In her blog post, “Jackasses & Monkeys – Inner demons of writing,” Carol Bodensteiner reveals that her inner writing demons take the form of monkeys. She expresses relief on learning that others, such as Kimberly Brock, have similar problems. In my opinion, Kimberly’s challenge is worse. She is beset by Jackasses.
Carol invited readers to share their experiences. I also have demons, as I believe we all do. Like Carol, I battle monkeys, described by Zen masters as Monkey Mind. My monkeys are different from Carol’s. Mine swing through the trees at random, taking my thoughts along with them, rendering me incapable of staying focused. They dangle distractions, and they're a hindrance all the time, not just while writing.
Look this up NOW! Right NOW! one shouts while I'm unloading the dishwasher or chopping celery for salad. When the monkey shouts, I enter a state of paralyzing need to obey. I crave the closure of filling that gap. Sometimes I return to chopping celery, but laundry may remain unfolded for days, a blog post unfinished for ... maybe ever.
Jackasses? I’ve known a few of those, but they don’t live in my head. For me the voices Kimberly attributes to jackasses are more subtle and indirect. Much harder to quantify. Mine are formless entities. They whisper from wisps of mist. "It's not good enough. It's shallow," they whisper. But wait. I reread my work and it is shallow. It isn’t ready for print. Those critical voices protect me. They drive me to more research on craft, to yet another round of edits. My whispering wisps protect me. I cherish them.
Tips for silencing monkeys, jackasses and wispy mist
- Talk to them – ask them for their advice. If they tell you to work on your craft, they speak true. Heed them. If they tell you you’ll never succeed, you’ll never be good enough … tell them firmly to zip their lips and stuff them into their crates.
- Talk to others – like Carol Bodensteiner, you may find it a huge relief to compare notes with fellow writers and learn that they battle the same demons. Compare notes on coping strategies.
- Write stories about them – especially stories that poke fun at them. Write yourself as the shero of your own story (or hero, as the case may be). Have fun with these stories. Be silly, be bold, be outrageous. Smash and bash away.
- Feed them cookies and make friends – because they can be helpful, as mine have turned out to be. Just don’t eat the cookies yourself. It is not true that writing success is directly proportional to body mass.
- Call their bluffs – by succeeding in spite of them and yourself. Just write. And edit. And get lots of feedback. And then publish or share your work with legions of others. Those critters will get the message.
Write now: write a story about your inner demons. What form do they take? What do they sound like? How have you dealt with them? If you haven’t yet neutralized or harnessed their power, imagine that you have and write about that. Post your story in a comment or email me a copy. I’d love to read it.