I am a chronic over thinker. To the point where nothing gets done because I get stuck in a whirlwind of thoughts that just keep swirling and swirling, and clumping together and breaking apart.
I recognize this about myself. I know what triggers these cycles, and, for the most part, know what I need to do to stop them. I’m not going to lie though; some days are harder than others. And some days, I don’t even realize when I’m caught up until it’s far too late to do anything about it.
As an over thinker, it’s kind of ironic that the only way I’ve learned this about myself is thanks to self-reflection, aka thinking. Oh well. What I have learned is that at the core of my over thinking is my need for control. I’d rather not do anything at all than do something that’s not perfect. I’d rather keep ideas in my head, where it’s nice and safe, than expose them to the rest of the world, where I have no control over how they are perceived.
To further explain my point, let’s use an analogy, shall we?
Lately, I’ve heard a lot of talk about so-called helicopter parents. This is a term for a parent who becomes overly involved in their child’s life, to the degree that some will even interfere in job searches once the child has graduated from college. The result is children who don’t know how to cope with the challenges of life if mommy and daddy are not there to smooth it over for them. This smothering parenting style actually ensures the child will be a failure.
Since most writers will, at one time or another, refer to their writing as their baby, I thought this comparison was spot on. I have seen many writers destroy any chance their books, and their careers, by being overly controlling.
As a writer, allowing others access to what is a very intimate expression of yourself is a very scary reality. Once your book is “out there,” it is at the mercy of the likes and dislikes of other people. They can chose to reject it, accept it, edit it, ignore it, buy it, read it, review it, recommend it, bash it, laugh at it. They can do whatever they like with it, and you don’t get to say boo. You don’t get to lean over their shoulders and tell them how wonderful it actually is if they’ll just get to Chapter 4. You don’t get to explain why the characters are behaving they way they are, or why the book ends the way it does. It is out of your hands. But there are a lot of writers out there who just don’t seem to get this.
I’ve seen people self-publish immediately after finishing their book because they can’t deal with the idea of getting rejected.
I’ve seen people break contracts with publishers because they couldn’t bear the editing process.
I’ve seen people freak out over a negative review and bring the wrath of the internet down upon their heads.
I don’t believe any of these people are stupid. I do believe that they are doing themselves a disservice. If you cannot look at yourself and your work with an objective eye, you will never be able to improve. You will spend your time angry and bitter and wondering why no one will recognize your genius and hurl you onto the best seller’s list. To preserve your sanity, to make sure not to cripple yourself, you must learn to give up control. At some point, you have to let your creation stand or fall on its own merit.
I wish I could give you the secret for how to let go, but I’m still learning that myself. Time seems to be the most helpful. It allows you to gain some emotional distance from your work. Practice is also required. I’ve only got two books out there, but already I can see the mistakes I’ve made with them and have learned from it. But most of all, self-reflection, aka thinking (but hopefully not over thinking) is a must. If you cannot face your own flaws head on, there is no way you’re going to be able to stand it when someone else points them out for you.
And thus ends the most Dr Phil-ish post I ever hope to write.