Unless you have the world’s biggest ego, you’ve probably suffered at one point or another from an onslaught of anti-mantras. You might have mistaken it for being honest with yourself about where you are and how much time and work you’re going to have to invest in order to get where you hope you’re going, wondering if that’s even possible. In fact, it’s much more likely to be a lie, the devil on you left shoulder simply drowning out the angel on your right.
Tell me if any of these sound familiar.
Maybe I’m Not Good Enough
Writers often have knock back after knock back. Submissions to publishers are met with rejections and sometimes even just total silence. Submissions to competitions end in someone else winning. Self-published efforts receive poor sales or, worse, poor reviews. All of these things, one on top of the other, plant a seed in writers’ minds and then water it until it grows and strangles the self-belief that we might once have had.
But the quality of our writing very rarely has anything to do with getting published and getting read and more to do with getting in front of the right people and then teaming up with a good marketer.
The other little acknowledged truth is that those involved in the creative arts generally only get better. So even if you aren’t good enough yet, you might be one day if you keep going, if you keep practising and keep refining your skill and technique.
So abandon this anti-mantra and turn it into this instead: I improve every day.
Clearly They’re Better Than Me
If there is any field where comparison is pointless, it’s the creative arts. Writing, painting, music, acting, sculpture, dancing. Personal enjoyment of the contribution of others in these areas is extremely subjective. My two Goodreads ratings are a case in point. One one star rating and one five star rating. So comparing yourself and your output with that of others won’t achieve anything. And trying to be something other than what you are tends to produce strange results, like people wondering if you’re “trying too hard”.
What you can do is use the books, paintings, performances, songs and dances of others to learn. Not to copy them. Because there’s no point being the same as anyone else. But to understand their approach and figure out whether it might be helpful to the way you write, paint, compose, act, sculpt and dance.
So abandon this anti-mantra and turn it into this instead: Clearly I’m different and that’s even better.
I’m Not Ready Yet
Upon receiving an email from one of the judges of the Ampersand Project declaring she had read and enjoyed my book, my first thought wasn’t, “Yay!” or “Holy hell!” or “About time!” My first reaction was, “I’m not ready yet.” I was scared and I wanted… well, I don’t know what I wanted but I almost convinced myself in that moment that I didn’t really want to be a published author. I didn’t want to lose the control that a lack of success allows. I didn’t want to do public appearances and radio interviews and book signings and get fan mail and be recognised by strangers when I go to the supermarket in my tracksuit pants. I didn’t want to do anything other than what I was already doing: stay at home and write in anonymity.
The thing about opportunities is that they often look a lot like challenges. They usually exist outside our comfort zones. You’ve done a lot of hard work to get an opportunity and rather than being able to sit back and relax, opportunities generally require even more hard work, sometimes more hard work than you’ve ever had to put in before.
Nobody is ever really ready for an opportunity when it finally lands in their lap. No matter how long you’ve been working towards it, it is still almost always a surprise when it does arrive. The difference between those who grab opportunities when they appear and those who don’t is that they get ready quick smart.
Besides, haven’t you wanted to be a writer, deep down, pretty much all your life? Hasn’t everything up until this point in your life been to get you ready for exactly what it is you want?
So abandon this anti-mantra and turn it into this instead: I was born for this.
What are your anti-mantras? And what are the mottos for writing success you have turned them into?
*First published in Project December: A Book about Writing