All Posts Filed in ‘Inner Critic


Your Story Matters

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How to Believe that Your Story Matters

Why would anyone read this?

There is someone out there who needs this exact story.

It’s not very interesting.

It’s interesting enough that you feel compelled to write it.

But who am I to think I can write this? I’m nobody.

You are somebody with a story to tell. That’s who you are.

It is too hard to get started.

All you need is a plan. Decide what you are going to work on and when, then get to work.

I’m not sure what to work on first.

There are no wrong decisions.

I can’t make myself sit down to write.

That sounds a little aggressive. Try inviting yourself to sit down to write instead.

I’ll never get it published.

The only reason it won’t get published is that it’s not written. Once it’s written, there are endless publishing opportunities.

*   *   *

There are so many things that we tell ourselves, each of which keeps us from moving in the direction of our writing goals.

But what we have to remember is that these thoughts are NOT FACTS. They are thoughts that our brain is generating because we are scared.

Scared of failing, of rejection, of vulnerability, of [fill in the blank].

People who skydive sit in the plane terrified.

And then they have a choice.

They can jump, and experience the exhilaration they have signed up for


They can return home in the plane, never knowing what might have been.

Which one are you going to choose?

*   *   *   *   *

Fear is a perfectly normal part of the human experience, one to which we all relate! Come over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook community and tell us what your fear is telling you. We can all support and encourage one another.

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Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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    Your first draft will suck

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    Your First Draft Will Suck

    Write it anyway.

    Anne Lamott dedicated an entire chapter to Sh*tty First Drafts in her quintessential book for writers, Bird by Bird .

    Go read that, then come back to me.

    Great, you’re back.

    I am an expert perfectionist.

    Seriously. I could do it for a living, if someone would pay me. Except then I would probably fret about being a perfect perfectionist and then . . .

    You’re a perfectionist, too?

    We should be friends. We can text each other about the ins and outs of perfectionism.

    Except we will probably spend too muchtime editing our texts to each other before sending, trying to find the right balance of snark and self-derision, until we decide it’s not worth the effort and then . . . 

    Listen, we all know that perfectionism leads to indecision and inaction.

    In other words, if we worry about our first draft being good enough, we won’t write.


    Because the first draft is not going to be good enough.

    That’s why it’s called a first draft.

    Just write it.

    Then text me to tell me how bad it is.

    * * * * * 

    How have you overcome the challenge of perfectionism and gotten through your first draft(s)? Or is it still a constant battle? Come on over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook community and let us know! We can all support and encourage one another.

    Photo by MIXU from Pexels

    Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

    Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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      Screaming into the storm

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      Screaming into the Storm

      why you SHOULD add to the noise

      The Internet is a wide, wide ocean, full of amazing creatures, brilliant colors, tides that pull and flow in different directions, and violent torrents one should avoid for self-preservation.

      (There is also a lot of garbage.)

      When faced with this maelstrom, we writers often ask ourselves…

      … is there room for my voice?

      … will anyone hear me?

      … should I add to the noise?

      My answer:  YES.

      Sure, there is so much available to a reader today. More than she will ever be able to consume.

      But what if exactly what she needed was what you had to say, in your unique way of saying it?

      Sure, media is 24-hour rapid-style, headline-screaming, sensationalistic noise. There is a possibility that your story might get overlooked by many.

      But what if one person sees it, and it impacts him in a profound way?

      I don’t write my blog or essays or stories with hopes that they will go viral or land me a 6-figure book deal.

      I write them with the hope that the people who need them most will find them.

      Could you try the same?

      * * * * * 

      How do you brave the storm and continue to put your words out into the world? Come on over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook group and share your challenges and strategies with us! We are all in this together, and all of our stories matter…yours too.

      Photo by Valdemaras D. from Pexels

      Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

      Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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        How do you want to feel?

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        How Do You Want To Feel?

        Every morning is the same. I become aware first of sounds – the hum of water running through the faucet as my husband shaves. My daughter’s bedroom door opening, soft footsteps going down the carpeted stairs. The rustle of a cereal bag in the kitchen. The cat purring beside me.  I lie there, awash in sounds.

        And then, my brain catches up and sends a rush of adrenaline through my body. The day has started, and I am immediately gripped with anxiety. So much to do. So much expectation that I probably won’t live up to. It’s all too hard. I can’t face it.

        I peel myself out of bed and carry that anxiety with me like a 50-pound weight throughout my day.

