Doing Creative Work Amid the Sh**tstorm

working through self-doubt

Doing Creative Work Amid the Sh**tstorm

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Hello, friends. Have you missed these guys?

These are the demons, of happy memory, of whom I have written any number of times hereherehere, hereherehereeverywhere!

They are the frolicsome little devils who live in a cave in the psyche—I suspect of each of us. Everyone’s demons are different—perfectionism, comparison, fear of failure, what have you—but what they have in common is that they like to party, and sometimes those little boogers come out of the cave to play. And by play I mean tromp all over your confidence, your motivation, your self-image, your productivity, and your state of mind.

Mine have been playing very nicely in their cave for quite some time. I look in on them now and then, say hello, see if they need anything, but generally they’ve been perfectly content in there, doing whatever it is demons do when they’re not busy marauding through the psyche.

I must confess I have not missed them. But I guess they missed me, because they’re back.

And apparently they want me to stop everything I’m doing and party with them, so they’re doing their best to make it hard for me to focus on anything but their shenanigans.

Let’s Cut the Sh*t

Let’s stop being coy with the metaphors, shall we? Lately I have felt myself falling into some old unhealthy mental patterns, and it’s undercutting my confidence and presenting challenges with my work.

When you love what you do, when you have a genuine passion for it, it feels like a privilege to get to do it. I always joke that my worst day at work is still a pretty good day, because I love with my whole soul editing and story and writing craft and helping authors. And in general I feel like I do a pretty good job at that, which is its own set of satisfactions.

But here’s the flip side: When you love what you do and you have genuine passion for it, and suddenly you are not only struggling to do it but wondering if what you’re doing is effective or good, it can pull the rug out from under your whole identity.

When you love what you do and you have genuine passion for it, and suddenly you are not only struggling to do it but wondering if what you’re doing is effective or good, it can pull the rug out from under your whole identity.

I’m wondering if this is hitting a chord, writers.

In any business as subjective as art, I think a certain measure of periodic self-doubt is normal and even part of the process. I think it’s actually healthy to question what you think you know and to have a mindset that there is always more you can learn. I’m working hard to be comfortable with the fact that stumbles, struggles, and even failure are a normal part of that process.

But I do this thing when I’m in company with the demons that I call globalization and eternalization: Everything sucks and it will always suck. Meaning that it’s easy for me to forget that these low moments are a perfectly normal part of the creative process—and, in fact, of life—and instead to believe that things have somehow taken a turn for the catastrophic and there’s just no changing it now.

This, as you might imagine, does not make the process that I’m already struggling with any easier. And it does not make me any more likely to succeed.

But the work must be done. I have deadlines, as many of you do. I have personal and professional goals, as many of you do. I fear losing ground with what I’ve already accomplished, as perhaps many of you do.

“Leave me alone,” I tell the demons. “I have things to do.”

“I don’t think so,” say the demons, chortling and cavorting and yanking me by the hands.

So here we are, in a standoff. Now what?

Wrangling the Demons While the Party Is Going On

Here’s the challenge for me at times like this: Rationally I know I have all the tools I need to handle not only the demons, but my work. Rationally I know that I have done it before and evidence shows I’ve done a decent job more times than not. Rationally I know that that is enough.

But it’s so hard to be rational when the demons are filling you full of smack because they think it makes you way more fun to party with.

So, if you’re still indulging me at this point—and I’m hoping that what I’m talking about isn’t so narrowly self-focused that it’s not resonating with at least a few of you—I invite you to walk this through with me while I’m in the middle of the festivities.

Step One: Manage the Chaos

First step—and I know this: I’ve got to turn the volume down on this shindig to give me some space to think. For me that means I need to do a little bit less, ask a bit less of myself.

One of my demons, perhaps the clan leader of the demons, is perfectionism, and he loves to tell me that if I’m not doing it all and doing it perfectly, I’m failing.

So the best way to prove him wrong is just to stop: stop taking on projects, no matter how fun they may sound, and stop trying to be an infallible or completely comprehensive editor or teacher. 

