Occasionally when I’m writing, I run into a mental roadblock. It starts innocently enough: what’s the point here, why am I writing this, what do I want the reader to gain from this? This is common for writers or creators of any type, and it’s healthy. It helps us stay relevant.
But I’m also a master of finding the unhealthy. This line of thought frequently warps in my mind, becoming: why am I trying, this is crap, I am crap (except worse because I can’t be flushed down a toilet), no one wants to read this, none of this is important, I have nothing important to say, it would be offensive to ask someone to read this because I am not worth any amount of time from anyone, I am worthless.
Besides being a writer, I’m the worlds foremost expert on precisely just how much I suck. I compare my work to the work of others in unforgiving death matches that lead to me lying on the couch staring into space trying to justify to myself why I should continue living. I don’t know why I go through this, or why I can’t stop it, but it’s a something I deal with daily. I compulsively read CVs and Wikipedia articles and interviews with writers and creators that I love, trying to figure out the formula to their success—of course, I do this instead of writing.
They always have interesting lives. They’re high achievers, they overcame steep obstacles, they have some interesting life quality that gives them the perspective they’re famous for. I don’t see this in myself. My life’s not interesting, I live it and I’m bored with it, so I must not be important or interesting in any way. Pretty much everyone’s life can be interesting when distilled to a CV, or a Wikipedia page, or an interview. But mine wouldn’t be, even if I were important or interesting enough to have a Wikipedia page. I’m a piece of garbage and no one cares about me.
This voice in my head breaks down under scrutiny. For starters, it’s only triggered when I try to write, which is something I care about more than anything in the world. I’ve never contemplated suicide after over-cooking my spaghetti noodles so I know I have an off-switch somewhere. It’s also very easy to argue with: am I really producing crap? Probably not, and it’s disingenuous to compare my tweets to King Lear. Am I really a piece of garbage? I mean, I guess I might have value as a person that isn’t dependent on my writing. Am I really a failure? No, not really. Most of the time, I’m so afraid to fail I stop myself from even trying.
Despite knowing the counterarguments, on some level I still believe the things my inner voice tells me about myself. If the key to succeeding as a writer is working hard and being fearless, it feels more comfortable to have control over my own failure than leave it up to chance. So I’ll verbally abuse myself into stagnation before I allow myself to earnestly try. Every success is cast off as chance and every failure, no matter how small or imagined, is held up as the emblem of Truth. My own mind is the biggest obstacle to me. Even now, I’m fighting the urge to throw my computer into the path of an oncoming train rather than finish writing this essay. Every word is a grapple with my emotional center, which is setting off fireworks inside my head and screaming no one cares, stop writing, don’t even try because no one cares, you will never be successful at anything because you’re not worth it. Self-doubt is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In dark moments with thoughts like these, when the voice wins and I stop writing and curl into a ball on my couch, sobbing at the injustice of my own self-hatred, I wonder if my heroes ever felt this way. I wonder if Shakespeare contemplated killing himself because he thought Macbeth was just that offensively bad, how many times F. Scott Fitzgerald burned manuscripts of The Great Gatsby and vowed to never write again, or if Lin-Manuel Miranda ever looked up from his computer while writing Hamilton and asked himself why he was even trying. I don’t know the answer, but somehow my heroes were able to overcome and if I really want to be like them I suppose I’ll have to find a way also.
Carly is a writer from Indiana. You can follow her on Twitter @neutronsoup