This might come as a surprise, but writing has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember. It is one of the few activities in my life that brings out all of my insecurities. It’s not that I get hung up trying to impress you all. I don’t know you, and I have learned that I can’t make people like me. I was prepared to receive negative comments, cruel and unhelpful criticism, and general lashing out. I have seen plenty of that online. I set up this blog and started posting despite my expectations.
And my expectations have not been met. The support I have had so far from the online community has been wonderful, and I appreciate every one of my followers. Every positive comment and Like has felt like a stranger handing me a little gift, because I wasn’t really expecting any. But even with all of the positivity and support, writing is a struggle for me, not because of my readers, but because of my own mind.
I am my own biggest critic, and the one I try hardest to impress, even when someone else is grading my work. I have a really talented editor brain, but I can’t write and edit at the same time, and turning that thing off can be a huge pain. I think editor brain is probably the primary cause of writer’s block in most people. It’s the little voice in the back of your head saying “That won’t work,” and “That’s not good enough,” and “That sounds ridiculous, there has to be a better way to say that” and listening to that voice too early in the process is like trying to get the hairstyle or the makeup just right before you’ve seen the face they’re going to decorate. If you get that far ahead of yourself, it’s just a waste of time and effort. I have spent way too much time in that place, and I know from experience that no amount of other people fawning over me and praising my talent can get me out of it. Sometimes it makes it worse, because it drives my own expectations of myself higher. Similarly, the people who don’t understand why it’s so difficult, who tell me to “Just sit down and write,” can perpetuate the cycle by making me feel like an idiot and a failure before I even start. It’s a crushing, suffocating, strangling place to be, and that kind of self-criticism is a downward spiral. If you’ve ever been there, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
In the past year, I’ve been working on being a happier person, and part of that is being kinder to myself, spending less time in editor brain, and not just when it comes to my writing. Finding my old poetry journal helped. I think it was the perfect timing of having done enough work on myself to actually appreciate my old poems, and needing them to remind me that writing doesn’t need to be a battle, and that sometimes I write complete crap, but sometimes there are gems buried in there too, and in the moment I’m often too emotional to be even moderately objective. The most important thing is to keep writing. I finally had enough distance from those old poems that when my editor brain came out, it was more realistic and less judgmental.
I still need my editor brain. It provides a valuable service. I often wish that in this world of instant sharing and reaching thousands of people with the tap of a finger that some people would exercise their editor brains more. Just because we need to produce a lot to find the gems doesn’t mean everyone needs to go on the journey with us. Somethings are better left unposted, untweeted, unshared. My point is not that you should share everything, my point is that you have a better chance of creating something worth sharing if you can balance your creator brain and your editor brain, and use them at the correct times. And of course, my other point is that people who seem amazingly talented probably spend some time battling editor brain too, so you and I shouldn’t use their finished products as the yardstick to measure our own unfinished work.