This morning I turned down an opportunity I really want to do, but I reminded myself I don’t have to do it right at this moment. There will be other times. Phew. Already it’s a little quieter in here and I can think.

Step Two: Remove the Audience

Another fun thing this party entails is me attacking myself for it happening at all. Obviously I’m incapable of keeping these ridiculous little red demons contained. A better person, a more confident, competent, fill-in-the-blank person would never let those goofballs run wild in the first place.

I found this sticker a couple of days after I wrote this post. It now lives on my computer…. <3

I’m beating myself up for beating myself up, and the demons love this because now they know they’ve got me where they want me: doubting myself and doing a lot of their work for them. 

So prong number two is that I need to stop that, and that usually means, just as with a truculent toddler throwing a tantrum, simply leaving the room.

In this case it means finding things that distract me from the demon bash in my head. That might be an evening out with girlfriends or calling a friend. A walk with my dogs in nature. Doing some absorbing activity or task that I enjoy. Watching a stupid movie with my husband.

Ignoring the demons doesn’t make them go away. They’re still partying back at the house when I get back. The reason they came out in the first place was that they weren’t feeling very attended to, so now attention must be paid.

But I can’t do that effectively until I can calm myself down enough to be a centered, calm, mature leader, the adult in the room.

Step Three: Calm This Sh** Down

The third step, once I’ve taken a little space to collect myself, is that I can be a little kinder to myself, and by myself I mean me as well as my demons.

I have to remember that they are part of me and they’re out here partying because they were not feeling heard or were feeling threatened in the cave. Making enemies of them just keeps us in that standoff, so before they burn the house down we need to have a parley and I need to see what’s going on with them and what it is they need. And by them I mean me.

“Okay, demons,” I begin. “What is it.”

The demons would like me to know that our upcoming webinar had better be perfect, and we need to be high-energy and 100 percent engaging, and it has to be the BEST ONE ANY AUTHOR EVER SAW or we will lose any good reputation we have for our work, as well as our entire career, and make a complete fool of ourselves.

I see that they are very scared of this. So I reassure them.

“No, demons,” I gently explain. “All we have to do is offer something useful to at least some of the people who will be there. And we do that a lot—pretty much every time, in fact; remember all that great feedback we’ve had for previous presentations?”

They look skeptical, so I continue:

“Remember that we know this material pretty well based on all the experience we’ve had working on stories, and it’s solid and well organized. That’s enough. And it’s okay if we’re not feeling all that high-energy today—we can just show up where we are, and that’s enough too.”

The demons rustle, but I see that they are calming down. They aren’t quite ready to settle down completely and go back to their cave yet, but that’s okay. I can do this presentation with them in the room as long as I just focus on the work itself and what I enjoy about doing it. Pretty soon I’ll forget they’re there.

They may be waiting when I’m through with it, of course, but that’s okay too. We’ve all calmed down enough now that we can take it a little easier on ourselves so we can do what we need to do well enough to feel good enough about it. That’s really all we can ask of ourselves.

Eventually, when I’m ready, I can go back in for cleanup—with the demons’ help, because it’s also good for them to learn to clean up their own messes. And it’s good for me to do it with them side by side, because after all, we’re all on the same team.

Authors…I’m interested in hearing about your inner parties too, if you’d like to share—or how you deal with the demons when they swarm out of the cave and call all their friends over for a free-for-all at your place.

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35 Comments. Leave new

  • Peter McInroy, Nova Scotia, Canada
    September 21, 2023 11:02 am

    Tiff – if I may call you that – I have several comments:

    You need to give yrself a break. I’d suggest getting out in nature. It is such a healing space to be in. Make time for that sort of break one day a week;

    Banish from yr mind the ego-driven comments of some webinar attendees – like what I saw in comments, and side conversations, during your webinar on “Third Party POV”. I couldn’t believe that some people have such oversized egos! It is obvious that you know what you are talking about. Not only from the way you describe even such esoteric issues such as “3rd Party POV” but One has only to look at the companies you have worked for and with, your years in the business, the content – and accolades for – “Intuitive Editing”;

    You gotta “accentuate the positive” and “look on the bright side” to drive off these demons. That’s ny “go to” when negativity starts to get me down.

