Weekly Musing: Don’t Feed the Gremlins

Gremlins. Demons. Inner critic. Trolls. Whatever you call it all writers suffer from some sort of self-doubt. That annoying, nagging voice that does nothing but kill productivity and attempts to murder creativity. I refer to mine as gremlins and I like to think of them as resembling what happens to Gizmo if you feed him after midnight or get him wet. Yeah, that’s what sits on my shoulders whispering acid into my ears and scratches at my legs and arms. I hate those things and wish I had a flamethrower to incinerate them. Yet if I did get rid of them, they’d come back like a sequel.

They come to me at all stages of writing and on days I’m struggling with finding just the right words. I’ve had them pop up as I do research. They love that stage. Jumping around questioning me about the time period, is that where I really want a character to be from, look like, and dress. They pop up during just brainstorming. Their favorite phrases are “Um, that’s your idea? That’s crap! No one wants to read that!” As I start a rough draft, they dance around second guessing word choices, the story itself (again), dialogue, and did I mention the story?

But that’s just the beginning. There have been many, many days when I have been editing my work, the time you need your inner critic, when the gremlins start becoming destructive. Their words go beyond constructive criticisms to berating my abilities and dreams. These are the most frustrating and upsetting times for me as a writer. If I can’t figure out how to contain the gremlins, things can quickly spiral downhill.

So what do I do with deal with these bastards? The first thing I try is to refer to my list of 13 Commandments. It used to be 10 then became 12 and recently ballooned to 13. I need a lot of self-reassurance. These help remind me that what I am experiencing is temporary and will go away.

If that doesn’t work, then I turn to my spouse and vent to him. Since he’s not a writer, he doesn’t quite understand why I go through these phases and as frequently as I do but he does his best to be supportive through listening. Unfortunately I can’t ever promise him this will be the last time.

And sometimes the best thing for me is to just let the gremlins come and do their thing until they tire themselves out. I don’t mean to suggest I actually listen to them. What I mean is I allow them to talk but instead of fighting back, wasting all my mental energy, they are given time before (hopefully) slinking away.

Yet even though I know all writers suffer from gremlins, demons, whatever, I still think I can somehow prevent their appearance. I’ve always had a philosophy of learn from other people’s mistakes. That hasn’t worked with my writing gremlins. I can read articles and interviews by fellow writers on how they deal. None of them have ever mentioned how to get rid of them because there is no way to get rid of them. No matter what level of personal success a writer enjoys, the gremlins are never satisfied so don’t feed them and don’t encourage their greedy appetite.