Friday, December 16, 2011

Deja Vu Blogfest: Cognitive Therapy for Writers

Today is the Deja Vu Blogfest! Hosted by DL Hammons, Lydia Kang, Nicole Ducleroir, and Katie Mills (Creepy Query Girl), this one's all about a post-gone-by. Here's mine. I originally posted it about a year ago, near the end of December. It was actually the second in a two-post series called "Cognitive Therapy for Writers." The first is here. This one's all about how to conquer those thoughts that get you down ...


Raaaawr! All right. So, we've established that everyone has a Sneaky Brain, the part of you that whispers all sorts of nasty things that make you feel bad.

 You know, like:
  • If I don't get an agent or get published, I freaking suck as a writer.
  • Because that agent/editor rejected me, I am a failure.
  • I got a few rejections this week/today/in the last hour, so that means no one will ever want to represent/publish me.
  • I wrote one book/chapter/page/sentence, and now I can't think of what to write next. I've run out of words FOREVAH!!!!! AAAAAAH!!!!!!!
Let's pause right here and acknowledge that not everyone who writes is going to end up a published author. That's the way it is. Language is powerful, but it can be difficult to wield. The art of storytelling adds another level of difficulty. And then there's marketability ... whoa.

SO, taking into account that I, or you, might be among those who reach as far as we can but still can't close our hands around that elusive prize, how do we keep feeling OK? How do we keep our Sneaky Brains from sapping us of whatever talent and energy and creativity we have? How do we stay on track and keep writing, keep telling the stories we want to tell?

We all have Smart Brains, too. We should use them.

Don't be afraid to fight dirty.

 1. Recognize those sneaky thoughts. Listen hard. You have to HEAR and recognize what Sneaky's saying, because those thoughts can become pretty automatic over time, meaning you stop hearing them and just skip straight to the drinking-Wild-Turkey part of the equation. Don't. Listen. What do you hear?

If you hear any of the following words, perk up and slap on those boxing gloves:
ALWAYS
NEVER
SHOULD
ONLY
FOREVER

If you find yourself thinking "sure, I had some success a year/month/day/hour ago, but THAT DOESN'T COUNT ... ", do some pushups, man, because you've got some work to do.

Or if you hear "since she rejected me, that means EVERYONE will", strap on some brass knuckles. You've got a fight on your hands.

After you've recognized what the Sneaky Brain is saying ...

Just like this dude.
But probably not as ripped.

2. Recognize Sneaky as a bully. Sure, it's inside your brain, but that don't mean it speaks the truth. When I work with kids, we "externalize the problem". Picture me (see stick figure above) talking in funny voices with puppets strapped on my 18-inch fingers.

 OK, don't. Instead, picture Sneaky sitting in front of you--and see what a liar it is. Those things it's whispering are a one-way ticket to depression. Despair. Giving up. What right does it have to do that to you? What right does ANYONE HAVE TO DO THAT TO YOU?!? I don't care if the bully resides between your ears. It's still a bully.

Once you recognize that:

3. Confront the bully and talk back to it. Logic is not its friend. If someone's done something to upset you, like they rejected you or gave you a bit of harsh feedback, and your Sneaky Brain is saying "it's because they hate your writing and think you're a tool", use your Smart Brain to say, "Really? 'Cuz
  1. they only read a tiny sample of my writing--or only a query, or
  2. they had some nice things to say, too, or
  3. I got a request/compliment, etc. from this same person/similarly skilled person(s) before, or
  4. they probably spent a total of 60 seconds looking at it because they had 300 other queries waiting, or
  5. the idea probably just didn't float their boat, but it could float other boats ...
You get the point. Use your Smart Brain to be ... smart? Use logic. Be a skeptic. If the Sneaky Brain says you're a failure because you got one rejection, I mean, WTF? Really? How many agents and editors are out there?

If it says "you should have an agent by now" or "you always mess this up" or "you will never ..." Oh, geez. What does it know? This process is frustrating enough without Sneaky going to illogical extremes. Use your Smart Brain to question how the things it says could possibly be true. If you can't, that just means your Smart Brain's out of shape, NOT that Sneaky speaks the truth.

And if it whispers "the only way to be successful and happy is to get published," your Smart Brain should be screaming, "I am more than a writer. And there are many kinds of writers. And I write for many reasons. And sometimes, the end result isn't what it's about. Sometimes, it's the JOURNEY." Then, maybe toss out some obscene hand gestures for good measure. Stupid Sneaky Brain. Gut it with a spoon, my friends. That's what it deserves.