    You are so accomplished that you will be able to do this, that is, return to the positives. Glad to hear you turned something down recently. That is wise. Don’t push yourself so hard. You have been so helpful to so many. Take care of yourself; we all want you to be there.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on ways to navigate the choppy waves, Peter–and for your very kind words about my work. It does mean a great deal to know it’s helpful to authors.

      Funny you mention nature–I was just talking to my nephew about how healing it is. Studies show that so clearly, of course, but I experience that personally all the time. It lets you breathe a little freer just to step outside–unless you happen to live in Austin, Texas, where it’s often over 100 degrees for a healthy chunk of the year. I notice that this reverse-SAD effect can kick in here in the summer months when it’s too damned hot and humid to leave the air conditioning.

      You’re so right about being mindful of negative feedback as well–I tend to be pretty good about ignoring that–and not losing sight of the positive. These are tools in my toolbox that I reach for…once I quiet that demon party down. 🙂

      It also helps to remind myself that these ups and downs are normal parts of most of our lives, and that they are passing storms. It’s sometimes hard to remember that amid the tempest, but that’s when writing it out or thinking through it (as you have kindly indulged me in doing here) is useful. Thanks for the kind comments, my friend, and your empathy. (And I do prefer Tiffany, BTW!)

  • Bettina Lehovec
    September 21, 2023 11:06 am

    Oh, Tiffany! You’re speaking to such a universal experience. Yes, I have my own version of these demons. I think being kind to them is really important, as you so beautifully illustrate. Just accepting them versus pushing them away.

    I can’t speak highly enough about your work. I found you through Jane Friedman, and your webinars are amazing! As is your book. I would rave about your work if it were three-quarters as good…

    I hope your demons hear this and learn that they don’t have to push quite so hard.

    • That part can be so hard, can’t it? When I forget to be kind to the demons I can sometimes respond at first by entrenching for battle with them–which just makes the cycle last longer. It feels counterintuitive to lower the drawbridge instead, but boy, it’s almost instant relief just to at least acknowledge what I’m feeling and accept it…the first step to that kindness and understanding, as you say.

      Thank you for the lovely comments about my work–it means a lot to me to know it’s helpful to authors–and for your compassion and words of solidarity, which do as well.

  • I love “globalization and eternalization” — SO true, and so well stated! A few things aren’t everything . . . and everything changes all the time. I often have to remind myself to gather the current facts. Not the old feelings, or the traditional wisdom, or the ancient voice of the knucklehead I used to be . . .

    • That’s a helpful way to think about it, Kelly–to gather the current facts. I’m borrowing that reminder.

      I also try to be kind to/about the “knucklehead I used to be” as well–she was doing her best, and it’s thanks to her stumbles and growth from them that I’m a little wiser and happier and more centered with every year that passes. Just as my hopefully future wiser self will think of the me I am now, I hope. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing that–and being here. I really do relish this community.

  • Hi Tiffany,

    I needed this reminder today! Thank you for sharing your experiences with the demons that we all carry.

    When mine appear, they are loud and tear me down and take my motivation. Some days I schedule more writing to accomplish that I know is possible or some days life gets in the way. When life gets in the way, I of course blame myself – I should’ve planned better, should’ve known better, etc.

    In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been paying more attention to what my mind and body need and sometimes that is a day off, cleaning out a closet, going for a drive, watching a movie, etc., as long as it’s what I want to do, and it is soul-nourishing. However, I’ve found that these approaches don’t last. Getting busy is cathartic for a short time, and I have a finite number of closets. Then the demons return.

    I love step three! I’ve never considered sitting with them and talking to them.
    It’s another version of rewriting the negative messages many of us carry; it gives them a voice without giving their voice our power.

