Anything can trigger thoughts like this.
Perhaps you’ve been having an unproductive morning (or day, or several days).
Or perhaps you read a story that’s been published in a reputed journal or that’s won some major award, and you think “I wish I could write like that” or, worse, “I can write like that too. Why does he/she get published and I don’t?”
Or perhaps you’ve been reading some fabulous work of literary fiction and oohing and aahing over sentences that seem to have been crafted by magic, and you’re suddenly reminded of the draft you’re working on right now and how paltry it seems in comparison.
And then, before you know it, it starts.
You look around you, at the books in your room. All the writers you admire, whose craft you try to model your own on. Great writers, all of them, with decorated careers. They’re the movers and shakers of the literary world. Theirs are the names mentioned in hushed voices by the intelligentsia. They made it, and now they’ll be remembered by generations to come. Who are you to presume to stand in such exalted company?
Or you start thinking about other people in your life – the non-writers. They have regular lives, with work and hobbies and family and friends. They have their share of problems, sure, but they don’t have to deal with this crippling self-hatred. They don’t have to look at their work every day and question the premises of their decision to take up that work as a profession. They don’t have to worry about whether or not their art has meaning. Heck, they don’t have to care about art at all except in passing. Unlike you. You care, because you have to care. Desperately.
And if you start thinking both trains of thought in parallel (as I do all too often), they’ll collide to form one hell of an explosion.
Why did you have to want to write? Why couldn’t you have been satisfied with some nice safe salaried career? Why did you have to pick a life where there are so many others ahead of you already? Why are you like this?????
And the aftermath of that explosion is your battered, anguished, inconsolable mind.
Now it’s very easy to say ‘then don’t think like that’. If only we could execute things by the simple act of mentioning them, life would be so much easier. Alas, we must learn things the hard way here as in all spheres of life.
So how do you overcome this identity crisis soon enough and completely enough to move on?
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I believe in the importance of riding out your negative feelings. To immediately try and think of solutions or force yourself to ‘be positive’ is to deny yourself the chance to understand the exact length and breadth of what you’re going through – which in turn will make it harder to think of concrete solutions rather than general feel-good fixes. Instead, take some time out, go to a quiet place, make yourself comfortable and feel. Switch all judgement off and allow yourself to feel as low and negative as you want. Tell yourself that you’ll never be a writer, dwell on missed opportunities or bad experiences in your past, write “I hate myself” over and over on a piece of paper – do whatever you want to do, as long as it’s not dangerous (and by dangerous I mean anything upwards of binge-eating).
But here’s the trick – allow yourself only a fixed amount of time to be negative. It could be half an hour, it could be one hour, it could be two hours, that depends on you. But you’re only allowed to feel your feelings for that specific interval of time. Not one second more.
Once you’ve ridden out your designated ‘negative time’, you’ll feel calmer, if not exactly better. And now’s the time to think of the way forward. Yes, the life of a writer is hard. But since you’ve chosen this life for yourself, why not spend less time wishing you hadn’t and more time making the most of it? Chances are there used to be a time when you’d long with all your heart for the opportunity to write fiction. Well, you have that now. You’re following your passion, just like you promised yourself you would. You’re a writer – a writer of fiction, potentially a very good one. You’ve started out on a tremendously exciting new journey because you were brave enough and passionate enough to do so. That’s something to be proud of, not grumble about. Plus, all those great writers you admire? They started out just like you did – nervous, unschooled and unsure of their own abilities. They weren’t born with Nobel Prizes to their names. Why fret over the selves they became after years and years of hard work when you could be putting in those years towards your own writing?
It’s the same for me. I only recently started writing fiction full-time after three years of dabbling with a business career. On paper it’s my dream, but in reality I have those self-hatred moments as often as anyone. It’s so important to keep reminding myself to be grateful for this chance I’ve been given. Yes, gratitude is infinitely easier to talk about than to practise, but as my boyfriend says, it’s when it’s the hardest that it’s the most important. So I do it, imperfectly and with gnashed teeth, but I do it. I work on myself until I can feel grateful and positive again. And then I get back to writing the hopeful, amateurish prose that might someday be polished enough to get me that recognition I want. But it’s a long way till there, as it is for everyone. The trick is to learn, over time, how to enjoy the journey. Preachy much? Unfortunately the sermons do often get it right. I used to think all this gratitude and keep-going business was hot air, but I learnt the hard way that that’s really the only sustainable way to live. The life of a writer is a tough one, an uncertain one. What you need more than anything else is conviction, and that won’t come from hating yourself for being a writer.
(Oh, and all those books about self-hatred being a crucial part of understanding yourself? Read them for interest and for picking up craft tips, but do not be swayed by their precepts. There’s some very depressing literature out there, written by very troubled young people living through times of enormous upheaval, and at a certain stage those seem like Bibles to swear by, but don’t. Just, don’t. Self-hatred is perhaps the least poetic thing in the world. Believe me – I went through two years of it myself, and I do not wish to ever go back again.)
One of the opposites of self-hatred is self-love, and there are as many ways to practise it as there are people on this planet. I could write a post about it later, but for now I’d like to hear your take on it. Do you take lengthy bubble baths? Do you eat an entire tub of ice-cream? Do you volunteer at cat rescue shelters? Drop a comment below.