I never attended Columbia, Stanford or Yale; hell, I never even attended college, not even for a day. Imagine how many times I’ve been assailed with the thought that I have no right to sit down to write anything. How many times I’ve been struck by some inner voice calling me an uneducated fraud. (By the way, if you’re looking for a blog from an academic scholar now's a good time to put this one down.) What is that negative voice? Where does it come from? Where does it live and what’s its function? It must have an important one because everyone I’ve ever met has got the same voice inside.
My firm belief is that the negative voice is not an enemy as some writers have suggested or some evil demon meant to do us harm. Rather, it’s a very real and integral part of us that cares strongly about our own survival. In that sense, it’s not something to be eradicated or pushed away (as if it could be pushed away.) It’s a part of us that needs to be valued and understood. It’s funny how the needs of this internal critic are so similar to our own needs.
The similarity exists because “it” is “us.”
To humanize this internal critic, I’m going to give it a name, I’ll call it Marv. Marv is what my wife and I would call our oldest son whenever we were traveling and he would start complaining or asking ridiculous questions of the “are we there yet” variety. We’d say, “who let Marv in the car?’
Marv will give you space and allow your dreams to manifest themselves itself if you have these three ideas in mind:
Specific – Dream as big as you like but then make sure your dream is specified - broken down into small actionable pieces. Don’t think, I want to become a baseball star without also thinking: I’m going to the ballpark now to practice my swing for thirty minutes.
Present – Don’t think, I’ll start practicing sometime mid-week. Think: I’ll go to the ballpark at 10:35 this morning and then actually go.
True - Don’t pursue the dream of being a baseball star because your dad pressured you to dream of being a baseball star. He may have pressured you because he always wanted to be one –and failed. The dream itself must be self-generated and it must be something that you want to pursue for your own sake and of your own volition.
When I consider the many times my work was devalued but I moved forward anyway, I get a certain amount of pride, not necessarily for the things I’d eventually made, but for the very fact of having overcome my own critical voices. External criticism, like bad reviews or people not buying tickets to your show always generates internal criticism. People’s negative comments are like rocket fuel for Marv. He becomes hyper energized and he'll make you feel like quitting whenever he hears other people criticizing you.
You see, Marv fears for your safety. He fears for your well being. When we were infants and dependent upon our parents for our very survival, Marv was there. If a hungry lion were running after to us to devour our flesh Marv would be the force that compelled us to flee for our lives. He’s got his hand on the lever the squirts the adrenaline into our bloodstreams and the anxiety into our brains. He’s got such a one-track mind about helping us that he simply hasn’t heard the news:
Marv, our lives are not in danger any more so please fu&^ing relax!
I know there are people who insist that they’re impervious to criticism and to Marv’s warnings but please, for your own good, don’t believe them, they’re just plain lying. The image of this undaunted warrior of creativity, trudging through life unaffected by anything but his own invariably positive muse does not correlate with reality. Everyone hates rejection. The problem isn’t so much that these folks are lying -which they are- it’s that we tend to believe that such people exist and then feel horrible that we’re not like them, that we’re somehow deficient. Let me assure you again: everybody is affected by criticism. We love it when people praise our work and we abhor it when they dismiss our work. That’s human nature and it’s unchanging. The only difference is that some of us are stopped in our tracks by the critical voices and others of us keep going.
If you remember the formula: specific, present, and true - you'll have a much better chance of getting Marv to take a coffee break. When he's settled into a chair and reading the NYT, that's the time to create.