    Your work is powerful, encouraging, supportive, and helpful! I’ve attended several of your webinars with Jane Friedman and have loved each one. You present the information in a clear, concise manner. You’re engaged and enthusiastic and so knowledgeable about what you’re teaching. What you give is enough, you are enough! You are helping so many writers!

    Thank you again for this post. I’m off to talk to my demons, listen to them, and see what they need. Maybe somewhere in there, they’re trying to tell me that I need something that I’ve been ignoring.

    • Oh, boy, that overscheduling demon lives in my cave too! Love that you take time off and listen to what you need. I don’t think that is the final fix–as you said, the demons return–but it does feel like a necessary first step to me to just quiet the noise so I can start to regain my footing–nourishing, as you say. Then I have to come back and talk to those little scamps, though. I think they are pretty much ALWAYS telling us that they need something we have been ignoring. By which I mean we need it. 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words about my work–it’s so rewarding to hear that–and nourishing, to borrow your great word again!

  • Great capture of my own internalizations. My exception? Still learning how to compose this novel in my head which, by the way, is changey/slippery as soap in the shower. I do have a coach is handles me with positive come-this-way comments and I gladly trot along behind those. The next decision for me is how good is good and is it good enough to satisfy me but not be perfection. 80%? 70%? 90%? When I think about those levels, nothing rings that inner ‘yes’ bell. So, inner demon perfectionism holds his guidon high and the band could strike up at any time.

    • I like that way of thinking about it, Robin–because it resonates with me too. (Were you of the “nothing other than an A+ will do?” school of thought in school as well…?)

      My husband and I were recently watching The Blue Zones, a documentary on Netflix about centenarians and longevity, and it talks about an Okinawan idea that translates to roughly “eight out of ten.” The context was about eating–that you stop when you’re 80 percent full. But I’ve been thinking about it in other walks of life too. Eighty percent of “perfect” is still pretty solid work. That’s not to say we don’t aim for our best, whatever that may be–but maybe that we are comfortable that our best may lie in a range of “good enough” that doesn’t have to be 100 percent, 100 percent of the time.

      And probably that idea may cause discomfort for a while–your “inner yes bell” isn’t ringing (and mine either at first). But maybe part of it is our learning to sit with that discomfort and be okay with it?

      I don’t know. You’ve given me food for thought–and a lovely sense of connection, so thank you.

  • My demon is my inner little girl who frequently comes out of the closet, the one she usually hides in. Though I try to keep the door closed, whenever I face a new challenge, she seems to find her way out. And when she does, everything comes to a halt. With large frightened eyes rimmed in tears while clutching her teddy bear, she tells me: “We can’t do this! It’s too scary! Too big, too new and different. Don’t even try! We will fail! We must stay in the closet where it’s safe and nothing can hurt us!!” Needless to say, it takes a while to sooth her fears and walk her back into the closet. Though I try to be kind, as her fears are real, I can’t let her anxiety stop my progress. So I give her hug, tell her everything will be fine, and escort her back to her closet. Will she stay there? Most likely not. I will see her again, but that’s okay. I know that she is a vital part of what makes me a good writer. It’s knowing when to shut the door in her face that has been a struggle.

    • Great images, Patricia. I think the idea of picturing that inner little kid is a useful one–most of us would never dream of stomping on a child’s vulnerabilities or imperfections, and it can be a good reminder to be that kind to ourselves as well. It does seem it’s that scared-kid part that’s prompting the demons. (Or maybe IS the demons…!)

      For me, I think I have to not think of it as closing the door, though–that leads me to compartmentalize and suppress, rather than accept and deal with. That’s why my little demons live in a cave–there’s no lock on the door, and they have the run of the place. But hopefully we can all learn to cohabit respectfully. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this and for your openness.

  • I don’t know if my current sh*t storm applies to this great essay, but here it is:

    On Sunday I sent out a query to a top NY agent who nicely rejected another novel I wrote a few years ago. I’ve been writing another novel for the past three or four years.