You don't have to be the only one who talks back to Sneaky. I'll bet you have friends or family or beta-readers or intriguing-strangers-you-meet-in-a-coffee-shop who can help you. Listen to their encouragement and don't discount it. But know this: no voice will ever pack a punch as powerful as your own Smart Brain.

So ... confession time. I'll be going on submission sometime in the new year*. And you know what? I'm going to be using every single one of these strategies every single day to stay calm and sane and happy. I know it won't always be easy. I know my Smart Brain won't win every round. BUT, I also know my Smart Brain is pretty damn smart. No matter what happens, I'm going to be OK. I'm going to be successful. And I'm going to define what that means for myself--I won't let anyone, including my own Sneaky Brain, define it for me.

That shapeless lump is my vanquished Sneaky Brain.

What about you? What challenge are you facing now? What's that Sneaky Brain telling you? And just how do you plan to kick its a$$??

*HEY! Guess what? I lived through it! Sane (for the most part)! And still happy, still writing, still looking forward to whatever comes next.

75 comments:

  1. I hate the sneaky brain! I'm pulling out my bloxing gloves right now!

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  2. OH GOSH, how did you know?!?
    Sneaky Brain is saying ... you haven't heard from your editor yet and your Delivery Date is only three months away. You'll never make your deadline, and the editor has probably lost interest in the project anyway.

    I think I'm going to skip all the steps above and go straight for the rude hand gesture. Up Yours, Sneaky Brain.

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  3. it's a constant battle. Sometime sneaky brain gets the heads up but I'm thankful in that my smart brain isn't usually far behind. And smart brain has made a coat of armor made up of pragmatism and realistic goals. Great post!

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  4. Great post! Don't we all have moments like that?

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  5. Great post! I think we all have the capacity to be our own worst critics, which, in my mind, is better than being an unmitigated egotist, convinced of our own writing superiority. (Like some of those misguided screechers who try out for "American Idol.") I maintain my sanity by not tying my entire self-worth to the goal of being published. Not exactly lowering my expectations, but trying to be pragmatic about them. That doesn't shut up the darned Sneaky Brain entirely, but it does take away some of its power.

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  6. This was a great post. I loved the sneaky brain warning. Mine is telling me no one will like my debut novel, The Curse of Gremdon. It's funny how each step of this process can be intimidating.

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  7. You offer some great tips here and I think today, I'm going to go shopping for some boxing gloves that fit!

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  8. This was an excellent post...well worth re-posting! I need to embrace my inner-Spock more often. Logic is our friend! :)

    Thank you for taking part in our blogfest and making today so special!! :)

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  9. It was great advice then, and it's great advice now.

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  10. This is a great post! That sneaky brain can be a terrible companion.

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  11. My sneaky brain is a maniacal genius. It knows all my counter tactics. :P

    Really good repost. Some stuff I definitely needed to hear.

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  12. Smart Brain just borrowed my son's boxing gloves and knocked out Sneaky Brain. Yay!!!!!

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  13. Very good post. Your advice can go a long way, and it's a way of thinking that I think we all fall into at one point or another. It's easy to do so. But I'm ready to fight back that Sneeky Bully if he ever shows up again!

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  14. wonderful post!

    I'm a new follower from the DejaVu Blogfest. Nice to meet you!

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  15. Hi Sarah! I'm visiting by way of Deja Vu, and I'm so glad I did! Great post!

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  16. I love the idea of fighting that fear! You gave me some great images :)

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  17. So sneaky, that voice. This is a wonderful post, Sarah, I'm glad you picked it!

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  18. Great post, Sarah, with application beyond writing. Thanks!

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  19. Wonderful post! My sneaky brain is telling me that I don't have time to finish my novel, so why bother? But you know what, sneaky brain... I'm going to make time!

    Allison (Geek Banter)

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  20. My sneaky brain tells me things like: “You know, eating the entire cake when everyone is asleep is okay. If no one sees you do it, no extra calories will be added to your waistline.” Actually, now that I have typed that, I think that has more to do with my belly than my brain. My sneaky brain is mostly silent…I think that’s my entire problem.

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  21. This is a fan-freaking-tastic post! ;)

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  22. Awesome advice!

    When doubts start lurking, I post some of my work to crit partners so that I a) can see that it isn't as bad as I think and b) know what needs work so that I can fix it and feel better about it.

    :-)

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  23. It took a while, but I found the mute button (running)! It helps to turn that part of my thought process off and just go with the flow of my little creek's (smart brain) current.

    Occasionally when Sneaky tries to stir the waters I pull over to the sandy banks and go for a long run and let the water settle down.

    Great Do-Over post!

    Jenny @ PEARSON REPORT

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  24. Confront the bully and talk back to it.

