Recently, an organiser of a literary event invited me to participate in an series of readings given by a group of ‘wannabes.’ The individual is well acquainted with me and knows about my publishing history, so I was taken aback to realise that she sees me as an amateur.
So why am I pouting? Well, it’s not the bloody gash across my ego, at least, not exclusively. It’s that the well-meaning invite unleashed all those self-doubt demons who torment every artist from time to time. I’ve been battling these devils for so long, I must qualify as some sort of geriatric Buffy the Vampire Slayer (minus the sexy walking undead).
Despite having achieved a fair amount of success–awards won, novels and stories published, etc.–I can’t shake off the reminder of all the things I haven’t accomplished. It’s like this at every stage of a writing career, no matter who you are. Go ahead. Ask Stephen King. You think that man doesn’t know from demons?
When you are unpublished, you see the first sale as a the holy grail, and it is. Then you make it and you are Magnificent. Capital M. For about a day. Then the gloss starts to fade and you are already jonesing for the next Big Victory, the bigger publication, the novel, the prize, the recognition. Whatever it is that will make those wretched demons shut up. Only they never shut up. With every achievement, they present six failures to taunt you with your worthlessness. Don’t worry, though. You are a mighty warrior in the battle against this sort of evil, you just need the right equipment.
So, what’s in the demon-slayer’s war chest?
Clarity: You have to be able to see those demons for what they are: Pint-sized imps who hate to see you happy. They don’t deserve your attention. That said, if you ignore them, they’ll disguise themselves as depression, addiction, or self-harming behaviour. Know who they are, but for pity sake, don’t feed them. You’ve seen Little Shop of Horrors, right?
Love: I was going to call this ‘self-love’, but I know what you’re like. What I mean is being kind to yourself. OK, so you still have things to achieve. That’s a good thing. Who wants to live without goals to reach and windmills to fight? Practice affirmations–“I will be grateful for what I have accomplished so far. I will recognise my failures, forgive them, and refuse to let them define me. I will do better…”
Reinforcements: Talk to your writing friends about how you’re feeling. I promise, they’ve been there, too. There’s nothing like solidarity in the battle against demons.
Work: This is what it comes down to. Those demons don’t want you to write. They’ll nibble at your brain, release toxins into your soul, all to keep you from your mission, which is making art. Lock those little devils in a box and focus on the job at hand. You can do this.
See you on the battlefield.