    I’ve been getting comfortable writing in obscurity, finding it liberating. Not that I slacked. I’ve worked as hard as if I had a contractual obligation. I hired two editors I made promise to be as critical as possible. They were. I loved the challenging collegial nature of these relationships. (At least one anyway!)

    The agent wrote back on Tuesday morning that he would like to read the full manuscript.

    I was surprised by my own reaction. It was by no means joyful. I felt sick with dread. Unless I am deluding myself big time, the fear was not that he would reject it, but that he would take it on.

    I think I know what being published means now. It’s by no means glamorous. It’s a grind of beating one’s own drum. I was raised to believe that any form of boasting was a hugely unattractive a quality, no matter how couched in “I am so excited…” I can see my mother’s eyebrow shoot up and her lip curl.

    Writing the best book you can is only part of the obligation and a part that seems to me to be getting smaller all the time.

    I have taken down my website and withdrawn from almost all social media for ten years (used to be a published children’s picture book author/illustrator) to focus totally on honing my adult fiction skills. It’s been a hard slog, lots of ups and downs, but finally I see facility coming. Doing this is the most meaningful part of my life. I must do it and I must get better.

    The thing is, I’m not sure I want to be published. I don’t have the energy, nor the temperament to self-promote. I remember well a published author telling me that she was finding it impossible to self-promote and write at the same time.

    My husband is gob smacked. “How can you work so hard every day and not want to be published?”

    I say because I know what is involved and it is as much about beating the drum on social media as it is doing the work. And touring is hardly glamorous. At all. It’s exhausting.

    I haven’t sent the manuscript yet and I am not sure I will. I’m re-reading it and polishing (and still finding typos after over eight revisions!!).

    Do I rate a devil emoji for this?

    • The devil of perfectionism maybe? I say send it and see what happens!

    • Maryann, I LOVE this comment, and your honesty and your willingness to examine your own reactions and thoughts. I think that’s so healthy–and essential for creating a writing career that feels meaningful to us and gives us agency and fulfillment. I’ve been thinking about these topics a lot lately as I create a keynote speech for a conference.

      First, congratulations to you–on your diligence and persistence and resilience that kept you honing your manuscript to make it as solid as you are able, and on the resilience that allowed you to write a second story in the first place after rejection, and to risk putting it out there. I don’t know that authors give themselves enough credit for the courage and fortitude it takes to do all that, let alone over and over in this business.

      Second…your digging down to what you actually want, what is meaningful to you, why you do this work–all of that feels like the bedrock of a successful creative career to me.

      It may be that your answer is what you are doing now–to focus on the creative aspect of the work that is its own motivation and reward for you and let go of putting your work into the world.

      But also I wonder if this might be a first reaction to the fears you’ve identified–to shut down what’s causing them. That’s a very common MO for me, and I wonder if you share that.

      I love the work I do too. But I don’t want to do it in a vacuum. In my case I can’t, actually–my work doesn’t exist without yours, without other authors’. It’s hard and sometimes scary to put your self and your deepest creative efforts out there, but it’s also often so very rewarding, even given the costs and drawbacks that can be inherent.

      I work with the idea of “two things can be true at once” and gray area a lot. What I tend to want is a clean, perfect answer, a black-and-white “right or wrong,” or the “best” way forward. I slaver for absolutes and certainty.

      Rationally I have to remind myself that that’s not really possible, and that there’s a fair amount of uncertainty and associated discomfort attached to any kind of relationships, including the virtual ones of writer-and-reader, of your work and how it’s received.

      I think you’re smart to think about what costs you are willing to bear, but I wonder if there’s a little more gray area than you’re seeing right now? Maybe it isn’t all or nothing–publish and suffer the woes of marketing requirements, or never share your work. Maybe there are ways to find a path somewhere between those poles that feels right to you? Dan Blank writes about that a lot in his We Grow Media blog and it always resonates with me. For instance, I’m taking a social media break right now to open up some headspace, and I’m mostly not worrying about it too much, despite all the exhortations about algorithms and losing engagement. I don’t advertise traditionally–I market organically with things like this blog and conferences and teaching and being part of the writers’ community, because it feels more comfortable and right for me than a “hard-sell” sales-funnel approach. It might limit my reach more than traditional marketing efforts, but I’m happy with whatever compromise that entails because it feels more satisfying and rewarding to me–the tradeoff is one I am comfortable with. Is there some middle ground for you, perhaps, where you can share your work–often such a rewarding part of creating–but in a way that doesn’t engender all the negative feelings you have about promotion?