        Recently I heard a life coach on a podcast suggest that the way we feel is optional. That we can choose how we want to feel and generate that feeling for ourselves.

        This has been a life-changing concept for me. Intellectually, anyway. I still wake up anxious every morning.

        The difference is that now I can observe my anxiety, pause and ask myself if anxious is how I want to feel. Usually, the answer is no. Then I ask myself how I DO want to feel.

        My response today was at ease. I just want to feel at ease. Like things are okay, you know?

        Then I chose it. The feeling of at ease

        Everything is okay, I told myself. It’s okay to feel at ease. You are safe. It’s okay to get out of bed.

        It’s not perfect. But it’s working. Slowly. One day at a time.

        * * * * *

        My question for you today is how do you feel, when you sit down to write or at any other time of your day?

        Do you want to feel that way?

        If not, how do you want to feel?

        And how can you generate it for yourself? What new thoughts can you think?

        It isn’t magic. It’s a practice, like everything else.

        Be kind to yourself.

        Come over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook group and share your strategies for getting yourself through the difficult feelings in writing and life. We’re all in this together. 

        Photo by Jonas Mohamadi from Pexels

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        Future You the Writer

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        Future You: The Writer

        3 questions you must ask yourself TODAY

        What does it look like to achieve success as a writer? 

        Goals are good, right?. They give us something to work toward. 

        But only if they are specific.

        I had a vague notion for a long time. Landing somewhere on some list of notable writers. My name recognizable by some number of readers. Generating some amount of income by producing some amount of published work. 

        My guess is that some aspiring writers are very clear on their goals, but I think more are like I was . . . very fuzzy on the details. 

        Whether you are clear on your goals today or not, I want to offer a way of using our future goals to feel successful – and motivated – today

        Three Questions to Ask Yourself Today

        1. What is your goal as a writer this year? Five years from now? 10 years from now? What do you hope to have accomplished? Be as specific as possible. 

        Of course this will change over time. But what are your goals right now?  If you don’t know, then play with it! What are your biggest dreams? Let the ideas fly! 

        Be sure to word these goals so that they are in your control. This is so, so important. If you are waiting to feel successful until one of the big publishing houses publishes your memoir, what will happen if they all pass on it? However, if you can feel successful by “ensuring that it is published” – perhaps by a publisher, perhaps independenly, perhaps in a hybrid model – that is in your control.

        2.  Imagine you have achieved the goals you listed above. How do you feel?

        Proud? Satisfied? Lucky? Visualize yourself standing in the spotlight, having achieved what you wanted. What emotions are bubbling up in the future you?

        3.  Look at those feelings you listed in the second question. What can you do in your writing practice – today, tomorrow, next week – to produce these same feelings today

        This too is in your control. Why wait to feel those feelings of success? What if just showing up to write on Thursday morning at 6 a.m. when you said you would, or just producing the 500 words that you committed to this week, gave you those same feelings? 

        Being future-focused in our writing is only beneficial if we can use it to our advantage today. Predicting how we will feel when something happens is only useful if we realize that the power to feel those feelings is in our control today. 

        Now what?

        Take your writing dreams and goals and turn them into realistic, actionable, productive, small steps. Remind yourself with each step how you want to feel, and choose to feel that way as you complete each step. This generates motivation that will keep you moving through your projects, even in the toughest moments. 

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        How do you WANT to feel?

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        How do you WANT to feel?

        Create Your Own Writer's Mindset

        In 2014, I went back to elementary teaching full-time after working part-time and parenting my littles.  I was already 15-20 pounds over my natural body weight, as I had been since college.  In that first year, I gained 30 pounds. The second year I gained 10 more.  

        I blame none of this on the job itself, only on my inability to manage intense emotions without eating Doritos and chocolate. So. Much. Chocolate.  And suffice it to say there was a lot of self-flagellation. 

        • I can’t lose this weight. 
        • It is too hard.
        • I don’t have time to plan meals. 
        • I haven’t ever lost this much weight before. 
        • I’ve let it go on for too long. It’s too late to change.

        Finally, about six months ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to hate myself thin. I was only going to reach a healthy weight – and maintain it for the rest of my life – if I decided to do it with ease. 

        Ease is not the same as easy. I committed to myself that I would go all in, plan ahead, make the best decisions I could, and – most importantly – when I mess up, I will pick myself up lovingly and start again. Ease is about the choice not to create drama around Doritos or whatever else is presenting itself to me.

