Fire Your Imaginary Grandmother

(NaNoWriMo cheerleading post for November 2)

One of my grandmothers had a house that smelled like dirty dishes, cigarettes, and  newspapers, and she was only tenuously associated with reality.  The other one was a tartar, a domineering pepperpot who ran people’s lives.  I’m not talking about that kind of grandmother.

I’m talking about the sweet one with the apron.  The one who cuddles you and tells you you’re incredibly talented.  Who brags about you to strangers.  Who thinks you’re a genius.  You know, the one who sits on the shoulder on the opposite side from your imaginary editor.  Get rid of her, too.

Fire Your Imaginary Grandmother

She’s a very nice grandmother, and she means well when she praises your writing.  She doesn’t just praise the sentence you just wrote.  No, because she’s your imaginary grandmother, she praises your very essence.  She says, “My grandchild is brilliant.  Gifted.  A pearl.”

Why is that a bad thing?  Here’s the secret:  Praise is a terrible motivator.  It makes you more and more reluctant to work.  Because what happens when the brightest person in the world produces writing that is less than perfect?  Failure, that’s what.

Praise, which comes from outside (even if you’re giving it to yourself) and labels you, crushes intrinsic motivation.  It threatens your self-image.  It makes you afraid to take risks.  There’s a lot of supporting research (and some very good books).

Far more important than talent is the willingness to show up.  To fail.  To trust that if you do the work, you will get the results.

Therefore, when you hear that sweet quavering little voice telling you how wonderful you are, take a rolled up newspaper and whack your grandmother (you can make it your grandfather, or your uncle, if you like) in the snoot.  Let her totter off and make some gingerbread cookies while you work.  Your job is to be your mediocre self.  To fail better, as Samuel Beckett said.

You know who gets published?  Writers, that’s who.  You know what a writer is?  Someone who writes.  Not necessarily the most talented ones.  Don’t stop to admire your writing.  Get to work.  Go on.  Write another sentence.  And another.  Keep going.

Tomorrow:  And then?  And then?  Bridging the gaps between scenes.




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