      That said, if you decide that your truest reward is in simply doing the work and that’s enough, that’s perfectly valid. I may be inferring something that’s not in your comment, but I got a sense of a desire to share your creative vision with others in your staunch dedication to writing, honing, and resubmitting in the first place, and if that’s true for you, I do encourage you to find a way to do that that feels right to you. Your work is likely to speak to someone in a meaningful way–and that’s a wonderful feeling.

      Thanks for your openness and for sharing–and giving me more to ponder.

      • Such great thoughts, Tiffany. I will need to re-read your reply many times to get all the wisdom you post.

        I think demons are nasty creatures, but sometimes they may be telling us something: we may hear only jeering, but like a seemingly harsh critique, they may be telling us something useful, something practical.

        That something may be specific. Maybe there is some aspect of your work that you don’t like as much as you think you should? Maybe it should be pared down or avoided? And perhaps you interpret that justified dislike as a failure on your part?

        For me, it’s true I do fear self-promotion, but there is not doubt, there’s something almost mystical about writing words in solitude that perfect strangers find moving or funny. It happened to me in my past publishing life in children’s books. It’s a most delightful communion.

        And there is also the fear of offending! Sometimes I think of some of the things my characters say and think of some of the people I know (my daughter’s rather formal in-laws with whom we are friendly) and I shrivel!

        I can’t be the first writer who’s felt that.

        Maybe my way of managing dreaded promotion (should that unlikely event of getting published happen!) would be less boast and more revelation, communing with other writers, like you do on this blog. It feels like a safe house and it makes me want to buy your books, which I’ve done and enjoyed very much.

        Thanks so much for what you do. I don’t know if you fully appreciate the comfort and joy you give.

  • Hi Tiffany, Thanks for being so well-worded in everything I’ve heard you say or read that you’ve written. You’re a fun, funny, and meaningful instructor on writing and on life. Thanks to you and your timely class on rewrite, I am resuscitating a novel I completed four years ago and hid in a drawer. It’s hard work, but I can get through it now. Thank you. Thank you.
    Your struggle with inner demons is similar to mine. After the initial twisting in the wind I obviously love to do, I remind myself the struggle is, in part, a deep character study that I’ll draw from later. So, love you and have a great time ‘coming back’!

    • Oh, Jan, it means so much to know that some of the work I do was helpful in your finishing your drawer-novel! I often liken what an editor does to midwifery–we don’t make the baby, and it isn’t our baby, but if we can help someone else deliver theirs into the world…what a reward that is. When people ask why I identify as an editor more than as a writer, that’s usually part of the answer I give–that as an author I may be able to put a handful of stories into the world. As an editor I can be part of bringing thousands into the world.

      And I love that you use your own demon skirmishes as character fodder. GIRL, SAME. Some of my best insights and ideas about writing/storytelling craft come from observation of my own inner life! 😀 That made my day–as did your kind words.

  • Have you read Thomas King’s Indians On Vacation? Such a good book. Some of his demons might be cousins of yours. Reading his book could feel like a family reunion.

  • Hi Tiffany, first of all I want you to know that ‘Intuitive Editing’ helped me tremendously when I was editing the last book I wrote. With all those redundant dialogue tags, among other things. Thank you for that.

    I think it’s normal to have these doubts. Doesn’t make them any easier to deal with, of course. The Germans call this the ‘inner schweinhund’, the unconscious mind pushing back whenever you threaten the status quo, as it were. Someone advised me just to observe my thoughts and catch those demons when they arise. You might have to bargain with them (which it sounds like you’re already doing), but the important thing is to know them for what they are. Fear of change, success, etc.

