My Chihuahua thinks he’s a Rottweiler. I’ve told him he isn’t. He’s seen his reflection in a mirror. He’s met real live Rottweilers. (It didn’t go well. It takes a really well-trained Rottie to allow a Chihuahua with a sawed off tail to hike his leg and let fly on him.) None of that matters. Frodo, the only dog I know mean enough to chew off his own tail, thinks he is a large, muscular German attack dog. There are ankle-bitten UPS guys, a telephone repairman, several vet techs and a county sheriff who can attest to that. The whole world has told him he can’t be a Rottweiler. He chooses to ignore it.
When my brothers and I were kids, any challenge that started with the words “I’ll bet you can’t do…” had to be answered. It was one of life’s moral imperatives. The results usually weren’t pretty. Some of the more memorable manifestations included a broken arm, an almost completely severed thumb (sorry about that, Jim) numerous stitches and a full face slide down an English village road after exiting over the handlebars of a bicycle. (Needless to say the Flying Wallendas have NOT called me.) You get the picture.
My brother Jim and I were not merely participants in these antics. Where my youngest brother, Brian was concerned we were often instigators and cheerleaders. We convinced the poor kid there was nothing he couldn’t do. However, the incident with the bath towel cape and his leap from the top of the storage shed DID end rather badly. (Of course you can fly, Brian. Those people who say you can’t are just jealous.) He is a surprisingly well-adjusted adult and has accomplished a great deal in his life. Jim and I like to think we had a hand in it. We never told him he COULDN’T do something no matter how dangerous or even stupid it might appear.
If only we as writers had such devoted siblings cheering us on and telling us we can do anything. More often than not, while our families do support us in this writing madness, we writers tend to listen to one voice more than all the others. That voice comes in many forms, each unique to our particular weaknesses and quirks. You know. That annoying little voice, sometimes called the internal editor, sometimes the devil on our shoulder.
I call my little voice THE GNOME OF DOOM. He sits on my shoulder as I write (when I don’t flick him off) and says inspiring things like “you are never going to make it” “nobody will ever read this mess” “why are you wasting all this time writing when you could be doing something more constructive or fun or relaxing?” I really hate that little twerp. He’s always there. Nagging. Insinuating. Irritating. And dangerous. Very, very dangerous.
You wouldn’t think a harmless little gnome could do so much damage, but he can. In fact, when it comes to my writing, he is more dangerous than jumping off the storage shed with a bath towel cape on and no net in sight. Because if he tells me I can’t long enough; and if I begin to listen to his ugly gnomey butt, I might just start to believe it. And I can’t do that. Not even for a minute.
That’s the thing about believing you can do something. The longer and harder you believe, the closer you get to being what you believe yourself to be. Indiana Jones starts out as a mild mannered professor. He ventures out of the confines of his real life and out maneuvers all those booby traps and tripwires not because of what the world believes him to be, but because of what HE believes himself to be. He just goes with it. People tell him it’s dangerous, it can’t be done, impossible, a million to one shot and he looks the GNOME OF DOOM, I mean the TEMPLE OF DOOM in the eye and says “Oh yeah? Watch this.”
He does it blindly with no clue where he is going most of the time. He keeps doing it because the prize at the end is just too good to pass up. And more often than not he gives the prize away. For the most part, I think he does it because people tell him he can’t and for the thrill of outsmarting that still, small voice that tells him “You’re a professor, for God’s sake. What makes you think you can do this?”
There are a lot of days I pause and look around me and think “This is SO not the life I ordered.” Other days I rush around doing my bakery job for Walmart and think “It isn’t much, but I guess it’ll do. After all, lots of people don’t make it in this writing business.” I’m not fooled in the least. That’s the GNOME OF DOOM talking. His mantra is “You can’t do this. Na na na na na.”
But I don’t want to listen to a gnome, even one who has taken up residence in my imagination, more often than not because I’ve put him there. I’d rather listen to Thomas Edison. He said:
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
So the next time your own GNOME OF DOOM tells you that you can’t do this writing thing, look him dead in the eye and say “Oh yeah? WATCH ME!” Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bath towel cape and a storage shed with my name on it – just as soon as I detach my Chihuahua from the mailman.