Sunday, January 2, 2011

Crossing That Bridge: Facing the Troll that Lurks Beneath -- Tribute to a New Year

I approach this New Year with a mix of excited anticipation and anxious trepidation about the writing process and all that I wish to accomplish.

I love new beginnings--taking stock and looking forward--and I have many writing goals for developing the craft and my writing life. But I've also noticed each day my mind loops through the same self-defeating cycle with something like this:

1. an insatiable longing and burning desire to create and 'go public' -->
2. an overwhelming foreboding for the task of sorting or starting -->
3. a critical self-doubt that suppresses all writing confidence & visionary insight -->
4. a self-defeating lack of follow-through that leads to writer's block and depression -->
5. a self-fulfilling prophesy that affirms the Inner Critic ("See, I knew you couldn't do it and shouldn't even try!") and her best pal, Paralysis ("You're right. Why bother?") -->
1. an insatiable longing...

The antidote? For a while I tried ignoring (i.e. suppressing) that critic and even supplanting it with a more encouraging voice. It isn't fair to focus only on the 'failures' or fear and not the successes--and there have been many! But no matter how many cheerleaders I have in my corner, that internalized voice of self-doubt continually tries to block my way of accepting the calling and challenge of being a writer. It's a mean and persistent little thing, like a troll that lives under the bridge I keep trying to cross.

So, just like the writing itself, I figure the best way over the bridge is to move across it, step by step. Rather than fight, cower or run away from that vindictive voice that lurks underneath, face it firmly and lovingly like you would a defiant adolescent. Find out what it needs, embrace it and move on. But don't let it stand in your way. As Jane Anne Staw suggests in her book Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working through Writer's Block, letting that voice speak out loud or on the page allows us to identify its source. Imagining it as an innocuous five-inch doll with fuzzy hair helps too.

photo credit: Nancy McCubbin
I realize that inner naysayer seeks my attention with its warnings ("This bridge could collapse--it may not hold the weight--you might not make it across--better to stay back!") in a misguided attempt to protect the frightened part of me that seeks comfort in security rather than risk. But nobody ever wrote or published anything without risking.

As Jessie Morrison wrote on the Writer's Digest blog, MFA Confidential:
"It’s that willingness to risk exposing our inner selves to strangers, with all the inevitable judgment that entails. When you’re writing something you care about... you’re acknowledging an essential truth about yourself. You’re revealing some of the deepest-down things within you, and exposing your own raw heart."

Dear Reader:
What critic lurks and holds you back from your pursuits? How can you address and move past it? What "deepest-down things within you" are worth risking exposure to express?

Look forward to the next Tribute to a New Year posting on celebrating success and outlining new goals!


Michelle said...

Love it Nicole, so glad I finally got to read. And I appreciate the timely advice on how to handle Jade's tantrums, with firm love. I will hold this in mind while food is flying!

Sabrina said...

Nicole - your post rings so true! It is a vicious cycle every day, and takes work to go past the self doubt. For me, its my relative inexperience that nags me and tries to hold me back. But like you, I keep coming back to that insatiable longing! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This post is great, Nicole!
I love your comparason to the troll under the bridge ready to bolt out and say "that's not good enough". I hadn't thought of my doubts about my writing that way--but dubbing it a "troll" makes it easier to trick-track around the doubt. (Yes, from 3 billy goats gruff--only they trip-trapped around.)

Nicole R. Zimmerman said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Sabrina, I just heard a novelist speak on the radio about "not knowing what I'm doing" while now working on a screen play. Robin, I love the "trick-track" play on words! I think I'll write about thesis angst next.

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