    Anyway, other people have suggested getting out in nature. Can’t recommend this enough. Find a forest and go for a long walk. When you are in a forest for just 15 minutes your immune system improves, and your mood improves with it. It’s the pheromones and terpenes that the trees release. Just check out Japanese forest bathing if you find that hard to believe.

    Please continue with the good work – we authors need you! And when are we hearing Barry Eisler again? Just wondering …

    • Oh, Barry freaking Eisler–he’s a fantastic interview, isn’t he? I told him he’s welcome back here anytime–he’s fascinating to talk to.

      “Inner Schweinhund” may be my new favorite term (and a great band name). Those Germans…they can name a psychological phenomenon well, can’t they? The suggestion about observing the thoughts is a good one, and well taken–thanks. I do meditate, and that’s helpful in learning to just observe and not react or get drawn into our thoughts–and to realize that they are just thoughts, and to dig deeper to what’s behind them. All useful reminders.

      And nature…YES. I’ve been thinking so much about this lately–my husband and I have been talking about where we want to spend our lives long-term, and so much of the calculus for me lies in that: where I can be able to be outside as much as possible. It’s getting harder and harder in Austin, between the extreme heat and the severe winters we’ve had lately. I know to a degree these issues are everywhere, but a lot of our looking is centered on where we can hike, bike, etc., for more of the year.

      Thank you so much for saying that Intuitive was helpful to you in your editing and revising. That’s everything I hoped for in writing it. And for taking the time for this encouraging note–it means a lot.

  • Hi Tiffany, It breaks my heart to hear that you’re going through this difficult time, but it’s reasurring to know that you are human, like the rest of us 😉

    I want to let you know how much I appreciate your work, primarily as an editor myself, but also for my own writing projects. Your writing craft classes and book (Intuitive Editing) have helped me become a better editor, and I refer clients to your articles, book, and classes ALL the time, to help reinforce the feedback I provide with dev edits and assessments.

    When I recently had a bout with the demons, one thing I did to make myself feel better was create a “word cloud” (I didn’t know it was called that until I started looking for an online tool to make one) from all the kind words from past clients. I went through every testimonial and pulled out descriptive words and phrases (“top-notch”; “very kind”; “incredible insights”) to generate the image, then printed it to hang next to my computer. You’ve been at this business for way longer than me, so I’m guessing your word cloud would take up a whole wall 🙂

    I second what others have said about nature, and spending time with friends who bring positive energy is always helpful. I’m currently reading Your Brain on Art, which discusses other mood-boosting activities, such as music; drawing, coloring, or any other art-making; dancing; and theatre. I’ve been coloring mandalas with my left hand (I read somewhere a long time ago that using your non-dominant hand for some activities can help with depression!).

    Thanks again for all you do in the literary world!

    • Oh, thank you, kind friend, for your concern. This too shall pass–I know this is just a normal trough in the journey and that they always even out, but in the meanwhile it’s a comfort to have solidarity and connection with folks who get it.

      Love the idea of using art as part of addressing moments like this–what better for a creative? I’ll check out the book you mention. And yes, I’m craving nature, and with the weather finally starting to cool a little from triple digits here, hopefully I can do more of that. The word cloud idea is interesting. I keep a file called “cookies” where I paste especially meaningful feedback from authors and publishers and others, for those moments when the psyche may need reinforcing, but I hadn’t tried making a word cloud–cool idea, thanks.

      It’s so rewarding to hear that my work is helpful to your work–and as a fellow editor. Thank you, genuinely, for saying so, and for taking the time to do it.

