Often and often afterwards, the beloved Aunt would ask me why I had never told anyone how I was being treated. Children tell little more than animals, for what comes to them they accept as eternally established. –Rudyard Kipling
With all due respect to Mr. Kipling (and there is very much due), I don’t believe this phenomenon is exclusive to children. I am forty days from my thirty-second birthday, and I still have trouble speaking up. I assume that what I have interpreted as somehow wrong or faulty or misguided is in fact fine. It must be fine; otherwise, why would it have happened? I assume that I am the one who is wrong, faulty, misguided. I assume that I have misread the situation. That my thinking is clouded. That I’m just simply weird.
This bad thought pattern goes the other way and muddies the good stuff, too. When I have an idea, I think there’s no way I’m the first to imagine it. I am not the only one who thinks this way. This idea isn’t new. Everyone already knows this. This is not unique. I am not offering anything a million people haven’t already said. And I’m probably not saying it well, anyway. Best not bother.
It is a dark, dark tunnel.
And it has taken me until just recently to even start to find my way through.
As a writer who struggles with strong and consistent writer’s block,* I am always on the lookout for anything that will help me write. Just write. Get the words out and down on the page. What I find again and again is that it all boils down to faith and self-esteem. Believe in myself, believe in what I have to say. And that it applies to my whole life, not just my writer life.
Tara Mohr taught me that the voice that tells me “Best not bother” is my inner critic. Per her advice, I’ve named my inner critic. His name is Karl. He is old, portly, and bald, and he thinks he is The Shit. But he’s ridiculous. When he chimes in with “Everyone already knows this,” I try to say “Okay, Karl. Thanks. I’m going to say it anyway.” Sometimes it works. It worked today. I’m writing this post. (And I’m certainly not the first to write on this subject. Look at how many links I’ve already given you, and I didn’t even look very hard for examples.)
The School of Life reminded me recently that there’s nothing wrong with saying again what’s already been said. A recent blog post, In Praise of Copying, reminded me that very few stories (or ideas) are new. What makes stories and ideas great is point of view. If you’ve never said it before, then it’s never been said in your way before. By this virtue alone, it’s new. If you don’t speak up, whatever it is you were going to say will never be said the way you’d say it. And someone, somewhere, will never get the opportunity to see something old in a new way. And that is a true loss.
Nothing is eternally established. Your first thought is a good thought, no matter what it’s about – a creative spark, a reaction against something you think is wrong, an idea for a different way to do things. Go back to it. Listen to the tiny voice behind the inner critic that says, “Wait, wait…I think you’re on to something.” She is awesome and smart and probably right. And so are you.
* You can say writer’s block doesn’t exist if you want to. It probably doesn’t. And yet, I’ve been trying to write the same novel since I was fifteen. Whatever it is, it’s here.