On Sunday, I received an ultimatum from a close friend. The contents of said ultimatum might seem strange to some, but for those of us who have a circle full of folks who rarely pull punches, it’s par for the course: My girl Jené told me that I had 10 days to schedule a writing-related meeting with a certain person, or she was going to fight me. The only way I could get out of said square up session, was if that person was either unresponsive, or–and I quote–“an insufferable human being who wouldn’t give you the time of day.”
Knowing that she wasn’t about to play with me, I made good on her request–well, demand–in a third of the time allotted.
Although I don’t want to insult the intellect or biting wit of my readers, I just want to state for the record that my friend had no intention of actually fighting me. She just cares about and believes in me; has never been one to sugar coat; and also happens to be tired of my imposter syndrome-induced shenanigans. The loving push couched in a thinly-veiled threat came as the result of us talking for the #fiftylemth time (fiftylem is an actual number; don’t debate me) about my hesitance to write a book.
The years-long foot-dragging I’ve engaged in is tied to a number of things (read: excuses), but frankly, they all fall under the umbrella of a general lack of belief in my abilities. I talk a very good game about the merits of being kind to oneself, sure. The reality, though, is that especially where it relates to my craft, I am incredibly self-denigrating. My inner voice errs on the side of the harshest critique, which is both a gift and a curse.
I’ve been writing since childhood…and tearing my writing to shreds for the same amount of time. Once, I literally did that. I recall 9 or 10-year-old me crying while dramatically ripping up a perfectly good short story draft I’d written for school, because I thought it sounded “dumb” and my classmates would laugh at me. In high school, my AP Lit teacher, Mrs. Wright, would practically beg me to just let my words flow in initial drafts, instead of doubling back to edit every few paragraphs. “It’s called a ‘rough’ draft for a reason, Brittney,” she’d say.
Fun fact: Nearly 15 years later, I haven’t yet broken the habit of editing-while-drafting. Don’t tell Mrs. Wright.
I’ve made my bad habit work for me as a writer, but frankly, it’s quite risky. Hypercriticism of your work can lead to throwing away a perfectly good draft; taking entirely too long to complete one; or, worse yet, not starting at all because of self-assurance that nothing you write will be good enough anyway.
Shocker shocker: I’ve fallen prey to the worst of the aforementioned risks.
Jené is acutely aware of this. She is also acutely aware of the fact that there are other things, like the trauma I’d be revisiting in writing my first book, which are mitigating factors in my stalling. And she cares, but she doesn’t. It sounds like an oxymoronic sentence, but it actually makes perfect sense. Like many of my friends, she is willing to support me through my fears and insecurities; but she is unwilling to let me sit on my gifts because of them. Essentially, “I care that this is hard, but I don’t care that you think it’s so hard you shouldn’t do it. Move.”
I’ve come to find that that sort of tough love is what reaches me most effectively. I also find it to be amazingly intentional. My friends are hip to the fact that although my inner voice is hypercritical–and at times, downright mean–I listen to it. More than I should. So what do they do? Mimic that voice, but with positive messaging.
The result is a pretty hilarious–and wildly effective–form of encouragement, which usually comes in the form of threats or feigned dismissiveness:
Me: I can’t do it; I can’t write the book.
Jené: Girl, listen. I’m not trying to hear all that. Get writing, and also get on the calendar of someone you know who’s written a book…or you will get fought.
Me: I’m over this job search, fam. I’m never going to find a job.
Shavon: You sound absolutely ridiculous; shut up. You just got a WHOLE Master’s degree from the best program in the country. Get out my face and apply for more jobs.
Me: *holding back tears* I think I’m just being extra, I’m okay.
Grace: Orrrr… I think you’re just depressed and being annoying about asking for help. Being alone is not an option so I’m pulling up. And I swear to God, you better answer the door.
I could go on and on with examples, especially from the women in my life, whose fierce dedication protects me from me, more than it does from other people or things. They are both gentle and harsh with me; both patient and fed up. It’s exactly what I need.
I couldn’t be more grateful, and so to them I say (or better yet, sing):
Thank you for being a friend.