Calling Out the Inner Doomsayer
In writing about how to sneak up on the first draft, I dropped in a mention of my inner doomsayer. (The context was that the inner doomsayer pays less attention to casual lists than to Official Drafts.)
I was struck by the term even as I wrote it—not inner critic or inner editor, but Doomsayer! What strikes me as especially apt about this name is that by her very nature, the inner doomsayer is never appeased. Her fears will not be allayed! This says a lot about the gear-grinding and exhaustion that happen when I write and edit.
Any time I puzzle over how to phrase a passage or make a concept clear, the inner doomsayer can find something wrong with every possible option. If I phrase it this way, the doomsayer predicts that the editor will hate it. Phrase it this other way, and the source I interviewed will be annoyed. Phrase it a third way, and readers will be confused. The fourth option doesn’t meet Strunk & White’s standards.
The inner doomsayer sees the flaws in every possibility—not only sees them, but works her darnedest to make sure no flawed alternative (i.e., no alternative at all) gets through. Immobilizing. No wonder I can’t get momentum.
So I’m working on reinterpreting my task, nowadays, when I get stuck. My task is not to find a solution that will please the doomsayer. That route, searching for the solution she’ll be okay with, is what gets me tangled up in an hour’s worth of agonizing over one paragraph. Instead, I need to recognize when it’s her talking, and let her words go by.
This approach seems related to the split-screen technique—a facet of it—but there’s something about acknowledging the doomsayer and her inability to ever be reassured that carries special power.
As encouraging as this insight is, what I’ve been finding as I try to apply it is that identifying her as the doomsayer is really hard! I’m so used to her voice that it still sounds like reality to me. I’m used to struggling and struggling in search of flawless phrasing and structure—it’s an old, old habit.
I’m committed to continuing in the practice of this simple, terribly difficult, potentally liberating task:
Notice when it’s the inner doomsayer talking. Don’t try to allay her fears. Let her words fly by.