Back when I was writing children’s books, I had a pretty simple formula I used to create my stories. I would create a main character and place him or her in a situation that they desperately wanted to change, which would give me the main plot of my story. If I were writing a longer book for older children, I would then plan out a chapter-by-chapter timeline to help me keep track of everything as I wrote. (Details have never been my strong point.) Finally, I would begin writing the actual manuscript….and that was usually the point where my creative confidence began to drain away and the paralyzing self-doubt crept in.
The problem was that no matter how passionately I believed in the story I was trying to write, a part of me was always thinking, “Will an editor like this? Is my main character interesting enough? Is my plot believable?” and so on and so on. And those are valid concerns. As all writers who hope to get their work accepted by a publisher know, finding an editor who wants to buy our manuscript is an absolute necessity. But the constant presence of the critical editor in my mind basically squashed my creativity and made it impossible to write from my heart. And the result was often a competent, but flat, manuscript that lacked a unique and creative spark.
Sadly, that internal critic isn’t limited to my writing. I can look back on my life and see many times when I allowed that little voice that says “you can’t, you shouldn’t, you’re not good enough,” to dictate my choices and my behavior. There were too many times when I turned my back on an opportunity, didn’t want to take a risk, or stayed silent when I should have spoken up. There were too many times that I held back when I should have stepped boldly forward.
The simple truth is, when our internal dialogue turns too negative, we aren’t really able to live our lives to their fullest potential. And that’s a tragedy that none of us should allow.
I believe most of us get better at self-acceptance as we get older, and I’m no exception. As the years go by, I find myself learning to tune out that negative “internal committee” and to replace it with one that is so much more compassionate and encouraging. I find myself being willing to risk simply being myself by following my dreams, voicing my true opinions and in general, doing what feels right to me. It’s a journey, but I am moving slowly and steadily forward.
If I had the chance to go back in time and speak to my younger self, I would have so much advice I would want to share. But if I was limited to just one thing, it would be, “Believe in yourself and follow your heart.” Because if we can learn to do that, everything else will surely work out.