When I was in high school, my favorite classes were almost always (go figure) my English classes. I loved the smell of old books and the discussion of ideas and the thrill and terror of writing an essay in 45 minutes.
I was also extremely lucky. During my time at school, I had many brilliant English teachers, and as we all know, a teacher can make or break a class. My English teachers taught me not only about the importance of storytelling as a form of communication and about the craft of writing the perfect AP essay but also about my own voice.
Back in high school, I had very little faith in myself or my own voice. As much as I liked to talk (and I did like to talk, as any of my English teachers could attest!), I didn’t really believe that I had anything important or worthwhile to say. I didn’t think that I was worth anyone’s time.
And sometimes, as an author, I still feel that way. I sit down at the computer, fully ready to write and tell my story, and find that I just…can’t. My brain gets in my own way. I get judgmental: No one cares about what you have to say. No one is going to like this book. Why do you think you’re so special that people should want to read your work? Who do you think you are, you poser? Remember that one really mean review you got on Goodreads? That person was right. You should never write again. Around and around my brain goes, twirling circles around my thoughts and feelings, keeping them from escaping out onto the page.
As an author, my thoughts and my feelings are my business. So, if I can’t get those down on paper, then I’m not doing my job, which adds another layer of guilt and frustration to the whole process. At that point, I’m angry not only about how terrible of a writer I probably am but also about how useless I am. Oh, so you’re a lazy writer in addition to be a terrible one?
But this, strange as it sounds, is where my high school English teachers come in. Well, one teacher in particular.
My sophomore English teacher used to have a system she called “The Candy Bowl System.” At my high school, we used something called The Harkness Method, which basically amounted to discussion-based learning around an ovular table. So, every day, when my sophomore English teacher walked into the room, she’d place a big bowl of candy in the center of that table. And if you made a point that stirred her, or affected the conversation, or impacted the class in a meaningful way, she’d point to you and say, “candy bowl,” at which point you were allowed to pick a piece out.
Now, when I explain it like that, it sounds like she was bribing us to participate in our reading discussions. But that wasn’t it. It was a reward (a tangible, exciting reward) that acknowledged, in front of everyone, that our voice mattered, that we had made an impact in our own, small way.
So…Why am I telling you this? Well, because sometimes, I think we could all use our own candy bowls.
When I’m in one of those writing ruts, I’ve trained myself. I open a small bag of candy kept in the cabinet for emergencies, dump them into a glass, and place them on my writing desk, just out of reach. And I write to the candy bowl. I write with the hope that before the session is over, I will have had at least one sentence or phrase or paragraph that makes me say, “Yes. My voice there mattered. That small fragment of this story is worthy of being heard.”
I give myself a piece of candy, and then I move on. I, like that high school teacher who helped me find my voice in the first place, force my stubborn brain to admit it: I am not a loser who has nothing to contribute. Even when I feel like I’m at my worst, I can still create something worth reading.
This advice won’t work for everyone. However, I think it’s a fun exercise to try at least once. It’s very easy to get weighed down, to accept the lie that we don’t matter, so forcing yourself to acknowledge (even once!) that your voice is important and that you can create beautiful, meaningful things can be enlightening beyond belief!
So, dear reader chums, how do you remind yourself of your worth as a writer? What are some tips and tricks that I can learn from you about getting out of these self-doubt ruts? Leave your answer below in the comments or tweet me at @writeralys!
Alys Murray is the author of the Hallmark novel, The Christmas Company, available in-store from Target, Walmart, Meijer, select Hallmark Gold Crown stores, and from the fine retailers below.
Additionally, in 2019, Alys will be releasing Tea and a Cowboy from The Wild Rose Press, as well as Society Girl from Entangled. For updates on her writing and for chances to win exclusive prizes, be sure to sign up for her newsletter here!