Arguing with the Peanut Gallery 101
Last night my good friend Duder and I went out for dinner and drinks at the usual place (they aren’t quite yelling “Norm!” when we walk in the door, but it’s a close thing at this point). And, as we often do lately, we discussed writing because we are both working on writing projects right now and we are both finding that we’re having similar difficulties with the work.
I started things off by describing the heavy feeling of anxiety that sits like a stone in my chest when I face the novel I’m working on (and often, lately, not working on due to said chest stone). I talked about the stupid and nearly hysterical displacement activities I do when I feel this anxiety (cleaning – I love to clean when I’m anxious. I have the cleanest home on the North Shore right now). I also mentioned the peanut gallery in my head and how they amuse themselves by shouting abuse or generally being disapproving in my general direction about me writing things instead of making a regular and large paycheque.
As it turns out, Duder is having the same issues (which is bad) but, we’re having them at the same time and that’s actually kind of helpful because it’s not just me being neurotic by myself.
So we talked it over; compared notes on how we are (or are not) dealing with the weirdness that is living in your head a lot and then writing down what you find in there.
Neither of us have any delusions – I’m pretty sure I’m not the next J. K. Rowling (not very many writers get to that level), and I’m OK with that – I’m even OK with never being published because that happens to plenty of writers too – even really good ones I bet. So, this isn’t about making money, or getting famous, or being crowned with laurels and declared a genius; I just want to write. It’s doing it without feeling anxious and guilty that plagues me and turns far too many of my days into hours spent doing anything but writing.
So a couple of days ago I decided if the peanut gallery in my head was going talk at me anyway, I’d write up my half of the dialogue and argue with them directly for a change. It was a very interesting dialogue to put on paper.
ME: Do you not want me to write? Is that the game plan here – scare Renee off writing forever because why the hell not?
THEM: Well, no, not really, we’re just worried you’ll fail, and Joe will leave you for someone with a steady paycheque, and you’ll die alone in a gutter. Besides, you’re so good at cleaning that we figured doing it would give you a sense of confidence – writing just seems to make you into a mental case.
ME: OK, let me set a few things straight…
And this went on for about 3000 words! I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really, really easy to talk yourself out of something based on even a single seemingly disapproving look from someone. I’m not sure yet why it’s easier to talk yourself into believing you’ve failed before you’ve really begun, and I want to find that out, but for now – I talked to the jerks in my head, and it turns out they are not as evil as I thought; they just go about showing concern in ways that are a) totally inappropriate and rude and b) that I am very likely to misinterpret and feel crappy about (or not misinterpret at all and still feel crappy about).
And as I mentioned to Duder, “them” is a combination of me being negative about myself, and all the other people I’ve known who have been disinterested, unsupportive, and flat out hostile in regards to my desire to write. It occurs to me just in this moment that writing is a lot like the time I spent working in retail: you never really remember the nice customers who just came in, bought what they needed, and left. You remember the jerks, the demanding and rude people who make you so angry you want to yell at them and give them a lesson in basic courtesy. The work of writing is no different in that respect – you remember the people who look down their noses at what you’re doing, who make less than polite inquiries into your finances, and who say things like, “And your husband is OK with that? I wouldn’t be.”
You remember those people in detail, and it’s becoming clear to me that the memory is a stupidly designed thing if that’s what it’s hanging on to.
I expect to have several more arguments as the peanut gallery is largely made up of morons who are really slow learners, but that’s OK – at least I’m getting some writing done!
NB: Originally pub. on July 19, 2013