Talking to myself ~ An exercise in self-confidence restoration


Talking to myself ~ An exercise in self-confidence restoration

I’ve reached a kind of a crisis of confidence and I’ve got nowhere to turn but inwards. Depression is said to be anger turned inwards and I know I am angry about so many things; I have reached a point where that inward-turning ire is going to manifest itself with some serious activity. Therefore, taking the advice of Ian, my long-time internet friend, I am going to give myself a talking-to: but not the usual stern and harsh one but something I hope will be more constructive. I hope you can follow the process without ending up cross-eyed. (PS. this was actually written some months ago, but having come back to thr same point, I thought it worth sharing.)

Me: so why are you getting your knickers in a twist about writing?

Me2: because I’ve been reading a lot of blogs written by other writers.

Me: so?

Me2: well, they all spend a lot of time writing about writing and reading about writing….

Me: so?

Me2: perhaps that’s something I ought to do too. Maybe I am simply being arrogant or just lazy to defy convention and ignore all the classic stuff about WIPs and alpha readers and how to write…

Me: what on earth makes you think that?

Me2: I guess it’s the pressure of numbers.

Me: but you’ve never been one to do what the crowd does.

Me2: yeah but maybe I’d have had a more productive life if I had done…

Me: Do you really think that? Is it not more likely that you would never have developed your own unique and very readable style if you had followed the crowd and taken writing classes and gone to online critiquing groups and so on?

Me2: maybe…

Me: there’s no maybe about it. You were alone. You didn’t need anyone to tell you how to write; I think you might have felt like punching someone who tried to tell you. You know there isn’t any one way to write.

Me2. But maybe I am being arrogant in dismissing the value of such things….

Me: you’re not. You’re dismissing their value for you. That’s a different thing. You’re an eagle. You can already fly better than most. You don’t need to take lessons. You already learned the hard way, with crash landings and disasters.

Me2: can we leave the eagle metaphor alone please?

Me: why? Is it making you uncomfortable?

Me2: yes, very.

Me: why?

Me2: because it seems to imply that I think I am greater than everybody else.

Me: and do you?

Me2:(small voice) not everybody. Just a heck of a lot of people. I hate even thinking it. I wouldn’t say it to anyone but you. I know you understand. I know I’m good. I just can’t deal with it because I have virtually nothing to show for it.

Me: you mean external validation?

Me2: yes. I guess so. I know that I have a heap of good reviews and so on. But it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Me: what would be enough?

Me2: I don’t know. Maybe being a best seller or something like that.

Me: so it’s numbers that matter?

Me2: yes. no. I don’t know. I guess if the majority of reviews are good, then…

Me: wait a moment. Do you mean that if The Crowd endorses your work, that’s going to make you accept who you are? The same crowd you’ve sought to keep away from all your life? The same crowd that said the Shopaholic books are great books?

Me2: now you put it like that it does sound silly.

Me: It does a bit, yes. But the people who have read and loved your work, does it matter than they are still small in number?

Me2: yes, it does matter. Not because I don’t trust their opinion. Not that. It’s a bit more than that. It comes down to the fact that I would like a greater number of people to benefit from what I write.

Me: the people who have commented, tell me, are they people who gain from praising you?

Me2: no. I don’t think so. So, their opinion is unbiased then, I guess.

Me: so you can trust them?

Me2: yes.

Me: and the people who you’ve been reading, who write and read about writing, what are they to you? Can they help you in any way?

Me2: in most cases, no. I could help them, I guess, by telling them there is no easy way to learn to write and no real short-cuts. Sure, you can learn some techniques, but I guess it’s like being a sports-person. You can get the fitness, and even learn the skills, but in the end, it comes down to a certain impossible to define star quality that gives someone the edge over others.

Me: you’re talking about being gifted.

Me2: I am? I suppose so. Being gifted is all very well but you do still need to put in the work, the training. Some things come easier, but maybe some come easier because you have a gift AND you have worked. I saw a Tweet about finding out what is on the best sellers lists and then you should go and write something like it. I say that is death to originality.

Me: you’re sounding a lot more positive.

Me2: I guess so. I wonder how many of the people who write about writing can actually write. I’ve skimmed through some and while none has struck me as drivel, none has actually struck me as original or fresh or really deeply creative and new, or from the heart. I’m not a good critic; I only really know what I like and why I like it. Some of them write genres I dislike intensely, so maybe my judgement is flawed.

