Being Kind to Your Writer Self

Writing for Children Blog | craft
November 10, 2016


Many writers know that we're not always kind to ourselves. We can be scathingly self-critical. We can take temporary setbacks as proof of our status as failures. And we can prioritize negativity. All of these together mean we can forget to be kind to ourselves.
And yet, we're worth a little kindness. Writing is an amazing thing. It both refines and records culture. It expands our existence. It allows us to give to people we will never meet. Without writing, history would be lost. Without writing, questions that society should dig into would be left unexplored. Writing is uniquely human and helps us stay in touch with that unique humanity. That means this art form which we take part in is important. It's worth our time. It's worth everyone's time.  Whether we become wildly successful at it or not, we're contributing to what makes us uniquely human and that is valuable.
If anything is this important, is this much a part of human history and the future of humanity, it's reasonable that it takes time to become good at it. Our inner critic wants to be good at everything right now. So when the inner critic steps up and points out all the flaws and short comings, we need to go right back and point out the moments of success, the lines with real beauty, the points where it works. Because those are always there. Every bit of writing is part success and part failure. Even truly brilliant writers know they could have tinkered with a book forever because they all contain those moments that make the writer wince and the inner critic rant. But they also contain light and hope and a piece of who we are as people. Fix what's fixable, but always keep your eyes on the light.
Every writer collects rejection slips or bad reviews or periods of creative blahs. I write a lot, often as many as ten books a year. That means I have periods where I'm just tired and the creative juices are more like creative sludge. But I also know that setbacks and shortfalls are temporary. This too shall pass. If I fall down, I can get back up and continue on my journey. There's no progress to be made unless we accept setbacks as temporary. Sure, acknowledge them, but know it's not the permanent state of affairs for your work. Your writing journey isn't over just because you fall down.
Another element of human nature is the tendency to prioritize negativity. If a hundred people tell you that your hair looks great but one person asks you what's going on with that bunch over your ear, you'll spend all day fretting about that bunch over your ear. We do the same thing with writing. We absorb bad reviews, unhelpful criticism and negative remarks and linger on them even in the face of lots of positives. It's just human nature, but it's also extremely hard on the forward momentum for your writing. Listen to constructive criticism, sure, but empty negativity is toxic. We need to create a mental file for that stuff and cram it in. Not everyone will like what we write, but we're not writing for those people. We're writing for the ones who do like what we create, and there will be plenty of them. Think of it this way, have you ever disliked a book that everyone seemed wild about? We all have. There is no art piece that pleases everyone all of the time. So focus on the ones you are writing for, the ones who are trying to get your attention by telling you they liked it.
Your writer self can be fragile sometimes, and needs your care. So when your inner critic tries to bully your writer self, stand up against that bully. When your writer self feels down and can't seem to get going, picture the journey and not the pothole. And consider making a scrapbook or bulletin board or at least a computer file of positive comments on your work so when the negativity does come (and it will) you have something good to dwell on. Nurture your writing self. You're worth it.

Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work  here.


chez bianca crisden
November 22, 2016

we all need kind words; say kind words about one another, and to our selves. we can be our own worst critic. There is NO need to be critical of any one.

Patti Ranson
November 13, 2016

Thank you for this, 'Picture the journey, not the pothole' will be permanently in my psyche as I write.

Tiffany Dickinson
November 11, 2016

Thanks Jan. I needed this encouragement. Your statements about "prioritizing the negative" are right on. I certainly do that and it sounds as if many others do too.

Dorothy Phillips Mobilia
November 10, 2016

Thank you for this. Your message is very timely for me, having just finished a Middle Grade mystery and submitted it to two of my favorite critical readers. And there's another reason: I came home in time to hear the President and President-Elect talk to the press about their first meeting together today. After all the negativity that seemed to bring us all down, I heard the President say his job now is to help his successor succeed with a smooth transition. The President-Elect responded with kind words and the observation that they likely will meet many times. All the pain of these many months seems to be lifting. You're so right about the toxicity of negativity, whether it's out in the world or about my manuscript at hand. I'm keeping your message near my keyboard, to fend off my inner bully. Thank you again.

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