“Well, that was a breath of fresh air!”
I’d just taken my seat at the table where I was going to sign copies of The Book You Were Born to Write, after my reading at the Boulder Bookstore last week. The first woman in line was speaking to me, looking very surprised.
“You seem to think writing a book can be fun!” she said. “Most of the writers I know are not having fun. They’re constantly beating themselves up because they’re not doing a good enough job.”
Cue Kelly’s heart sinking. It sank, because I knew she spoke the truth.
The most important words aspiring authors need to hear are some of the least often spoken.
You can do this.
There is no failure except not trying.
Writing is so much fun!
And—most important of all:
You are doing such a good job.
Turns out these are not just trite little phrases. They are the honest truth. Moreover, they are incredibly important affirmations of the evolutionary impulse we feel as aspiring authors of transformational books. Not hearing them can be as bad as hearing we aren’t good enough.
But from whom should we expect to hear these words?
Sure, your bestie or your partner or a loving relative might have a few encouraging words to share.
Sure, a writing teacher or book coach can (and, if they’re one of ours at kn literary arts, will) love bomb you on your way to finishing your project.
There’s an even more important person who has to affirm your inner writer.
Yep, I’m talking about you.
The would-be author at my reading had walked in the door weighed down by self-criticism. Her own, and that which had been modeled to her by the other writers in her writing group.
I’m not good enough.
Who would want to read this anyway?
I don’t have what it takes.
I never finish anything I start.
My talk—full of enthusiasm, encouragement and “let’s do this!” energy—had landed in her system as dissonance.
You think I’m good enough to write a book?
This can be a joy-filled experience?
Anyone who’s actually writing counts as a “real writer”?
Does. Not. Compute.
Perhaps you could have been this same woman. Perhaps you’re running some of the same lines of thought mentioned above.
Just in case that’s true, we need to have a chat. Because what I know is that books don’t get written—not really good and useful and transformative books, anyway—when the author is being mentally and emotionally abused.
And for most authors, the #1 perpetrator is…us.
Granted, in most cases we’re just repeating things we heard throughout our childhood years. Back then we were like thirsty little sponges, soaking up information about how the world worked from everything we saw and heard.
Parents trying to teach us the ways of the world…teachers trying to keep us in line…other kiddos test-driving their power trips on the playground. However these self-hating thoughts found their way into our operating systems, they’re cemented in place all these decades later.
For most writers I know, self-demeaning, abusive thoughts are the norm.
There’s something that seems…almost safe about them. After all, they’re familiar. And familiar feels good, especially when we’re taking a big leap into the unknown.
(Pssst…writing a book? HUGE UNKNOWN.)
We might start persuading ourselves that it’s safer to not write.
We might start thinking it’s safer to not put ourselves out there in a way that might attract attention.
(Especially if we unconsciously believe ourselves to be defective, problematic or just plain broken. “Then everybody will know!”)
So we set this bar of writerly perfection. And we tell ourselves we can accept nothing less.
What if this word or phrase is not perfection in print?
Better close the laptop—for good.
What if our first reader doesn’t absolutely swoon?
Better never pick up a pen again.
This is how the inner critic becomes the executioner of our writing dreams.
There is only one way out of this conundrum. We must write.
We must write our way past the inner critic.
We must set ourselves small writing goals—and we must keep them, even when the self-hating trolls start doing their trolly thing.
And once we succeed, we must affirm—out loud is best—“What a success!”
We must declare, loudly and often, that we are doing SUCH a good job.
(And we must support other writers to do the same.)
I know it sounds hard, maybe impossible. There are so many hardwired stories that tell us the opposite.
But overcoming those fear-inspired stories is the only way. The only way to write that book and accomplish our goal of serving others by sharing our wisdom and our stories.
This is the only way, but I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s hard to pivot toward self-love and self-encouragement, after a lifetime spent swaddled in the safe cocoon of self-criticism.
Self-love and self-kindness requires a new identity. We must build a new understanding of who we are, now that we’re no longer in a life-or-death attempt to be better than who we are.
Said another way:
We must walk our talk as transformational authors.
We have to actually transform our self-talk so it mirrors the reality we want for our readers.
It’s not about us anymore, it’s about them. To help the people you want to help, you have to start by being kind to yourself first.
Let me say that again: Be kind to yourself.
Make yourself a cup of tea. Say sweet things to the little one inside, even when she’s kicking and screaming about writing—or about not writing.
Keep doing this until your book is written. (Then, just keep doing it, k? Life is better this way.)
Because if you’re on the journey of writing transformational books, you’re on a journey of serving the world.
Your heart is in the right place. (Trust me, it is.)
Your book will help people. (I’m a professional, I know these things.)
And I happen to know on great authority, because God told me and wanted me to pass along the message to you (YES YOU!) right here, today:
You are doing such a good job.