Demon Management in Three Parts

There are a lot of things to learn when one sets out to become a writer, a whole toolbox full of skills to develop. Many of them are fairly obvious — story structure, pacing, lively dialogue, characterization, etc. — but some are a little less … expected.

One of the most important, and most difficult to master, is Demon Management.

We all have Demons, the voices in our heads that say negative, unkind, vicious things, things that undercut us and eat away at our confidence and faith. Left un-managed, these Demons can destroy a writer, or at least make her stop writing. My Demon likes to tell me I suck and that my writing is stupid. My Demon is especially fond of trotting those happy messages out just when I’m feeling most confident. Yesterday was a day when I knew, knew in my bones, that I’m talented and skilled, so naturally, today is full of the usual ‘you’re no good’ messages, murmured almost subliminally.

Which makes today a good day to talk about Demon Management.

The first part is to keep going. So I wrote today. It depressed me, because I believed what I wrote was so awful, but I didn’t tear it up or throw it out. With the rational part of my brain, I know it’s not that awful. It might need a lot of work, but it might not; there’s now way for me to tell right now, because my Demon is clouding my vision and I can’t see clearly.

The second part of Demon Management is to recognize that Demons lie. They speak with the voices of our fears and doubts, and our fears and doubts distort things, magnifying everything negative, shrinking positive things to the point of invisibility. In a ‘the cure is worse than the disease’ kind of way, I think Demons are trying, however misguided their efforts, to protect us. If that’s true, it doesn’t mean we need to listen to what the Demon has to say. At best, we can use them like canaries in coal mines, warning us that our fears are active.

The third part of Demon Management is to have compassion and tenderness for ourselves. The last thing we should do when suffering a Demon attack is to pile on, berating ourselves for our failures. On a good day, I can write 1,000 words. Today, I wrote around 150, and I had to drag those out. The Demon wants me to start harassing myself for failing to produce more, but I’m not going to. I gave writing everything I had today, and that’s enough. If I hadn’t been able to produce a single word, that would have been enough, too. I’m struggling with something difficult and that’s going to sap my energy and creativity.

Our Demons aren’t going away any time soon — they’re not going away at all — so it’s important for our health as writers to learn how to manage them as quickly as possible, and to continue to develop strategies for coping with their unkindnesses for as long as we live. (If we stop writing, they’ll just start up on something else.)

I’ve offered up my methods. How do you manage your Demon?

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