Vision: A Resource for Writers

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The Anti-Muses

By Elizabeth Chanye
Copyright 2008 by Elizabeth Chanye, All Rights Reserved

Life would be easy if all you had to deal with was criticism from other people. "They just don't understand me," you tell yourself, shaking your head. "No, they just don't understand art."

But what can you say when the little imp inside your head starts acting up?

Most writers know the imp well; he's the one who says the things you don't want to hear. "Who's going to read this? This is trash!" "Call yourself a writer? Who are you kidding?"

Having inner voices is nothing to worry about. It's how to deal with them that's the problem. Trying to quell them with logic is close to impossible; about as efficient as smashing your head against a brick wall.

Here's a list of the various anti-muses you'll probably encounter during your writing life, with tips on how to get along with them:

The Doubter: This is the guy who houses all your insecurities, constantly reminding you that you're not a writer, that your work is horrible, and that you can't make it in an industry with so many talented competitors. The eternal pessimist, the Doubter can bring on writing blues in extremely short amounts of time. When the Doubter appears, the best thing to do is ignore him. Like younger kids throwing tantrums, the Doubter craves attention, and once you stop to pass the time of day, he'll take you in a downward spiral of self-doubt you can't escape from. Remind yourself of past publications or great pieces that received a lot of praise. You are a writer, and if not a fantastic one, at least a fairly good one. You'll find the less you listen to the Doubter, the less he'll pop up.

The Obsessesor: Unlike the Doubter, the Obsessesor doesn't actively try to stop you from writing. Instead, he takes the route of insisting on every single detail non-writing-wise being a certain way. You have to use that special lucky pen; the color of your notebook has to be just right; and your writing desk should be spotless before you can begin to think about writing. Writers can be pretty superstitious folks. Because you wrote a wonderful story with a fountain pen on handmade paper in a hotel on the other side of the world, you may think recreating the scene will produce another good story. Admittedly, it can happen, but half the time you'll be stuck, wondering what you got wrong this time. Be prepared for the Obsessesor. If you prefer to use a certain type of pen, buy a dozen of them so you won't have to waste time looking for pens when you should be writing. Ditto notebooks and other writing tools. As to the expensive, impractical things that the Obsessesor demands (like a castle to write in), either buy postcards to put up by your desk, or find out the reason behind the obsession. That one-of-a-kind-pen your great-aunt sent from overseas is, when all is said and done, just a pen. Try to figure out why you like it so much: is it the way the pen seems to "grip" to your hand, or the way the words glide onto the paper so easily? Next time you buy a pen, you'll know what to look for.

The Censor: Also known as "What will my mom/grandparents/friends think?", the Censor is the one who shows up when you're writing stuff "nice" people "shouldn't" write about. When writing a murder mystery, for example, the Censor might say, "When your friends read this, they'll think you're a MURDERER!" Writing about things you "shouldn't" is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn't mean anything other than the fact that you're a writer. Other writers have written about the "nasty" subjects, and the act of writing doesn't turn them into weirdos. Some, like Stephen King, even get famous for it! Keep in mind, you don't have to show your work to anyone, and you can opt to publish under a pen name. So give the Censor a push, smile, wave, and move on.

The Slacker: This is the one who always pops up to remind you of the tasks you should be doing. "Mow the lawn," orders the Slacker. "And after that, wash the car, clean the house, and spend more time with your neighbors." There is no end to the jobs the Slacker can remember for you. If you get distracted, that's exactly what the Slacker wants. There are writers who believe everything the Slacker asks them to do is somehow unbearably urgent. You feel as if you can't wait to mow the lawn because it might rain later, or your friends might come over. So you abandon your writing and go off to mow the lawn. The thing is, most of the tasks the Slacker comes up with aren't at all urgent. Mostly, they're just mundane everyday chores. Remind yourself how important your writing is to you, make a note of the chores you have to do, and schedule time around your writing to do them. Don't overestimate the time a task can take. Nobody needs a whole day to dust a room; twenty minutes should be more than adequate. The rest of the day can be used for writing.

Obviously, there are plenty of other voices that may show up from time to time, and the best way to deal with them is simply to go on writing.

As a friend of mine once said, "It's like planning a trip. Before you go, you worry about everything from the weather to losing your passport, but once you get started, all the worrying whispers fade away and you just enjoy the fun."

So, just write. Maybe the piece you're working on will turn out to be horrible, but everything can be rewritten. All you have to do is take that first step.