Should is a 4-Letter Word

“Should is a 4 letter word.”

This is possibly the most helpful thing my therapist has ever told me. She explained that the word “should” to the mentally ill mind is as offensive as certain four letter words. It tells us that we are failing in some way by not acting in a certain fashion.

For example, someone might say “I should be eating healthier”. The phrase immediately conjures up guilt at something you aren’t doing. What if you said “I WANT to be eating healthier”? Instead of shaming, it is a statement with a goal you can work towards. That make sense to you?

I try very hard to stop myself from making ‘should’ statements. I restructure them in my head and remind myself over and over how it is having a bad effect on me.

Unfortunately, one place that advice never made it to was my writing.

When I first joined Twitter, I was almost immediately enchanted. There were so many writers out there to interact and chat with, and they wanted to talk to me! It was so inspiring to share little tidbits of my process with people and read all about theirs.

At first, my writing was boosted. It was motivating to get my words written every day so I could share it with people. It was that tiny bit of accountability that I need. Until it started to do the opposite.

Like with everything else in the world, writers on Twitter have very forceful opinions. Most have the best of intentions, but that didn’t stop me from forgetting that everyone has to find their own way, and just because someone is more experienced about something than me it doesn’t mean they are right about everything.

It played up on my fear of publishing. I openly admit that I never plan on traditional publishing because I know my works isn’t “marketable”. Even though I write romance, I don’t fit into a narrow niche. (more on that subject in a future post) When I’m done with something, I plan on setting it loose in the world, whether or not anyone else reads it. Writing is something I have always done for me, not other people.

That’s all fine. Although there can be a stigma attached, lots of people self publish and are quite happy with their results. Naturally I was attracted to posts with tips and tricks in them.

I let people get in my head. I started worrying about making mistakes. I heard people who clearly have much harsher standards than I say that they would stop reading a book after finding a single typo (which listening to several podcasts by published authors recently reminded me was not something uncommon to traditionally published works too). I listened to people who talked about how you had to have this, and you had to have that before publishing, even if it cost more money than you could ever reasonably spend.

I believed them when they said you had to pay someone else to make your work the best it could possibly be.

My anxiety sent obsessive thoughts swirling around my head until I didn’t want to work on my novels anymore. Sure, I wrote little bits here and there, but whenever I thought about editing one of the many things I have first drafts of I would get that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that said it would never be good enough.

I let the world psych me out. I forgot that I know what I want out of my writing, and it doesn’t involve perfection. I want to write the stories in my head down and edit them until they say what matters to me. Me, not the rest of the world. Would I like people to read and like them? Of course! But that cannot, nor do I want it to be my main goal.

I’ve known for a few months that I needed to find a way to stop other people from stealing my joy of writing. Amusingly, it’s only been during a very stressful family crisis that I have been able to sort through my feelings and come to a sort of solution.

The solution was basically to think a lot about writing, listen to some of my favorite writing podcasts, and sort through the negative thoughts and “shoulds” that my brain had been infected by. I found the nest, sprayed for pests, and with any luck I can keep the infestation under control from now on.

Writing this entry was half the battle. What better way to sort out thoughts and feelings for a writer? For the first time in a long time, I feel positive about my writing. I’m looking forward to sitting down at putting words to page.

I’ve stopped ‘should-ing on myself’. And it feels great.

Do you find yourself plagued by ‘shoulds’? Has it negatively impacted your life (writing or otherwise)? As always, I hope something I’ve said resounds with someone and makes their life just a little bit easier.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for writing this! A little more than a year ago, I set aside a novel I loved. I wasn’t ready to give up on it, but I convinced myself I should move on; I should write something new. I spent a year trying (and failing) to write something else. I didn’t want to write something else, and that eventually turned into not wanting to write at all. About a month ago, I gave myself permission to revisit the MS I just couldn’t leave behind. I fell in love with it all over again. I fell in love with words and writing again. Maybe that MS “should” be gathering dust in a trunk somewhere, but instead it’s clearing the cobwebs from my brain and out of my heart and making me WANT to write again.

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