents or publishers will believe in your story, some will reject it outright. But it is that voice in your head that can get under your skin and allow discouragement to take root.

Why do we roll out the red carpet for that negative voice? Why do we allow that voice even one second of our thoughts? I believe it is insecurity. When we don’t believe in ourselves, in our vision, and in our abilities as a writer, that cracks the door open for that negative voice to get its foot in.

So what can we do to keep that negative voice out?

Here are three things that I do to help me. They may sound silly, but they really have worked for me in reducing that voice in my head.

1. Whenever I catch myself thinking “I can’t do this,” I immediately repeat in my head, “I can. I can do hard things.” I remind myself that writing is a process and if it was easy, everyone would do it. “I can do this,” is a little mantra that I say over and over. I even have a magnet on my fridge to remind me.

2. When I hear that negative voice getting louder in my head, I take a moment to imagine myself at my booksigning for my work in progress. When things get really hard and I think this book will never see the light of day, I sit back, close my eyes, and just let myself see that scene. The stack of books on the table. My favorite booksigning pen at my side. The people who have come to buy my new book. The smile as I sign it for them. There is just something very positive and freeing when I replace the negative voice in my head with this scene.

3. The negative voice always comes out whenever I’ve gotten a negative review (I’m looking at you Goodreads) or negative feedback, or a rejection. That is my most vulnerable time. So, instead of worrying about the negativity, (well, I do allow myself a little bit to wallow in self-pity, but only a little bit) I ask myself, “What can I do about it?” I can’t do much about the negative review, but I can thank them for their time. (I also remind myself again that not everyone is going to like my book and that’s just part of life.) If I’m looking at negativc feedback I can ask myself if it has any merit and make a note of it for my next work. If it’s a rejection, I can pick myself up and submit it somewhere else. I don’t let that negative voice tell me I can’t. I want to fill my thoughts with, “I can.” Like Hines Ward recently said on Dancing With the Stars, “Success is built on cans, not can’t.”

The negative voice can be hard to overcome, but with a few little tips and tricks, we can beat it back and not allow it in anymore. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I really do replace all that negative talk by reminding myself that “I can do hard things,” and seeing my booksigning scene in my head, and thinking of what I can do now, I feel more empowered in myself and in my writing. The positive voice and thoughts are like giving myself a little gift—the gift of moving forward with creating something for others to enjoy and feeling good about what I’ve done no matter what happens.

How do you keep that negative voice out?


Melanie Jacobson said...

I really like your advice about handling negative reviews. I've had one sticking in my craw but you're right. Saying thank you and moving on is the best thing I can do.

Anonymous said...

It's funny because I can get ten positive reviews and one negative and I always let that negative one stick in my craw, too. There is something freeing, though, about thanking them. It's almost as if I'm giving myself permission to move on, whether I actually thank them online or just in my head.


P.S. I'm sorry about your negative review. Your book is in my to-read pile and I think it looks great!

Kiirst said...

I love this post! I totally feel like you wrote this just for me... you did, huh! LOL. Thanks!

Stephanie Black said...

So, so true about how that one negative review can sting, sting, sting, no matter how many positive reviews you've gotten. I can tell myself that not everyone will like my book and that's fine, but deep down, I can't stop wishing that everyone WILL like it. Never mind that no book in the history of mankind has ever been loved by EVERY reader. Great post, Julie. Part of being a writer is dealing with those negative moments.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kiirst! Thanks!

I totally miss visiting with you. It's been too long. We need to get together soon!


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stephanie. I always want everyone to like my book, too. If I had three wishes . . . :)

Julie (why does blogger still hate me?)

Debra Erfert said...

I had one of those moments yesterday where "this sounds stupid" kept running through my head. After reading over those chapters this morning (out of habit, perfection, what have you) I realized they just needed some filling out, some meat-on-the bones type of thing.

I haven't had the reviews of my writing yet, but I have had the experiences of having my artwork criticized while I was standing in front of it. I made the mistake of asking two women what they thought of the portrait painting hanging among the others. (I didn't tell them it was mine) It had won one of the top awards in the division, yet one of the women scrunch up her nose and said, "It's okay." My heart dropped right to my foot and stopped beating. I wanted to argue with her, tell her how perfect it was, but I didn't. Thinking back on it now, art is as subjective as writing. Not everyone will like it, and even if they do, it might not be on the same level. I'm not sure what this means . . . possibly not to read my future reviews? I certainly don't ask strangers what they think of my artwork anymore.

Anonymous said...

Debra, I was in a Seagull once and since my book was on sale I bought one. I asked the cashier what he thought of that particular book and he said he was surprised he'd like it. I handed him my debit card and he realized that I was the author and he said, "Whew, I'm really glad I didn't hate your book because I would be very embarrassed right now." I was really glad he didn't hate it too, but I don't ask strangers anymore either. LOL

At least that woman said your art was okay and not something worse. Of course, I'm sure it was amazing. I'd love to see your art sometime!


Debra Erfert said...

Become my friend on Facebook. I have my latest pieces up in my "photo gallery." Just be a good friend, if you hate them, don't say anything, please.

Anonymous said...

Debra, I would love to see them and I know they'll be wonderful. Going to look for you on Facebook right now!


Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Testing to see if I can finally post on my own blog . . .

Rebecca Talley said...

Great post. I needed to read this! Thanks! And I love that quote.

L.T. Elliot said...

I never thought about envisioning a future signing to banish the blues. What a smart thing.

Although it doesn't surprise me that you thank someone for a negative review because you're one of the most gracious people when it comes to tricky situations.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

L.T. Thank you for that! You're so sweet to me. :)