    I must do that often. Sneaky likes to pop up A LOT. Awesome re-post! Glad to meet you through the blog fest!

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  25. Hi,

    Hee hee, my best running mate is Logic, my second best friend is Smart Arse Critic, third best friend is Kick-Butt, and Tail-End-Charlie has a philosophical outlook on the outcome of the writing race: look, learn, listen, bugger the rules and enjoy the run! ;)

    Nice to meet you...

    best
    F

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  26. Sneaky Brain tries and tries, but Smart Brain sees more of the positives than the negatives and it makes life so much nicer! Nice to meet you!

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  27. Thanks for sharing...The Bully is at work from times to times and I try to let my smart brain reason with him. However, sometimes reasoning with the bully does not work and I need to teach my smart brain to stand up for itself a tad louder :-)

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  28. Hi, Sarah! Checkin' in from the Déjá Vu blogfest. :) This is an awesome post for the new year. Thanks for the encouragement and motivating words! Hope you have a great weekend!

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  29. It IS a journey and we should all enjoy the path no matter where it leads.

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  30. So enjoyed this post. I'm finally at the place where I know I'll keep writing, no matter what anyone says. And fortunately, people are saying some nice things to me right now! That always helps! Definitely following you--thanks, Deja Vu!

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  31. Sneaky is a bully. Fight back. I LIKE that. So glad you re-posted this!

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  32. This is a great post and I'm so glad I got a chance to read it!

    Yes, that Sneaky Voice is a bully and I've listened to mine way more than I ever should have. He (yes, my voice is a dude) still pops up and whispers mean things in my head all the time, but slowly, I'm getting better at ignoring him.

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  33. I'm pleased I came to your blog I really enjoyed the read. There are many bullies about as my grandson all too well know.He is getting better at dealing with it. The sneaky bully inside one is not a good emotion but it has a habit of rearing it's ugly head.

    Yvonne.

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  34. So nice to meet you, too, Sarah! Thanks for re-posting this so I could read it! Yes, I just finished being on my first round of submissions and I barely survived. I'm going to use your advice in the second round so I'm not so manic. Submission felt quite a bit different to me than querying. It was harder, but not on the surface. Since you're a psychologist, I'll trust you to figure out what I mean by that. LOL!

    Have a wonderful day!

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  35. Hi Sarah! New follower via the Deja Vu blogfest. I enjoyed your post. I have no idea what it will be like to be on submission someday, but right now, as a querying writer, I haven't been plagued too badly by sneaky thoughts. Of course, I might have to face this as I start my next novel in the coming weeks. I'll have to keep all this in mind. Thanks for the follow!

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  36. Fabulous post! I can hear my sneaky brain talking in Gollum's voice now - 'you suck, my precious...' Now I have great ways to shut him up! :)

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  37. Hi Sarah. Lovely to meet/follow you. Thanks for visiting me and following too.

    What a lovely inspirational post! I'll look out for those sneaky words. Love the boxing kangaroo too! Not Skippy though!

    Denise

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  38. SUCH a fantastic re-post! I loved every punching word of it. Thank you!

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  39. I love your "Sneaky-Brain versus Smart-Brain Extravaganza' ...
    Your phrase "Sometimes it's the JOURNEY" sums it up for me... that's how I got my blog name Writer-In-Transit! The publishing part is just like the cherry on top of the cake!!
    Thanks for this inspirational post!

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  40. Great Re-run! Like most, I fall into the "talking down to myself" rut. It isn't always easy to climb out of it, but you've offered some strategies to help. Thanks!

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  41. Hi Sara,nice to meet you. Thanks for this re-post I really needed it today. It was getting to be time for me to head over to YouTube for a listen to "Die Vampire Die". (My monthly keep me sane ritual). If you haven't already heard it,go on over and listen. Your ideas put to music.

    I'll be back.

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  42. Awesome post! Loved this, and very much what every author needs to hear :)

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  43. Awesome and very unique post!

    Thanks so much for following me, Sarah :) I recognized your name from Kathleen Ortiz's list of clients. Oddly enough, we actually had quite a few things in common. Your story is called "Suicide Gates", mine was originally called "Suicide Girl". You have a character named Malachi and I do as well! Both our stories are about the afterlife. How weird is that? Except, you're so awesome you managed to land Kathleen as an agent and my query was so bad I actually thought it KILLED her.

    Great blog. Count me in as a follower!

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  44. thanks for the boost! i needed it!
    its easy to get discouraged by your sneaky self.
    great replay!

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  45. We can be our own worst enemy or our greatest cheerleader.

