I speak phrases like, “Wow, I’m so stupid” out loud to myself probably once a day. I don’t think I really mean it. Self-deprecation is just one of those things we adopt without realizing how often we actually put yourselves down.
Writers do this a lot. If you’re reading this, you’re likely already aware.
“I can’t believe I wrote that. So cringy.”
“I should have published something by now. Maybe I’m just not good enough at this.”
“I’m not smart enough to write about stuff like that.”
Psychologists and self-improvement gurus call this negative self-talk. Out loud or in your head, you say things to drag yourself down — even if you don’t mean to.
There are plenty of reasons people do it. Poor self-esteem, and all that. I encounter many writers who operate with such a negative view of themselves that they end up wasting their own potential as creatives — and that’s really sad.
But have you ever thought about how these negative slivers of half-truth you carry with you might actually be exactly what you need to accomplish all your writing goals?
Think about it. Your article gets rejected by a magazine editor. Your immediate thought, after you skim through that email, is something like, “My writing must not be good enough to meet their standards. I feel like such a failure.”
That’s negative self-talk. You’re linking rejection with your self-identification as a failure.
Your thought doesn’t have to end there. You don’t even have to try to talk yourself out of that failure mindset. That’s a pretty tough thing to do, when you’re bearing the fresh sting of rejection.
You take it a step further. You lay it all out in front of you and start picking your way through it.
Fact: Your article was not selected for publication.
Fact: Your article did not quite meet the editor’s standards.
Fact: You did not meet your goal of getting your article published in this magazine. (A much more constructive way of saying you failed.)
Well … now what?
Now you work backwards.
Your goal is: Getting your article published in a magazine.
Your hurdle is: Your article not meeting an editor’s standards.
Your solution is: (1) To figure out what that/the next editor’s standards are by reviewing other published work from that/another magazine. (2) Revising that piece or writing something new that does meet those standards or guidelines. (3) Taking extra steps to make sure every piece of your submission is spotless, from the article itself to the email you attach it to. (4) You submit again. Maybe even again.
On the surface, negative self-talk sounds nasty and isn’t constructive.
Down deeper, it speaks honestly on behalf of something — a habit, an outcome, a behavior — you would like to change. You just need to pick it apart and reconstruct it to figure out how to do that.
Turning a negative into a positive is a lot easier than it seems.
Give it a try. It might change your life.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.