How do you fight the demons? How do you stop the doubts inside your head—those negative thoughts that tell you that what you’re doing is hopeless—from growing so big that they stop you from trying? Because they’re coming for me right now. I can’t see them, but I can feel them and hear them. I have a family of demons inside me. I picture them as being red and scaly, with tiny pointy ears and a long pointy tail. With a big mouth. (Imagine Mushu from Mulan, but without the friendly disposition.)
It seems that my writer demons and coding demons like to talk, because much of what they say is the same. I’m a hack. I’m no good. There are plenty of people out there way better at this job than I am. I have good reason to have doubts about myself and should just give up. Because my work will never be good enough for anyone else to want to partake (be it publish my novel or hire me, it doesn’t matter). Heck, even my parenting demons chime in regularly, and I feel sorry for my kids for being stuck with a parent like me.
I know these demons are not going to help me do better. If they would just shut up, I could get back to work and make some progress—even if it’s minimal—to tide me over until the next day, when hopefully they’d be too busy or tired or distracted to bother me.
A boost is what I need. How about a quick visit to Facebook, to see some friendly faces, some happy posts, and remember that I am lucky to have so many friends, and that this is a wonderful time in which we live that we are able to be in touch with people we care about, regardless of geography. Thank you, Facebook. Such a simple concept, such a simple design. Meanwhile, the app I’ve been thinking of developing has gone nowhere, is utterly banal, and I may as well not even bother with it.
Darn, the demons noticed me. It made me compare my future app to an established website. If that’s not going to discourage me, I hate to think of what will. Mind you, I know how to recreate Facebook, and that fact ought to make me feel better, but instead, the demons remind me that it wouldn’t do any good since Facebook is already created, so it’s really a useless skill.
Fine. Something else then… I could walk away for a while, take a break. But I only have half an hour until the boys are done with school, so if I take a break now, that’s it for the day. And what have I really accomplished?
Sometimes, earlier in the day, I can get up, walk to another room, perhaps walk the dog, break for a quick lunch, or talk on the phone for a few minutes. But I just took two weeks off, and really need to get work done.
Well, here’s the thing. Here’s how I’m going to fight these demons. I’m going to listen to them. I’m going to hear what they’re telling me, face my biggest fears and doubts of the day, and use these to make sure they don’t paralyze me tomorrow. I’ve gone through my entire novel and marked all the errors—all the so-called proof that I’m a bad writer—and I’m going to fix them, one by one, tomorrow. I’ve made a list. It’s not a complete list (since I’m not done discovering all my flaws), but it doesn’t have to be. I just need enough to have a plan tomorrow morning.
Without a plan, I let my mind wander. And when I wander, my demons come out of their cages, wrap me in a rope of doubts, and lead me astray. And once there, I have to listen to them. I can’t help it. But then, when I listen, they quiet down. Perhaps I just “trick” them into returning to their cages because they think that they’ve won, or maybe they want to help and this is the only way they know how (much like, sometimes, as a parent, I offer advice to my kids in a less-than-nice way—”for their own good”). Or perhaps they are firecrackers that will explode and then fizzle down to nothing. But if I’m prepared for it, the demons can’t take me by surprise.
The other trick to conquering demons is to embrace failure. As Yoda said in The Last Jedi, “The greatest teacher, failure is.” And I have failed. I spent a year and a half working on a website that I then shut down after six months. I self-published a book five years ago that, while I still love it, acknowledges that with its eight Amazon reviews and few sales it ain’t no bestseller. But you know what? I survived both those failures. I’ve learned and grown from them. Better that than to drift aimlessly (for me, anyhow; if you find peace in aimless drifting, enjoy!).
The demons only have power if I give it to them. As I stumble in pursuit of a goal, my demons knock me down and try to ensure I won’t reach it in time. But if I remind myself that it’s not a race, that all I need to do is get up and keep moving forward, then the demons fall behind. They’ll catch up, certainly, but without my help, they can’t stop me. I hope to pass on this forced optimism and encouragement to my children, which of course is tough as I try to work through it myself. But I’ll get there. No doubt about it.