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  46. Yay! Kick Sneaky Brain's butt! Never let it get you down! Thanks for the encouraging re-post!

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  47. well you have more comments than me so you must be a better writer than me. I have just, JUST, now begun to put my words out there. Am I capable of handling rejection...???? hell no, absofuctinglutely no!!! really....I'm that thin skinned, but hell I'm doing it anyway.

    really glad I found you. you're clever and sassy! and hell ya, a damn good, super talented writer!

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  48. They say (whoever they are) you believe what you tell yourself. This is a great post about how to avoid negative thoughts. Thanks for the visit!

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  49. I'm in the waiting stage. New book being released in January so I'm wrapping up a ton of loose ends so I can start the new year off on the right foot.

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  50. Oooh! I loved this! I think I will post it on my wall or something whenever I'm submitting--it is an utterly necessary reminder, and very well put. Thanks!

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  51. Yes, it is the journey, not the destination that's important. As long as I remind myself of this I'll be okay, or as you put it, I will be using my "smart brain." Great post. I really enjoyed this.

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  52. yep, I'm still in the query phases and wondering if it's worth it to keep querying the same story. That sneaky part of my brain tries to bring me down, but I pump myself back up with the knowledge that every path is different and there are many successful self-pubbers out there. Always options. :) Excellent repost!!

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  53. Great post, I think most of us have moments when 'Sneaky' seems to be getting the upper hand, thanks for reminding us we have a 'smart brain' too!

    www.hywelalyn.blogspot.com

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  54. Aw, gee! I wish I would have seen this Friday - I think I am the queen of receiving rejection, and finding a way to look at it positively. Stephany Evans sent me a rejection saying that she liked the premise of my book, but was already repping a competing title. That made my day - she read it, and liked it, and I knew I was heading in the right direction.

    Thanks for posting this, as I know we're all in the same boat!

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  55. Great post and very encouraging. In the beginning when you talked about the fear of not being able to write well or finish a manuscript ... it reminded me that recently I had a computer crash. Boom, gone. Everything. I was going through printed out work to see what I had and found a manuscript from years ago. Except it was missing a huge chunk from about 3/4ths of the way in. I had no clue what I had written and couldn't think of how to rewrite it. But I've let it sit for weeks now and am pondering. And thinking I may be able to resurrect the story. Never give up!

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  56. So glad you reposted this. It's hard not to focus on the larger goal, and not just for writing. But we do need to revel in the small accomplishments. Thanks for the reminder.

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  57. Now I want to put my Rocky gloves on. :) Thanks!!

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  58. Ahh, great post, Sarah! As always. Oh, I think sneaky brain has said all of those things to me at one time or another. Sometimes all at once. But that's usually at certain times of the month... *snort* :D

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  59. Wow, Sarah, this is fabulous. When it comes to putting ourselves on the line with our writing, and the vulnerability that comes with that, I now see how a child psychologist's approach is perfect! Sneaky Brain and Smart Brain are way more fun and functional than some grown-up analytical words about believing in ourselves. Thank you!

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  60. Oh my gosh, this is such a wonderful post!! Sneaky brain is running rampant here lately, so I am going to put the gloves on now. So glad to meet you and to discover your blog!

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  61. What a great post! I think I'm going to bookmark it in case I need a reminder. :) Sneaky Brain is kind of a PITA over here, so I'll be happy to give it a throat punch or two. Great to meet you!

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  62. This is just the sort of advice I need every now and again. It's too easy to let those doubting voices get you down. I just need to remember not to let them win. Thanks for re-posting.

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  63. Thanks for the follow, and I love this post! I'm going to follow you now too. I dig psychology in writing, art, and just in general. It's very handy to know. Helps with character development too.

    My sneaky brain has been acting up lately, and it's time I reminded it all the things I do RIGHT.

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  64. I love this post! Just came across your blog through Laura Marcella's and I'm so glad I found you :)

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  65. Great re-post. I had to confront this bully when I was querying.

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  66. A very timely pep talk Sarah. Thank you very much. I will save this to read again later; every time I need this.

    .......dhole

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  67. Oh man, that sneaky brain gets me on a daily basis not just with writing but with a lot of other insecurities too. This post is AWESEOME for writing and more than writing!

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  68. Your fingers are 18 inches long? You might want to have that looked at.

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  69. Nice, realistic and therapeutic post. What I hate about the whole query process is that it has such potential to kill the joy of writing.

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  70. Love this repost. So useful! Thank you!

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  71. This is a post that people should refer back to whenever they feel Sneaky Brain creeping in. Thanks for sharing it, and thanks for stopping by my blog during the blogfest last month!

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