Me: maybe.

Me2: there’s also the thing about not ever wanting to stamp on someone else’s dreams. That’s criminal.

Me: but that includes you own. You must remember that. Remember you are a writer who has served a long and lonely apprenticeship. You never had the luxury of other more experienced writers to tell you how to write, how to feel or anything. You had to be your own pioneer, your own guide, just like now. You must remember that numbers don’t matter. To have touched one heart and soul with your words is enough. To touch millions is a dream for tomorrow, not today. You care about all the readers you currently have; can you do that for millions? No. Remember these first readers with gratitude, because they got you started. They gave you the confidence to go on. This is what the others are seeking from their alpha readers and their blog commenters: the validation you’ve already had, for years. Even those rejection letters from publishers PRAISED your writing.

Me2: You may be right. But…

Me: But what?

Me2: I sense a bigger thing coming. I don’t know what. But maybe bigger readership.

Me: so get back to just writing. Don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right. You’ll fall from the sky if you keep checking your wings!

Me2: hahaha!! You’re right. I must just do: not think, do. Like Yoda says, there is no try. When it comes to writing, to write is all. To write constantly about writing does suggest they may have nothing left to write about.

Me: so what are you going to do?

Me2: believe in myself a bit more.

Me: good girl. Now go get writing!!!

Me2: OK, boss….


(Edited 26th of March. This was actually written about a year ago as an exercise to try and examine some emotions. I thought it worth sharing the process)


  The following lines came to me (partially, anyway) yesterday in church. Those of you who notice the first line(and the title) is in homage to Jenny Joseph’s wonderful poem, give yourselves a gold star. This one is for Mark,who asked for something lighter after the somewhat grim offering yesterday. I was wearing more purple than the Bishop yesterday, and it sort of sparked some thoughts. Enjoy, I’m off to Marks and Spencer’s.



When I am bold I shall wear purple

With red satin undies that nobody sees

but make me feel a million dollars

in an inexplicable, sensual way

I shall say what I mean when I speak

and mean what I say, whatever the cost

I shall not waver in my conviction

that I have a right to be here

I shall leave my face unpainted if I want

And not feel bound by convention or habit

To alter my appearance in the slightest

If that is not how I wish to look.

I will wear flatties even if the style gurus say “No!”

because as a work in progress,

I am a being of perpetual motion

and no one can really run in heels.

I will try new things when I find them

even if they make me sick for a week

I will not follow the herd, but

I may accompany then sometimes

For observation and learning

because, you know, sometimes,

it’s nice to be part of a group.

But sometimes, I am far from bold

and I seek to hide my colours amid the beige

and wear underwear the colour of old gum

and say nothing when I should say everything,

shudder at the thought of trying something new

and hide from those who may need me

because to be bold is also to be a target

and a soul gets tired of being hunted.

So I will start small and work towards

an everyday boldness that becomes

a solid purple beacon of light

By buying those red satin undies

for those days when I need to be bold

and daring, from the inside out.




I’ve just crawled out of bed an hour or two ago, after arriving home at 2.30am after a 25 hours shift. I was utterly knackered when I got in but actually I feel worse now, all muzzy and woozy.

But what makes it worse is the crippling self doubt that follows on the heels of any enterprise I undertake. The feelings that I might have messed up or not pleased, or got things wrong and not noticed. In the cold light of day, it was a good trip; nothing went wrong as such, no one got hurt, lost, robbed or otherwise inconvenienced. I think the teachers were so tired when I left them at their school at 11.30 last night that giving the humble courier any real feedback was beyond them; the leader thanked me and that ought to be enough. But I have to do these things almost in a sort of vacuum, because I haven’t ever seen anyone else do it; I’ve just had to make it up as I go along and I am terrified, no, PETRIFIED that I am somehow making a hash of it all and people are too polite/kind/reluctant to cause trouble to say anything. That was my fourth European trip; my boss is trying to make sure I get new groups where possible and she tells me she has every confidence in me. That ought to be enough. But it isn’t. As well as being worn out, I’m in a kind of inner agony in case I didn’t do as good a job as I want to do. I do this in my other job too; I worry that because the kids don’t greet me as their long lost friend that I’m not a good enough teacher.

I think I fear at a very deep level that on every level I am simply not good enough.

