My writing life is a constant rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs, especially in how I feel about the work I accomplish. I am realizing how much the way I feel effects my writing, and at the same time, that the way I feel does not always match up with reality.
My writing times tend to be colored with resentment, insecurity, or unwillingness to write. These negative emotions sometimes fade as I become more present with the work I’m doing, and sometimes make it almost impossible to get down to business.
I started to wonder whether my manuscript is still unfinished because of these emotional experiences, these negative thought cycles.
Negative thought cycles begin as self-deprecating internal dialogue. If the thinker allows the dialogue to continue long enough, those negative thoughts become engrained mental habits. It can actually change the way the brain operates. People with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and similar problems deal with this phenomenon on a daily basis, and work hard to break the mental habits their brain has developed as a result of something like trauma or genetics.
I deal with anxiety, and in the process of dealing with it, I came into contact with the idea of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Of course, this wasn’t in the context of writing. But as I began to realize how much my negative emotions were messing with my writing, I started to suspect a negative thought cycle in action.
The next time I sat down to write, I turned up the volume on my internal dialogue. There were infinite negative thoughts. I started to hear myself think things like,
You’re not a good enough writer to do this story justice.
This story isn’t worth being finished.
These characters are flat and you’re never going to be able to make them realistic.
You don’t care enough about this story to get it done.
You don’t have the time or energy to write.
You can’t figure this story out well enough to put it down on paper.
You shouldn’t even try.
So, I decided to do an experiment.
Every day before I started to write, I would journal positive thoughts. Even if I didn’t believe them, even if they sounded ridiculous, even if anyone who found the journaling would think I was insane (a la April Kepner), I would drown out the negative thoughts by consciously thinking and then writing down positive ones that directly contradicted the negative.
Thought: “I can’t write well enough to meet my own standards.”
Replacer: “I do have high standards and am careful about how I put words together. I do not let that care stop me. I produce more exactly. I rise to my own challenge. I will meet my goals.”
Thought: “This will never be finished. I can’t finish it.”
Replacer: “I am working hard and making progress. It is okay if I don’t finish it today. If I keep working, I will finish it someday.”
In the psychiatric world, this is called positive thought replacement. And let me tell you, it works.
I was far more productive than I had been in previous weeks. My emotional life was more stable, and so was my writing life. I had given myself permission to feel good about the work I was accomplishing, and I did.
The practice carried over to other areas of my life, too. I started to feel more positive during the rest of my day. I would catch myself in the middle of a negative thought about something totally unrelated to writing, and reverse it. Even though the experimental term I set for myself has passed, I still do positive journaling before every writing session. I have no intention of stopping.
I highly recommend trying this! Here are the steps I followed:
- Identify the negative dialogue you are allowing and engaging with.
- Write down empowering, positive statements that directly contradict each negative thought.
- When you feel all the negative thought demons of the moment are still, begin writing.
Good luck silencing your negative internal dialogue…
Write, and be happy.