Confronting Those Negative Voices

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If you’re like me (and every other creative I know), you have a negative voice in your head that whispers ugliness to you every time you sit down to do your creative work.

I call mine the You Suck Monster. He sits on my shoulder. Sometimes I have the wherewithal to flick him away. Sometimes, like a fool, I listen to his lies.

Anne Lamott talks about these voices in Bird by Bird. She writes that a friend suggested she put the voices into a jar, like mice, and tighten the lid. Then she can’t hear them while she’s working.

A good idea.

But what about when they’re so loud you can hear them through the glass?

Not long ago I came across an exercise for confronting and quieting these voices. I can’t remember now where I read about it, but after a difficult writing session, I decided to give it a try. The original context for this exercise wasn’t writing, but I’m pretty sure it would work for any goal you’re hoping to achieve.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Open a blank document or turn to a fresh page in your notebook.
  2. Write down what you want to accomplish.
  3. Write the first negative response you hear.
  4. Write down what you want to accomplish again.
  5. Write down the next negative response you hear.
  6. Write down what you want to accomplish.
  7. Write down the negative response.

And so on. Repeat this until the YouSuck Monster runs out of negative things to say.

Here’s an example of how this might look:

  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You don’t know how to write a novel.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You aren’t a strong enough writer.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • It won’t be as good as others’ novels.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • But you suck.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You’ll be rejected.
  • I am going to write a novel.

Etc.

The first time I did this, my YouSuck Monster sent me negative responses for a page and a half before he ran out of things to say. By that page-and-a-half mark, the things he said started to make me laugh. I found myself starting to think, So what? That’s all you’ve got? The things the YouSuck Monster said were ridiculous.

If you have an annoying negative voice in your head whispering negativity to you, try this exercise. It might just help shut up the voice and let you get back to your creativity.

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4 thoughts on “Confronting Those Negative Voices

    sumthin2hope4 said:
    August 30, 2010 at 11:06 am

    I like this idea. It def has some merit to it. Down with the You Suck Monster! Thanks for sharing it.

      Amy K. Nichols said:
      August 30, 2010 at 11:01 pm

      You’re welcome! 🙂 Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope the YouSuck Monster leaves you alone.

    tahliaN said:
    August 30, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Yep that works.
    I try to have a sense of what they really are, ie just a passing non substantial thought that only has powwer if I give it to them by beliveing in what they say. So I laugh at them and say ‘Oh hi, there you are again. Bye now.’

      Amy K. Nichols said:
      August 30, 2010 at 11:03 pm

      Good advice! Something I need to practice (having a sense of what they really are). Sometimes I can laugh at them, though not always. Thank you for sharing your wisdom here. 🙂

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