Self-Loathing And Two Spoonfuls Of Nutella / @StephanieKeyes
You know the moment. The one where a great friend of yours gets an incredible publishing deal. Their book is going to be made into a movie starring some actor so hot you could fry an egg on his chest. They have everything they’ve ever wanted.
For me, I used to greet those days with a healthy dose of self-loathing: “I’m just not a good enough writer.” I’d avoid my current manuscript in favor of an unnatural relationship with the Nutella jar. Okay, I’ll admit I only allowed myself two (even) spoonfuls of the stuff, but still. Every last bit of hazlenutty goodness symbolized my own failure and not a “special treat” as my son calls my vice.
It didn’t matter how much wonderful feedback I received on my writing… I’d fallen into the trap of playing the comparison game. That’s a dark hole most writers are intimately familiar with. The pattern continued until there were these ugly fringes of bitterness that wove themselves into the border of my personality, threatening to take over. I hated them.
And then one day I stopped and looked in the mirror and said: “No more.” I meant it, but I didn’t believe it.
That day an email from my editor came. It included the words “so well-written” and “perfect for the market.” Normally, this would be the kind of thing I dismissed with a “they don’t really mean it.” Not that day. I went back to the mirror, stared into my own eyes, and said four words that would change how I handled rejection.
“I’m a good writer.”
For a moment, nothing happened. Obviously, the heavens weren’t going to open up and rain down confetti. Still, I said it again: “I’m a good writer.” I repeated the phrase. I kept speaking the words out loud until I smiled. A real smile. A genuine smile.
Because that was it, the root of my problem. It wasn’t that I was jealous of anyone’s success. Not at all. It was the opposite. Instead, some distant part of me believed that because I hadn’t experienced the same triumphs, it meant I couldn’t write. That someone would come along, kick me out, and say: “You don’t belong.”
Funny thing, self-loathing is. It can make you internalize anything if you let it. It can even take hold, the way the ivy in my backyard has, until it’s nearly impossible to kill.
But it was not that day. “I’m a good writer.” I spoke the words until I believed them.
There’s a psychological exercise where a person holds his or her arms out to their side and repeats the phrase: “I’m a good person.” A second person then tries to press down the speaker’s arms. Usually, the second person can’t press the speaker’s arms down–at least without a fight.
In that same exercise, however, if the speaker says, “I’m a bad person” their arms can usually be pushed down immediately without a resistance.
That’s the power of the Human Psyche. When we say we’re a bad person or a bad writer in this instance, we actually start to believe it. That core belief drives everything. How we write, how we interact with others in-person and on social media… It messes with our lives.
Our lives are too precious to waste on a negative outlook.
Since that day in front of the mirror, I’ve had friends get fabulous book deals. I’ve continued to feel genuinely happy for them. I do not have a Hollywood-hot actor portraying one of my characters in this year’s blockbuster. Still, when I pass the mirror, I glance at it, and smile. I don’t even need to say the words now. It was never about them anyway.
I just needed to learn how to find my voice. And believe in me.
Oh, and I still eat Nutella–let’s be honest. But now it’s my go-to for special occasions, not self-doubt.
Stephanie Keyes grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She’s the author of the YA Fantasy series, The Star Child, which currently includes The Star Child, After Faerie, The Fallen Stars, The Star Catcher, and The Last Protector, all from by Inkspell Publishing. She will also release the forthcoming novellas The Boy In The Trees (November 2015) and A Faerie Wedding: A Star Child Companion Novella #4.5 (February 2016).
The Star Catcher took first place in the 2014 Dante Rossetti Young Adult novel competition (Mythological Category). The Fallen Stars was a 2013 semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Awards. The Star Child has topped the Amazon best-seller list several times since its 2012 release. She is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).