|By Mayur Gala, via Unsplash|
Yes, today we are talking about relationships – and this relationship is one that you might even wince at the idea of nurturing, if you’re someone like me. We’re talking about you, and your relationship with you.
It sounds complicated already, right?
The thing is, no one is really exaggerating when they say how hard it is to “love yourself”. If you’re like me, it conjures up pictures of arrogantly phrased queries, or possibly Steven Moffat. (If this is happening to you, please look up what happens when you are Steven Moffat – and sincerely repent.)
After all, you cannot truly love yourself without thinking you are totally The One and Only, the Savior, the Boy Who Lived –
Wait. That title’s already taken. Never mind.
In any case, this didn’t really hit home to me until last year. Ah, 2013. A trainwreck of teary drafts, erased words and flawed outlines. As I struggled with the book of my heart, side-stepping the reality that I might have to temporarily shelve it in the name of a well-needed break for my own mental health, it was all too easy to start blaming myself for things not coming together.
I wasn’t writing fast enough – or, I was writing too fast and none of the action was making sense. The characters didn’t like me enough to share all their deep, dark recessive secrets. I just wasn’t cut out for this writing business.
I mean, look at me. I’m hardly photogenic, and I doubt I could sign for more than two minutes without developing carpal tunnel. Is that a new wrinkle on my finger? It was obviously a sign from the universe I’d previously been ignoring.
Et cetera, et cetera.
At one point, after receiving a pep talk from one of my patient and devoted critique partners, I sat down and tried to write a love list – but not about my characters, or the draft that was giving me so much angst to get through.
I tried to write what I loved about myself as a writer.
And – get this – I only could get through one line before I put my head in my hands.
I think that sometimes, we’re scared to love ourselves. It’s much too easier, too trained into us, to beat ourselves up for everything we do wrong. When you love yourself, it means that you accept everything you are, even the parts you might think are flawed.
And I didn’t realize until I tried to write it down, how hard it is to treat yourself the way you would your best friend.
But take heart: there is no reason why this relationship will completely split apart. You are you, for better and for worse. You have your days when you look in the mirror and feel like if your bags under your eyes get any bigger, they’ll be suitcases…and then there are days when you smile at yourself (possibly with toothpaste foaming over your chin, but no one’s perfect, guys) and think, “Hey, I’m not bad at all!”
Like any other interaction, you have to take it one day at a time – and, I’m going to stress on the things that really help me and I find important to keep yourself in the game:
- Eyes on your own paper. And I know, this is so very hard. I recently banned myself from looking at agent profiles, since I’m still approximately a few months away from being completely query-ready, because it was extremely frustrating to see other writers – some of whom I know, and who started drafting around the same time as me – putting themselves out there, or even being signed, while I was still here swilling another cup of tea and checking Twitter.
Looking at those requests and fulls and R&Rs, I felt totally useless – but I wasn’t just drinking tea and checking Twitter. I was getting my words down, I was making note of things I needed to know, classes I might be able to fit into my budget. You are not the sum of your social media interactions. You are the sum of what you put down on your paper, and believe me, I’m sure there’s better stuff in there than what you expect.
So keep your eyes on your paper, and don’t cringe when the timer sounds off and it looks like the girl beside you has written a complete novel compared to your prim and proper paragraph. This actually happened to me, during the dreaded year of the SAT and the dreaded essay section. Oh, it was a struggle to keep my eyes on my own paper and not off her pen as it went off the lines and into the margins. But I did it.
- Don’t go it alone. Writing is, at heart, a solitary business. There is no one else who will put your words and ideas down on paper, except you. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be islands entire of ourselves.
2013 might have been the year that my writing self-esteem went through more ups and downs than a corporate sales graph – but it was also my year to find my support team. Without my critique partners, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the courage or belief in myself to even approach that draft from the seventh circle of Hades with a nine-foot-pole ever again.
You are the only expert on what you write and how you write it. That much is true. But it is also true that you need fresh eyes that love you and your work to tell you when it really needs to be fixed, and when pushing that delete button can actually be career suicide.
They can’t make you love yourself. But their viewpoint can be a good thing.
