On Writing: Defeating Self-defeating Talk

I’ve been writing for ten years but it’s only been in the last year and a half that I’ve been selling to national magazines, earning larger checks, and creating my own writing business that both satisfies me and promotes my work.

What kicked off my writing success? I like to think of “her” as the final straw that broke my inner critic’s back.

I was hired to work in a testing center. There were two of us, working one day a week, watching candidates taking certification exams for their professions. Why did I want the job? As I told the woman who hired me, “I’m a writer. I need a steady paycheck for the times when the writing dries up.” And at that time the writing seemed to be drying up…inside of me.

I liked the job just fine, but my co-worker was another story. After a few months she began ridiculing me, telling me that I wasn’t a writer and had never sold any of my work. I pointed out my weekly newspaper column. I argued with her, listing the magazines I’d just been published in. I told her how I was starting a newsletter online. She laughed. She called me a liar. She told me I was a terrible writer.

And I denied all that she said.

How did this help me? I’d always told myself the exact things she was now saying to me: “You’re no writer! This essay is terrible. Give it up. You’ll never make it.” But where I couldn’t argue with my inner critic, I found the voice to protect against and to defend myself to my co-worker. Here, sitting across the office from me, was my inner critic personified. It was an incredible opportunity for me to face down my own insecurities as I refused my co-worker any power over me.

Despite her predictions of doom, I built a website and started a newsletter. She countered by doing the same and telling me how much better hers was. I liked her website. It was cute and fun. I told her so.

It didn’t appease her. She critiqued each of my newsletters as they arrived in her email box. I told her that her newsletters were funny and wished her well. Still, it was knowing that she was watching me and hoping for my failure that kept me on schedule. This newfound dedication to my writing career — a direct result of my co-worker’s negative comments — attracted advertisers for my newsletter, and editors who asked me to write for them.

My co-worker’s anger increased as she fell behind in her planned publication schedule. Her language deteriorated and the day she threatened to get me fired, using a smattering of obscenities, I quit. It was time to leave anyway. Suddenly I found myself with several writing students and felt pretty sure that the writing wasn’t going to dry up any time soon.

I kept publishing my newsletter and chatting on my discussion list. I was doing well but was hired for a regular, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. job…..as a writer! What a coup. I wrote about this in my newsletter. Within 12 hours of sending that out, two Yahoo! ID’s created that very day joined my discussion list and sent messages raging on me and my lack of talent. They both claimed to have been scammed by me for hundreds of dollars. They gave my address and phone number and promised to post messages all over the internet. I felt sick and my inner critic had a few good hours of beating me down.

Then I grew strong.

It only took a Google search to find a program that would trace the IP of the sender. Sure enough, it was my former co-worker. I banned her from my list and sent a message telling her to stop, or else. She stopped…for a while. But by the time she’d come back, I had more students, more published clips, and a new book underway. Standing up to her had taught me how to stand up to myself, to refuse to cave into that part of me that told me I was a loser.

Every once in a while she still posts, but lately it’s been questions about why I haven’t done something. Recently she wrote to ask why I haven’t written that new class I talk about on my website. Hmm, I thought, why haven’t I written the new class? So, not only did I write the new class, I sent a thank you to her newest alter ego. “When you wrote me that note asking when the cookbook writing class would be ready, I decided I had to get moving on it. I researched, wrote and interviewed, and am busy writing the lessons right now. I have two students signed up for the first session already, and I have you to thank for that.”

Not surprisingly, she didn’t sign up for the class.

I can’t wait until she writes me again. I could use the push to finish my novel.

About the Author: Pamela White has been published in Writer’s Digest, ByLine Magazine, Home Cooking, Back Home, Low Carb Energy, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Without a Clue, Third Degree, and multiple online periodicals. Her website – www.food-writing.com – is home to her food writing newsletter, book and online classes. Sign up for her newest ezine: “The Writing Parent” at

© 2006 Pamela White

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