Get A New Story: The Voice of Doubt Is Not Truth

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As a coach who works with writers and creatives worldwide, I’ve yet to meet a writer who isn’t hard on themselves at some point or another: questioning, doubting, and wondering about the quality of their work, their ability to succeed, the possibility they might fail, and more.

While each of these writers thinks they are alone in their doubts, I submit to you that it is normal, and that if the voice of doubt or fear isn’t coming up for you, you may not be working at your creative edge.

Learning means being outside your comfort zone

As Brian Johnson, creator of the Philosopher’s Notespoints out, “Learning and mastery is all about engaging in activities that challenge us and move us out of our comfort zone — not *so* much that we’re out of control, but enough so that we’re stretching as we master a new skill.”

He quotes Daniel Coyle from The Talent Code as well, who says, “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways — operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes — makes you smarter. Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them — as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go — end up making you swift and graceful without you realizing it.”

It’s a shame so many of us hesitate when it comes to doing this kind of deep practice, because we expect ourselves to be perfect straight of the gate, the minute we put our fingers to keyboard. (No wonder so many writers procrastinate, right?)

What if we approach writing a different way?

What if we think, “This is hard, I must be learning”?

I think we naturally doubt when we push ourselves creatively, and it’s up to each of us to find the balance between keeping the doubts in check without holding back our writing. Read on for a suggestion about how to do that.

Change the conversation about your writing

Part of changing the way you approach your writing is about changing the conversation you have in your head about it. In my Writer’s Circle, every day I ask my writers to note what negative thoughts came up and to write a simple (believable) reframe of each one. It’s a refreshing way of clearing out the crud, the old programming, the limiting beliefs, and the self-doubt, and making more room for inspiration and creativity.

When you train your brain to realize that the limiting way you’re thinking about your work is not the truth, you up your game and your ability to do better.

A tool you can use

Here’s a tool you can use to change the conversation you’re having about your writing.

Whenever you notice a limiting thought, jot it down. At the end of your writing session (or before, if you’re having trouble getting started), ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it true?
  • Does it support me to have this thought?
  • Who would I be without this thought?
  • What’s a new more supportive, believable* thought I can choose instead?

(And by the way, write this all down, it makes amazing shifts in your thought-process to see it in black and white, because it gives you a perspective you’re otherwise lacking when the negative thinking is going around and around in the spin cycle of your brain.)

Let’s look at an example:

A niggling thought that comes up for people frequently is: This isn’t good enough.

So let’s put that thought to the test:

  • Is it true? Maybe.
  • Does it support me to have this thought? No, not really.
  • Who would I be without this thought? I would be someone who persevered and did everything she could to make her writing the best she could.
  • What’s a new more supportive, believable* thought I can choose instead? I’m committed to making my writing the best it can possibly be.

* Make sure you choose an alternate statement that is not simply the inverse of the limiting thought or a positive affirmation you *think* you *should* have. Instead, look for something you can get behind and believe in.

Give it a try

This week only, through Friday, September 28th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, if you’d like to give this a try with me, I invite you to post in the comments a limiting thought you’ve been having about your writing. I’ll be standing by to help you reframe it, though I encourage you to give it a try on your own first. Feel free to be anonymous if you like. I look forward to hearing from you.

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7 thoughts on “Get A New Story: The Voice of Doubt Is Not Truth

  1. Pingback: Summer-Spiration & Showing Up | Kim Koning | The Official Website

  2. Jenna Avery

    Hi Ed, Thanks for the note! You’re right, the questions are similar. I’ve evolved mine over time out of work I’ve done with other coaches that must have worked with her. Isn’t it fun how this kind of great stuff can trickle down? I’ll explore more of Byron Katie’s materials.

  3. Jenna AveryJennaAvery Post author

    Patrick, Thank you so much for sharing that Ira Glass quote. I’m particularly fond of it. These two links are favorites as well:
    http://www.heywhipple.com/2011/09/23/way-cool-video-from-ira-glass/, vimeo.com/24715531, featuring the same quote.

