Has this guy hit your writing sessions?
If your chest or stomach tightens as you sit down to write. Or an inner-voice says things like, “My writing sucks. No one wants to read this.” Or you promise yourself you’ll write when____. Then yes, he’s targeted your head, possibly killing your session.
Who is this villain? He’s your gremlin – also known as your inner critic, negative self-talk or Resistance.
When you spot him, approach with caution. He’s armed, dangerous and out to destroy your writing.
Unfortunately, you can’t call on law enforcement to haul him away. That’s okay. You’re about to earn your detective’s badge, so you can infiltrate his operation and take him down yourself. Maybe not for life, but for at least a day or so.
Yeah, he’s a slick escape artist who’ll strike again. How do I know? Because I’ve been facing my gremlin, 10-Tunner, every day for years. It’s taken solid sleuthing to work out how to lock him up before he derails my sessions.
Want to take him down?
Great. We’re about to head out on a 3-phase operation.
Here’s the Captain, now, with our first assignment. Let’s join the briefing…
Listen up. A network of gremlins struck again yesterday, taking down writing sessions around the world. Maybe even yours.
This guy works many angles and may have accomplices.
Here’s what we know so far…
You can sense his presence when dread and doubt starts to cloud your excitement and commitment to write.
He’s armed with messages like, “This is boring,” or “I don’t have time to write.”
And I know this…
The only way to take this guy down is to go under cover. Deep cover.
I want you to infiltrate his world. Observe his every move. And how his presence makes you feel.
Find out who’s arming him. When he’s most likely to strike and where.
We can’t hold this guy on small crimes, like “I’m not good enough.” Or “Nobody cares what I have to say.” You gotta dig deeper. Got that? No jumping the gun with a quick arrest.
Or he’ll convince you he’s innocent…your buddy with your best interest in mind.
You’re a goner if that happens.
I don’t want to see your mug in this precinct until you’ve observed him for 5 to 7 days and are ready to file a report.
Got that? Okay. Now get going.
The Captain does not mince words. Let’s see if I can shed some light on our operation.
First, congratulations! You made detective. Great news since you’re the most qualified to stake out your head in search of the source of your negative self-talk.
I’ve been tracking mine since 2010, and can report that awareness and observation are the keys to locking up gremlins and their accomplices.
Yep, some writers face multiple gremlins. I’m lucky. Mine prefers to work alone. Anyway…
Let’s look at the 3 types of evidence you’ll collect during your stakeout.
1. Look out for who or what has armed your gremlin
In other words, the Captain expects us to dig for the source behind our negative self-talk.
Has someone you look up to, like a parent, mentor or teacher, inadvertently armed him with criticism? Has he added a negative past experience like a rejection letter to his arsenal? Or borrowed weaknesses from other areas of your life?
My 10-Tunner usually attacks me with two types of messages – I have no talent and I’m too slow. After a few weeks of observation, I discovered two critical sources.
First, as a kid, I freely shared my writing with anyone who’d read it until…
My high school journalism teacher got her paws on me. She often read articles aloud, but only from a few classmates she mentored.
When I was accepted to journalism school, I approached her for guidance. Her advice? Read a fellow student’s articles and shadow him to improve my skills.
Umm, he’d have to show up to class to do that.
My rationalization? The kid who ditched class was a better writer than me – the girl who showed up every day and did the work. Therefore, I had no talent.
For years, I turned in first drafts that I painstakingly edited as I wrote, because I couldn’t stomach reading my stuff. And I often didn’t apply for work with, “must be a good writer,” criteria in the job posting.
During my stakeout, I also learned that my gremlin uses my fear of being too slow against me.
My mom jokes that my first words were, “Do self!” Makes sense. I’ve always preferred to work out how to do things all by myself. Plus I’m supportive with others as they figure out something new.
When people jump in to do things for me without asking, I used to assume I was waaayy too slow to receive the same level of patience.
When a writing project isn’t coming together, my gremlin loves to tell me I’m too slow. Then he suggests I write as a hobby and leave professional work up to the speedy, more agile writers.
Totally irrational, right?
Yep! That’s how our gremlins work!
See how to dig below the surface? When a message pops in your head, think about who or what has armed your gremlin.
2. Note when and where your gremlin strikes
To arrest this guy, we’ll work out when he shows up.
Does he appear at the beginning of a session? The end? As you wake up? Or as you sit down to write?
Does he show up right after you receive an assignment? Or as your deadline approaches?
We’ll also note where he strikes.
In the bedroom? The shower? In your car during your commute? Your office or kitchen?
My 10-Tunner typically shows up when my alarm goes off. Sometimes I feel him walk across my chest. Although…since I’m not quite awake, that might be my cat.
He definitely shows up as I open a project. He knows my magic time is first thing in the morning.
Make sense? If you have questions, feel free to ask me here.
3. Make a list of his crimes and how he makes you feel
For this, the captain wants us to note how our gremlins come at us. They love to kill or pillage writing sessions with blocks like procrastination, perfectionism and rationalization. And to finish us off, they toss in emotions like anxiety, guilt and overwhelm.
Have you ever re-written the same page, sentence or word until it’s perfect? Or put off a project until the timing’s just right? Or inspiration hits?
Me too. That’s our gremlins at work. They get away with it because they act like they have our best interests at heart.
My 10-Tunner loves to unleash tomorrowism on my sessions. When I feel overwhelmed by a project’s scope, he’s confident he can convince me to procrastinate. Why?
Because he knows I’ll feel instant relief if I promise to start tomorrow. And he knows he can throw guilt into the mix as the deadline looms and I begin to wish I had started sooner.
See how your gremlin might come at you?
It’s your turn. As you head out on your stakeout, remember…
Awareness is key to locking up your gremlin. Observe and note…
- Who or what has armed him.
- When and where he shows up.
- What crimes he commits against your writing sessions.
The Captain wants a profile report on his desk in 5-to-7 days. If you already have an idea of what your gremlin looks like, or a name for him, I dare you to share them in the comments section below.
In part II, we’ll move on to phase 2 and 3 of our operation, so we can lock up our gremlins and reach our writing goals.
More on gremlin taming
A playbook and game that challenges you to self-coach yourself through your writing blocks