Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cognitive Therapy for Writers, Part I: Depressive Cognitions from the Sneaky Brain

When I first started writing (I know it was only a year or so ago, but go with me here), I spent a few months dwelling in blissful ignorance. My loved ones all thought my book was ah-may-zing--and they are readerly types--so I thought "Whoa. Dude. I am SO going to be a published writer by next year."


Then I did a little research, sent some queries, and experienced my first taste of rejection as a writer. Notice I said "as a writer." I mean, I'd been rejected. By some colleges, a few cute guys, a handful of graduate schools ... even the National Science Foundation (I swear, that grant idea was GENIUS). But still ... I was kinda shocked and dismayed that no one wanted to read my book.


Now, being a psychologist, I know a few tricks. And thank the sweet Lord, because I needed them to keep me sane. Over the last year, I racked up my share of rejections. 
Here is my actual analysis. Swears.

So, how does a mental health professional like me cope with that kind of thing? Well, I ... analyzed my cognitions.

When I work with kids, we talk about their "Sneaky Brain". That's the part of the brain that whispers nasty, unhelpful things to them. Things that make them feel scared, sad, worthless, ugly, stupid, hopeless, helpless. We call it "sneaky" because sometimes we can't even hear it talking. Or when we do, we assume it's THE TRUTH and don't even bother questioning it.

Everybody's got a sneaky brain. What's yours saying?

Below are a few possibilities, along with the most common *official, well-researched* reactions.
  • That agent form R'd me. She must think I'm a total idiot. *crawls under desk and hides*
  • Good writers never get turned down. That must mean I suck. *rocks back and forth*
  • Another rejection ... I will never get an agent. I will never be published. Nevah. Nevah evah. *bangs head against wall a few times*
  • And IF I nevah snag an agent or get published, that means I am a failure as a writer. Total. Fail. Ure. *pulls out eyelashes one by one*
  • Oh no! Kathleen, Suzie, Victoria, Elana, Joanna, and Mandy all talk to each other! And I'll bet they're talking about how stupid my query was! *sips gin straight from the bottle*
  • A rejection! I will read it over and over and over again, every phrase, every word, every-letter-in-every-word, and I will post about it and ask about it and think about it UNTIL I FIGURE OUT WHAT EXACTLY THAT AGENT MEANT WHEN SHE SAID MY BOOK WASN'T RIGHT FOR HER LIST!!!! *contemplates voluntary admission to a psych ward*

So. Has your sneaky brain ever said anything like that to you? No? Well. Lucky you.

If it has, rejections probably stung a little deeper, hurt a little longer, made you shed a few more tears, made you question whether you should give up, made you enjoy writing a little less for a while, made you feel sad-grumpy-snappy-crappy for a day. Or two. Maybe a week. More?

These thoughts will make you feel bad, lovies. Bad. Is it natural to have them sometimes? Sure thing. Is it hard to even detect them at times? Yep--sometimes they become automatic, and we don't even realize we're thinking them. We just feel terrible. And if they dominate your thoughts--if your Sneaky Brain is on steroids--then this writing thing is going to be a painful journey for you.

Take heart, though. You have a Smart Brain, too. Next week, we'll talk about how to light a match under that sucker, put it through a fierce Eye-Of-The-Tiger inspirational training montage, and toss it into the ring with your Sneaky Son-of-A-Brain to engage in a little mortal combat.

And on that note, Happy Holidays, everyone.


  1. No "sneaky brain" here. Mine's rather blatant with "Who do you think YOU are? What makes you think you're(manuscript)so special? So, you really think you're a writer?" Ah HAH! Now I know why I use the word "so" so often. Can't wait for re-training next week.

  2. ROFLMAO!!!!!

    I hate the sneaky brain. It's crippling at times. But you know that. ;-)


  3. ooh! i definitely need a rocky montage! :) my sneaky brain is a beast! :)

  4. Heh, stupid sneaky brain. I've contemplated creating a new email account just for sending queries, so the stink of rejection doesn't seep out and pollute all my other emails.

  5. Huzzah for Smart Brain! I hope it crushes Sneaky Brain.

    Merry Holidays!

  6. Em-Musing, JD, and aspiring_x--yep, those thoughts can really keep you down. You have to know who to talk back!

    Sarah--sometimes compartmentalizing that kind of thing can be protective!

    Lola--I really love the word "Huzzah." Love. It.

  7. Hahahaha! Um, yeah, my brain tells me I suck all the time, LOL! I keep hoping that'll change WHEN (not IF) I get an agent, but think that's sort of fantastical thinking--there's still so many hurdles.

    Anyway, I wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post!!!

  8. Great post - again! My Sneaky Brain quote comes directly from 'The Wedding Singer'. Yep. It's that guy in the crowd who yells, "You suck!" when George (Alexis Arquette) gets up and sings 'True' twice in a row. :P

  9. Great post, I LMAO on the Gin example. Like you, when I first began this writing thing I expected to become the next Stephen King. Well, I soon learned that was not the case. I'll spare you the long story that led to my reality check, but lets just say I grew a very, very, thick skin.