  • I’m very disappointed in you. I can’t believe that a gifted and successful person like you has these demons. (I’m teasing. It’s hard to get that tone into an email.)
    You seem to know how to handle them. Mine get short shrift;
    “This is what I do and I’m going to do it. It’s mine until I decide I want someone else to read it. And besides, if I could think of anything better to do, I’d do that instead. But I can’t, so there!”
    With respect to any performance of any kind, I remind myself that my audience very much wants me to succeed. It’s embarrassing and uncomfortable to be part of an audience whose performer doesn’t succeed. Unlike my demons, my audience is here because they want me to succeed, to give them a good experience and one or more takeaways. And, as ridiculous as it seems, I can’t please everyone, no matter how hard I try. And if it doesn’t work, I’ll deal with it afterward. But it will. Or I’ll learn something important.
    I believe for me this attitude creates an environment in which my demons can hardly breathe, much less party. I don’t see much of them. I get frustrated that I can’t seem to get it right, but I don’t get discouraged. Much. Any more. I always really enjoy your posts.

    • Ha! I’ve heard a couple of people share that they handle their own little red demons that way–a bit more strictly. That was always my way too, honestly, for most of my life. I was VERY good at boxing them up and putting them waaaaay back on the shelf. For me, that wound up not being a great long-term solution, though. They were still there, chewing their way out, no matter how much I tried to smother them. Despite these occasional skirmishes with them, it feels much better to acknowledge them instead of trying to choke them out, and realizing they are ME–maybe parts of me I don’t like as much as others, but if I try to disown them, it feels like I’m contributing to the issues they create by implicitly sending the message to myself that vulnerability and “weakness” are flaws to be stamped out. Holding myself to that standard exacerbates issues like perfectionism for me–it’s part and parcel of it (“Show no weakness! Tolerate no weakness! HAVE no weakness!”). I can’t possibly do that, and every time I fail to I feel worse about myself. Long-term it’s far better for me to acknowledge that these feelings are there, and that they’re normal and completely okay–but just not to let them run the house.

      I do love your reminders to yourself that you can’t please everyone–that’s so affirming and human and healthy, I think. And that your audience is on your side. I used to think about that as an actor–that every time I stepped into an audition, the casting people were desperately hoping I was the greatest thing they ever saw–that they wanted me to be what they were looking for as much as I wanted to be. That was actually very helpful.

      In my current work, it helps to simply focus on the work itself and what I love about it–and what I want from it: to offer something useful and helpful for authors. That takes that “performance” factor off of me and brings me back to operating from the inside out, organically–instead of from the outside in, always judging the result.

      And yes, it helps to remember my little demons desperately want us to succeed too. That’s why they are so scared, in fact. 🙂 And it’s my job to be the rational adult and soothe those childish fears.

      Thanks, Bob–I always enjoy your comments as well.

  • This is simple. Just channel Flip Wilson’s line: “The Devil made me do it”.

  • Tiffany. You are brilliant at what you do. I feel like a welcome guest in your office during your webinars. Your teaching is engaging, inspiring, and beyond helpful.
    What’s more, look at your package here: beautiful website, graphics, logo, vibe… all perfectly presented to engage and encourage visitors to return.

    Don’t. Change. A. Thing.
    You got this!
    Sending hugs,
    Miss Jay (from Australia.)

    • Jay, you’re a doll–what a lovely comment to leave. Things are already feeling better–quieting and dealing directly with those little boogers always calms things down and I can get rational again. 🙂 It means a lot to know you’ve found my work helpful–thank you!

  • Applause for this! This advice applies to writing for certain, but across so many professional areas as well. Recognizing and naming the demons and then telling them to STFU is so hard. Thank you for guidance on ways to break the spiral that so many of us find ourselves in. God bless.

    • So true, Chris–it’s not just in my editing/teaching work that they come out to play–and I think most of us probably have our own private cohort of demons we have to deal with. But I think you’re right–we have to deal with them directly or they just keep rabble-rousing all up in our psyches. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

  • […] attention to your reactions when your identity is called into question. I recently wrote about a bout with perfectionism that made me question several aspects of my identity—as an editor, as a wife, as a daughter, as a […]

  • […] That way lies the demons—comparison of past results with others or the fear of it in the future…impostor syndrome…procrastination…the whole cast of personal demons. (Take a bow, buddies, at yet another cameo appearance.) […]


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