I can be downright mean to myself when I don’t meet my writing goals. I don’t sit down when I’d planned to and I tell myself I’m wasting precious time. I don’t manage to edit as many chapters as I wanted to and I feel like I’m desperately behind. The words don’t flow and I get distracted so I tell myself I’m a loser and that I’m never going to get my books in libraries and book shops.
I am so tough on myself. Waiting in the wings, there is a litany of reasons why I should be writing more, why my prose should be cleaner, why I should be an inspiration factory 24/7.
This self-criticism comes, in part, from desperately wanting to be an author. I have wanted this for such a long time and any mis-steps or breaks feel like negative things.
There is another place this toughness feeds itself. Inside, sometimes not buried very deep, is a belief that I am not good enough. If I don’t work hard enough, harder than everyone else, if I don’t create and create and create then I’m not even going to catch up with them. If I don’t give 100% then people will realise I’m a fraud.
So, I push and punish myself. I’m tough on myself and, even though I know sometimes that this isn’t true, I wonder if being this tough helps. I can’t let up, otherwise I’ll let myself down and I won’t ever get that perfect moment of opening a box of proofs.
I do know that it isn’t really helpful. It is good to be disciplined. It is good to set goals and work towards them. It isn’t good to constantly beat myself around the head with everything I’m not doing.
There is so much that we cannot control. We’ve all been rudely reminded of that this year. I can set goals until the cows come home but if something happens that is more important than writing (and a lot of things in life are), then I’m going to ditch writing and run.
One thing we do have control over is how we treat ourselves. For me, this is ongoing and extends to many other areas of my life. But I wonder if instead of punishing and being so damn tough, we could try being kind.
We could be gentle with ourselves when we fall at the first hurdle and have to rewrite a first chapter a million times. We could allow ourselves space when the words aren’t coming. We could treat ourselves as friends rather than enemies.
This kindness is something I honestly struggle to cultivate, evidenced today when I wrote 377 words and felt like a total failure for not hitting the 1000-word mark. But then I take a breath. I remind myself that I am coming to the end of a monumentally crap year. I look at those words I have written and tell myself that any words are better than none. I leave myself be.
This inner kindness to ourselves is important because there is so much toughness waiting for us out in the world. The many agents who reject our manuscripts. The publishers who don’t love our stories enough to take chances on them. The family members who will ask well-meaning but gutting questions that make us feel like we won’t ever measure up.
Writing is rife with rejection and pain, but we can make it a little less tough by being compassionate to ourselves. We have to develop a thick skin, which sometimes feels as soft as a baby’s bum when the rejections roll in, but inside that shell we need to be as soft as possible.
Let’s give ourselves days off. Let’s allow the sentences to flow slowly. Let’s be looser with our time. Let’s eat chocolate and wrap ourselves in blankets and rest.
Writing a novel is a hard enough task anyway and, especially if you want get your stories into the world in some way, the road is rough. Let’s leave the toughness to those things we can’t control, and step forward into 2021 with gentle hearts.
Anna loves chatting about the writing process. You can see more from her on Twitter, and she is running a course in January all about how to make writing a sustainable and fruitful habit.