    Great job reframing that limiting thought too. And you are DEFINITELY not alone.

    One other thought for you is to question what you’re thinking of as failure. Is it really “failure” or is it all just learning?

    Thomas Edison is a great example of this: Although reports differ on the exact number of times he “failed” when he attempted to make a light bulb, there is agreement on one thing. He made so many attempts that most of us would have given up long before he did. His take on the situation was to say that he had not failed, but rather proven that all those other methods did not work.

    Thanks for posting!

  4. Jenna AveryJennaAvery Post author

    Jeanean, Thanks for taking me up on this.

    Let’s see, here’s what I’d play with for the limiting doubts you mentioned (and if this doesn’t resonate for you, tweak them or adjust as needed. I can’t know exactly how these thoughts play out for you without talking to you personally, but this may be a good start).

    1) If it was a good idea someone else would have used this angle already.

    * Is this true? –>Probably not.
    * Does it serve you to have this thought? –> No.
    * Who would you be without this thought? –> Someone who took her ideas seriously and gave herself a chance to develop them.
    * What’s a new more supportive, believable thought you could choose instead? How about: “My ideas deserve my attention, trust, and the opportunity to grow into what they are meant to be.”

    A side note: There’s a school of thought that says that there’s nothing new under the sun — there are no new ideas — and that it’s our job to come up with a fresh take on things. This means there’s always an opportunity for a fresh take.

    Similarly, even if someone else comes up with the exact angle that you’re considering, your voice, your writing, and your work will result in a unique execution of that idea. And until you create that execution of the idea, it doesn’t exist.

    Furthermore, I believe that if you’ve been given the idea, it’s your job — you owe the idea — to do the very best you can to develop to the best possible level you can (see also my article on Rewrites and the quote from Chris Soth: http://www.scriptmag.com/features/columns/get-a-new-story-adjust-your-attitude-about-rewrites).

    2) This is derivative it sounds like (name a writer or director of the moment’s) work.

    For this one, I would start with something like, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

    I also like to think of derivative lines as placeholders. (Same with clichés.) Sometimes the first line that pops into our heads WILL come from someone else’s work. And it’s a great tool to use it as something to put there, holding the spot in your script, until your fresh twist / take emerges, something that won’t happen until you’ve given your script the work it deserves.

    * Is this true? –> Maybe.
    * Does it serve you to have this thought? –> No.
    * Who would you be without this thought? –> Someone who valued and respected her sources of inspiration and built on the foundation they have laid.
    * What’s a new more supportive, believable thought you could choose instead? Perhaps: “I can build quality, original work on the foundations of my predecessors.”

    3) The idea is stupid and everyone will laugh.

    Is this true? –> Maybe.
    Does it serve you to have this thought? –> No.
    Who would you be without this thought? –> Someone who trusted her ideas and gave them the chance to develop into something brilliant.
    What’s a new more supportive, believable thought you could choose instead? “I see my ideas through to discover what they are capable of becoming.”

    Long answer! I hope this was helpful to you, Jeanean, and gives you a starting place to start shifting those tricky demons. Thanks again for playing with me!

  5. Patrick Mahon

    Negative thought: I’m doomed to failure before I even start.

    Positive response: It’s a blank page. You make of it what you *will*.

    Thank you for this article Jenna.

    It really helps to get this positive encouragement when having self-doubts about my output and ability. Comforting to know, I’m not the only one. In fact there is some validation right there 😀

    Also I don’t know if you’re familiar with the attached Ira Glass quote about starting out and the frustration of producing work that is inferior to your expectations.

    But needing to learn to relax and realize it is all part of the learning process. (I found it very helpful):

    http://infochachkie.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Ira-Glass-Quote.jpg

  6. Jeanean

    I have two limiting doubts that seem to persist that I fight against constantly.
    1)If it was a good idea someone else would have used this angle already.
    2)This is derivative it sounds like (name a writer or director of the moment’s)work.

    Bonus thought: The idea is stupid and everyone will laugh.

    Jeanean

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