- Gather up your testimonials. There are people out there who think you are cool – and some of those people are people that you admire. Bizarre, right? But the truth is, there are times when someone gives us a compliment and it simply goes in one ear and out the other.
As a personal example, I was talking to my critique partner once and remarked on how I’d gotten to meet a lovely author I admired at a local festival. During the course of our personal conversation, I described my current work-in-progress to the author, and she said in response that it sounded like an amazing concept, and if anyone had the right amount of passion and skill to bring it to paper, it was me. (I know. I still get thrilled over it when I think about it.)
At this, my critique partner interjected with, “Really? What a testimonial! You should type that up and put it somewhere where you can see it!” (She really knows my amount of crazy, and how I need reminders that I’m not just faking this writer thing. This is why you need a good critique partner on your side, guys.)
And so, that got me thinking. We devote whole notebooks to our plots, our character developments and articles that got us inspired to write – why don’t we add compliments to it? I’ve been meaning for a long while to write what I personally called the “Good Words Binder”.
In it, I’m planning to put print-outs of e-mails where my critique partners were particularly proud of me, remarks other writers made that filled me with confidence…pretty much, moments when someone saw my work and something deeper in it than I can see sometimes myself. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a boost of how great you are – especially when it’s all true and not just from your next-door neighbor.
- Don’t be afraid to make your own writing process. Writing advice is wonderful – and sometimes, it is coming out of your ears. On one hand, it is amazing that the writing community has so many blogs and Twitter accounts and sites you can follow and reblog and bookmark for future reference. But, there are also some points when you need to shut that all out and focus on yourself.
There is nothing wrong with you. Or your writing process.
I used to take all advice completely to heart, and in some ways, I still do. Several authors told me that outlining was an evil. I cut it out completely. My draft suffered. Another author told me to approach my draft only with a completely furnished outline down to every detail. I did as she told me. My draft suffered.
Recently, I’ve been trying to make my own blend of writing steps. I draft. I sometimes outline. I sometimes beat sheet. Sometimes, I just write a summary of what I want to achieve in a draft and try to stick to it.
You can be a plotter, or a pantser. You can be neither, or a blend of both. There is nothing wrong with you. Every writer has their own way that works. If someone else’s process doesn’t work for you, don’t waste time trying to cut yourself into that square, or hate yourself or it. Move on, keep experimenting, and believe in your own mind.
Remember my SAT test story? After the dust had cleared and the damage was being counted up (read: we had to submit the test papers, once and for all), I had to steer around the novel girl to leave the room. She was complaining to a friend about how she wasn’t sure what she’d actually get when the scores were returned.
“I was winging it, at the end, really. Just making things up.”
And if you must know, I heard the exact same thing at the end of the English APs. Who has time to remember what happened in Jane Eyre, anyway? But I did. Because I kept my eyes on my own paper.
My best friend has this saying she likes to say to me when I’m in major “I hate my writing” mode: “Change the guards of your mind. They should be letting more pleasant things in.”
Changing the guards could mean an in-depth conversation with your critique partner. It could mean unplugging from the Internet entirely and reading a book, or talking to someone who loves you and can tell you that your face is no fatter than usual, and really, you are such a lovely person, you need to take a deep breath and just love yourself a bit more.
Changing the guards means looking at yourself the way you would at a loved one, or a younger sibling. It means gently drying your tears, not feeling guilty about having to go to the coffee shop if that means writing better, or eating half a carton of Ben and Jerry’s while watching the new season of Sherlock.
It means taking that time to nuture your relationship, and not beat yourself over taking that time out. It’s what you’d do for anyone else, right? Why not yourself?
You’re a rocking writer. And you deserve a little love.
(Also, as a mini epilogue to the SAT story? I don’t know what novel girl got, but I was pretty pleased with my own score. Eyes on your own paper, fingers at your own pace. You might just find that you’re happy with what you do at the end of it.)
Hebah Uddin is a twenty-something Muslim girl who reads a lot of books, and wears a lot of (figurative) hats. Currently, those hats include book blogger, staff writer for online YA magazine YA Interrobang, and intern for Pooja Menon of Kimberly Cameron and Associates. When she’s not reading, she writes about dark worlds, high stakes and tough, wounded girls who carve out their own happily ever afters.
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