And I hate it. I hate the day after a party, an event, an anything because I wonder if I did OK. It’s kind of a need for approval (thank you J!) and because I have a very thin emotional skin, it all hurts.

I’m getting ready to go out to a barbeque with our Bee group this afternoon so at least I’ll have something to take my mind off it soon. But for a few days I will actually be worrying that there’ll be a letter arriving on my boss’s desk saying I was rubbish or worse, complaining I did things badly or not at all.

I do hope there isn’t any alcohol at the BBQ that I might actually like, because I feel like getting drunk and that really isn’t a great idea.

In Case of Emergency….

I have often been able to gauge the level of my anxiety by the weight and contents of my handbag. Yesterday it was back-breaking, even though I removed certain items.

By coincidence there was a programme on BBC2 last night about surviving emergencies and disasters; it was at once reassuring and disturbing at the same time. Reassuring because one of the key ingredients in increasing your chance of surviving an incident is preparation; both mental and physical and by having a plan BEFORE the event that means you can do things without having to think. For me, this means a lot of things. I’ve always gone through a mental checklist when arriving in a hotel room; check the window opens properly, check the fire exit so I know where it is, things like that. When I get on a ferry, I glance to see where the exits are, where the lifejackets are kept, which deck I am on. It’s no big deal; I’ve always done it, and I have had people tell me I am morbid or mad to even think about it. Even in a cafe or pub, I like to sit where I can see a clear route to the outside.

It was also reassuring because as a habit I carry various things with me much of the time; a dynamo torch, for example, sits in a pocket in my handbag. It can’t run out of battery because it is self powered. I used to carry a multi-tool, but that was either lost or half-inched last season; I must replace it. I would like to carry a knife but since that is now considered a problem, I don’t. My multi tool had small blades so I couldn’t have taken it on a plane but it was fine for the UK rules. I’d run through the current contents of my handbag but I think it would betray me as utterly neurotic even though I have removed some of the more telling items like the space blanket.

The disturbing thing about the programme was the fact that what is now known to kill more people unneccesarily in the event of a disaster is not, as you might think PANIC, but rather a failure to react. People will sit there like rabbits in the headlights waiting for someone to tell them what to do. In the 9/11 catastrophe, people did things like finish writing emails, filing papers and putting things in the safe, assuming they had more time than they did. If it had been a drill, they may have feared disciplinary action or the sack if they had failed to file sensitive papers first. People wait for peer confirmation that something is wrong. There was an experiment using smoke in a waiting room; people alone raised the alarm fast, but when surrounded by actors who ignored it, they waited and waited, fearing looking silly by reacting.

Now, this is disturbing because I have done just this thing myself. In late August 2001, I was returning from an overnight stay in a London hospital; I’d had an operation the night before and when I got to King’s Cross, I had just missed my train. So I sat down to wait; I was tired and groggy from the anaesthesia and my wounds were hurting. About ten minutes later, a strange siren began. I ignored it, assuming it was a false alarm, and also because nobody else seemed to react. Thankfully, the station staff came along and shooed us all out of the station and we were all shocked to see fire engines, police vehicles and the bomb squad.

Now I grew up during an era when IRA bomb threats were common and a very real danger; indeed, my high school was often disrupted by bomb threats and once, when I was 18, there was a real bomb in the building(but that’s another story) So for me, this was a real shock and I was scared and very worried. Not only were we all standing too close to the building to escape flying debris and glass, none of the emergency services seemed to know this. I moved as far from the building as I could and sat down on a kerb stone and waited.

Nothing happened. It was indeed a bomb scare; no device was found. Less than a fortnight later, 9/11 changed the world.

Now, I didn’t react. Had there been a bomb, I might well not be here writing this. I might well have been blown up, simply for not realising the siren meant GET OUT THE BUILDING NOW, YOU MORON.     

The experts interviewed stated that one of the biggest factors in survival in an emergency is not intelligence, or strength or speed or equipment but SELF-CONFIDENCE: The ability to act believing that you are doing the right thing.

Of course, blind luck plays a part too.  It can be a matter of utter chance. But an equation was emerging I found worrying. 5 parts self-confidence +  2 parts preparedness+ 1 part luck = possible survival. I have very little real self confidence; I can blag it in plenty of circumstances and pretend. But when push comes to shove, I seldom believe I am right.

Let’s hope then that in the unlikely event of a real disaster, luck and the insane contents of my handbag might save me!