Are You Too Hard on Yourself? By Katherine Swarts

Writers are dealt a tough hand. We see little early correlation between effort, talent, and profit; we slave over details until our eyes water, just to expose ourselves to criticism. Small wonder that Googling “writers as masochists” returned more than 3 million results.

But, are you more of a masochist than necessary? Are you criticizing yourself more than the critics, demanding more of yourself than any editor would?

Do you compare your success, style, or working habits unfavorably with those of others?

It’s often “wannabes” who seethe with jealousy when others get awards, while writers with true potential berate themselves: “Why don’t I have the brains/common sense/self-discipline to do it her way?” It might not even be published writers we compare ourselves to. Rather, it might be critique-group acquaintances who submitted five queries to our one.

You were made to be your own best self. Write down your unique talents and achievements, and review them regularly.

Do you equate “This query is not suited to our current needs” with “You are incapable of producing a sentence worth reading?”

Few editors return manuscripts with personal insult intended…but writers often use rejection, even rejection with a compliment, as an excuse to insult ourselves: “If I were any good, they’d have said yes.”

If every writer gave up after the first few rejections, the world would never have heard of Louis L’Amour, Dr. Seuss, J. K. Rowling, or a score of other names now gracing every public library. Use the productive-work antidote to discouragement; get back to that market guide and try again!

Do you use “loaded language” with yourself?

Writers are blessed with a gift for strong metaphorical language. Unfortunately, that can also make us unreasonably nasty, calling ourselves “idiots” at every wrong key hit. Too much of that will discourage anyone from trying anything.

When you catch yourself swearing at yourself, correct yourself quickly: “I can fix it. I’ll do better next time.”

Do you regularly feel guilty over time…or lack thereof…spent writing?

If you hear of famous authors working ten hours a day, do you hate yourself for not doing the same…never mind if you have a full-time job and sole parenting responsibility for three-year-old twins? (An article by Moira Allen, “Writing Time…A Vital Luxury ,” offers some helpful insights here.) Conversely, do you feel guilty about “neglecting your important responsibilities” for writing?

Either way, the best antidote is a written schedule. Block space for genuine commitments, consider what can be omitted…television? Sleeping late? Don’t worry if it’s only thirty minutes a day. Wisely used minutes add up.

Do you want to bury yourself alive if a typo reaches publication?

Sometimes it isn’t even your fault. Transcribers and auto-correctors can introduce new errors. Yet you, the writer, feel responsible for getting it perfect.

Let it go: few typos are widely noticed or remembered. To minimize chances of this happening, share proofreading duties and let manuscripts cool before final editing.

Do you keep analyzing already-submitted queries and manuscripts?

You can’t unscramble an egg, but writers try. Did you spell the editor’s name right? Did you really understand the guidelines? We count our (possible) mistakes instead of sheep at night, which doesn’t help us sleep.

Once a query or manuscript is sent, get your mind off it by starting a new project, or rewarding your step-in-the-right-direction with a favorite leisure activity.

Remember: If you act on the pull to write, you’re already one of a rare breed. If you expect it’ll be hard, you’re already one up on “someday I’ll dash off a bestseller” dreamers.

So, be kind to yourself, writer. You’re worth it!

Katherine Swarts is a Houston, Texas-based writer who has published over 150 articles and still gets the willies over new markets…and new rejections.