When it comes to writing prose, I am prone to self-destruct. Sometimes I feel as though there’s a second person inside of me, a malicious and clever devil whose sole aim is to see me fail and lose my mental balance. Disguised as myself, this little Diablo makes me second guess my work and forces my writing into stagnation.
Allowing myself to be bipolar for the briefest of moments, I think I’ve uncovered this fellow’s plot and located the triggers that set off my self-initiated bomb. I am sharing them with you in hopes that you’ll recognize these wily traps before they send your writing muse to its grave.
(I’ve used the pronoun “her” in this article because it is also a personal reminder to myself, but it’s applicable to either gender.)
10 Steps to Effectively Kill a Writer
Step 1. Stick her in a job that requires little or no thinking.
A writer’s mind is her most important tool. It must be sharpened and stimulated regularly. Spending 8 hours in a place that offers neither will make her mind dull and guarantee a creativity block.
Step 2. Fill her life with countless distractions.
Who can put pen to paper when the dishes are dirty, the dog is peeing on the carpet, and the stomach is craving a dish prepared in a restaurant halfway across town? Little distractions will eat at her free time, one bite at a time.
Step 3. Tell her in order to be a “good” writer, she must be good at everything.
Tell her she must master every aspect of writing: fiction, nonfiction, comedy, drama, suspense, mystery, fantasy, and playwriting. If she spreads herself thin trying to be good at everything, she’ll be great at nothing!
Step 4. Compare her writing techniques and abilities with everyone else’s.
Everyone has their own unique writing style, so hers won’t precisely match with anyone’s. Make her think this is a bad thing. When she finishes a manuscript, tell her it doesn’t have the poetry of Shakespeare, or the sentiment of Nicholas Sparks, or the intricate plotting of Mary Higgins Clark. Her writing can never quite measure up to the bestsellers, or even the one hit wonders.
Step 5. Discount any signs of success as insignificant or, at most, unmerited luck.
All writers want positive feedback or some indication that their work is appreciated by someone, regardless of whether it’s a career or hobby. Don’t let her be happy when she receives compliments on her work. Tell her the compliment is pity, or coming from someone who’s a complete idiot, or even a spam bot. Downplay all her successes with the fact that she’s no bestseller – not even a one hit wonder.
Step 6. Place unrealistic expectations on her.
A bestselling book by 25. A nationwide fan base by 25 ½. A royalty contract that would make Stephen King jealous by 27, no 26. Put the pressure on, and watch her fold.
Step 7. Encourage her to process criticism as rejection.
If after every critique she’s ready to throw the whole manuscript in the incinerator, you’re on the right track.
Step 8. Muddy the water, and make her dreams vague, abstract, or unclear.
If she doesn’t know where she’s going, how will she get there?
Step 9. Take the fun and enjoyment out of her writing.
By this time she’s thinking she’s dull (Step 1), feeling guilty for wasting time (Step 2), pressured by the success of others (Steps 5 & 6), terrified of rejection (Step 7), steadily losing her way (Step 8), and anxious to see “real” progress. So she’s going to write several hours a day, sometimes until the early morning, to make up for it. It’s only a matter of time before she burns out and writing becomes a chore and a grind.
Step 10. Make her think her writing is a waste of time.
This one’s the kill shot. Remind her of the “nots.” She’s not as good as she’d like to be. She’s not as good as she should be. She’s not getting the same fulfillment from writing that she used to.
If she still believes her writing is making a difference, it’s the only thing keeping her going. If you can make her believe that’s not true, what other reason does she have to continue?
After Step 10, you can be sure that she’ll be so sick of writing that she’ll pop wheelies on her pc, behead all her pencils, swallow the ink from all her pens, vomit at the mere sight of Barnes and Noble, start an anti-book club in her living room, and never tell her children stories. The writer in her will be, essentially, dead.
Congratulations, you are officially a murderer.