Today a tradesmen came to do the front door to replace the broken lock on our door. That’s right, burglars, don’t even bother trying. We’re Fort Knox, baby.
But he came to the door and my brain immediately thought, Aaaargh I forgot you were coming today. The place is a mess and I haven’t even vacuumed yet.
He was there less than half an hour to do the job and we’ll never see him again, and why would he even care what our place looks like? Gosh, what a waste of mental energy it was to stress about it.
It led me to wonder, if I’m letting my poor brain stress out this much – even momentarily – over what a total stranger thinks of me in a non-creative situation, how much am I stressing my brain out about what readers are going to think about what I write?
Have I been writing a terrible novel because I’m worried that readers aren’t going to get it?
Then I read this post by Tim Urban today and just laughed because it explains everything. It’s called ‘Taming the Mammoth: Why you should stop caring what other people think’.
Tim writes that there is a Social Survival Mammoth in your brain who is constantly reminding you to be afraid of what other people think. The mammoth is terribly – and usually irrationally – afraid that any action you make will get you kicked out of the tribe so you have to wander the wilderness alone together forever.
Tim Urban’s point is mostly about how to make sure that you do what you want to do and not just what everyone around you is doing, or what your mammoth has convinced you is the ‘accepted’ thing to do. He says that we need to discover our Authentic Voice so we can ‘be ourselves’.
It seems to me like this is even more important for us creators to get.
When you’re creating something new and inventive and different, you need to create first and foremost for yourself. If you want other people to like it, then the time to do that work is in the editing process, when you have an editor helping you to read it like someone else would. The time to freak out about other people is not when you’re writing.
The things where your mammoth tries to stop you doing things are usually things that you really care about. Things like what you’re creating.
How do I know if I’m writing for other people and not myself?
It’s not writing for other people if you’re writing like other people. Don’t be afraid to imitate other’s writing styles in order to find your own. In the Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables), Emily tries out different styles of writing and her teacher Mr Carpenter approves that action. But he tempers that by advising her to cut out the ‘flowery’ bits and stick to the bones of her story.
P.S. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE the Emily series? GOSH, so much love.
It’s not writing for others if you think about what you’re writing. The other night I stopped writing a scene halfway through because I was bored writing it, and I knew people would get bored reading it. That’s an example of a useful writing / self-editing balance. I don’t need to waste my time finishing the scene. But it was useful for me to start writing the scene, so that I knew it wasn’t going to work.
All of this ties into our deepest needs for love and acceptance.
And I really want you to feel loved and accepted.
But your mammoth is never going to be 100% pleased with your accomplishments and how other people see them.
So it’s time to stop trying to please the mammoth (and other people) and start creating something real and authentic.
If your mammoth is constantly winning the battle, there are tons of different ways to slow him down.
You could try some cognitive behavioural therapy. If the mammoth is criticising your work, you might want to ask him why he’s so scared and tell him all the rational reasons why he doesn’t need to be scared.
You could try some acceptance commitment therapy. Tell yourself you love writing and you love your work, and you can keep writing even if you’re afraid that you’re writing a load of rubbish.
You could even try getting aggressively confident. Next time you hear him whisper, “Not good enough. You should write something more conservative. Or just stop writing.”, sock him one and shout back, “Actually it’s unbelievably awesome. Leave me alone.” I’m not saying punch the mammoth out every time he suggests that you act socially appropriate. For example, please still obey the mammoth’s urge to wear clothing in public. But you don’t need to listen to everything the mammoth says. Use with caution: The mammoth is part of you so when you knock the mammoth down, it’s hard to avoid not knocking yourself down with him.
As Tim Urban says, “It’s not realistic to kick the mammoth entirely out of your head—you’re a human and humans have mammoths in their head, period.” But we can all learn to tame the mammoth.
What would you create if you weren’t afraid of what anyone would think?
This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2015. Re-blogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.