        The change has been amazing. I actually have lost only a few pounds, because it takes time to undo decades of negative beliefs. But my mental weight is shedding faster than I can keep up with. Most importantly, I genuinely believe that I am going to accomplish this goal with ease.

        I share this story with you because I believe that this process can work with our writing lives as well. So many of us think these thoughts so often that we are assuming that they are facts. 

        • I’m not a good enough writer.
        • I don’t have time. 
        • It’s too late for me to get in the game. 
        • I can’t because _____

        These are not FACTS. They are THOUGHTS you are having, and your mind is finding evidence to support those thoughts. But what if, what if you could change the thought? What might happen? 

        Because this can feel abstract and unlikely at first (it’s not that simple! our brains argue)  I would like to offer you a series of questions to respond to. I recommend taking a couple of minutes per question and really sit with it before responding. Allow this to be possible. 

        Questions for Crafting Your New Writer’s Mindset

        1) How do you WANT to feel about your writing, your writing life, and yourself as a writer?

        This question is getting at emotions. What emotions do you want to feel? (excited, motivated, capable, etc.) 

        2) What thoughts would produce that feeling? 

        So often we attribute our feelings to what’s happening around us, but that isn’t really useful. We can’t control whether someone likes or wants to publish our writing, we can only control how we think about it. So, these might be thoughts that start with I am. I am a consistent writer, for example.

        3) What is your inner critic saying to you as you write and think about these new thoughts? 

        It’s important not to resist the inner critic. Let her speak. Hear her out. 

        4)  How do you feel when you hear what the inner critic is saying? 

        Again, emotions. Ashamed. Tired. Depressed. 

        5) Do the emotions in #1 and in #4 match? 

        Probably not. This is important to notice. If we put our feelings into the hands of the inner critic, we will never feel the way we want to feel about ourselves as a writer. We have to practice believing something new. 

        6) What can you commit to thinking and doing this week that will get you closer to believing the thoughts in #2? 

        Small actions and neutral thoughts are like taking baby steps away from the inner critic and toward the new mindset you want to create. 

        Like my weight loss journey, this is not easy work. But it can be done with ease. 

        With ease, you can create a writer’s mindset that will provide you everything you need to achieve your goals. 

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        Break It Down to Build It Up

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        Break It Down to Build It Up

        I am the Queen of the Land. 

        Not all of the land, though I wouldn’t turn it down! No, I am the Queen of the Land of Procrastinators. 

        Now, you might argue with me that the title belongs to you … yes, I know that there are many a procrastinator walking among us. 

        But no, my friend, I am the Queen. I have procrastination down to an art form. I’m so smooth a procrastinator that you would never even know I’m procrastinating.

        I am so good at looking busy that you will think I am actually … busy. But I’m not. I am procrastinating. 
        Just today, before I sat down to write this blog post, I agreed to my daughter’s request to play on this computer. And my son, who had already taken a turn on said computer, blurted out, “Yeah, because you’re procrastinating, right?”
        Oh, yes, I am the Queen. 
        However, I do manage to accomplish writing projects, and that’s because I have a very simple trick. 
        I break it down into really small steps, and I put every single step on my calendar. And I do it. I show up for my writing the way I show up for my mammograms (though admittedly I procrastinate on making those appointments.)
        The reason I do this is because I have decided that my writing is essential. It is not indulgent, and in the time I’ve alotted for it, it is the first priority. 
        So I break my project down into the smallest, most manageable of pieces. I set small, small goals. And I accomplish those goals one small step at a time. I assure that this will happen because I put them on my calendar. If they are on my calendar, they become appointments. 
        The perfectionist who thinks she’s the Queen of the Procrastinators is also highly Type-A and would never skip an appointment for fear of letting someone down. 
        So if you are like me, and you are arguing with me over who wears the crown, try this hack for a couple of weeks. Break your project into manageagable tasks and put those tasks on the calendar as appointments. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish. 
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        10 reasons to write about your life

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        10 Reasons to Write About Your Life

        My current project is a memoir in micro-essays. The topic is one that I haven’t spent much time thinking about for years (although as with any experience that shapes us it is kind of always … there.) 

        I know that this is the right project at the right time. But man, I am having trouble sticking with the first draft. Just staying in the seat in order to generate words – any words at all will do! – is so, so hard. 

        And I keep asking myself: Why am I doing this???

        In search of inspiration, motivation and some new thoughts to think about this project, I grabbed my copy of Why We Write About Ourselves:  Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature edited by Meredith Maran. Here is what I found:


        Memoir writing isn’t therapy – it’s better than therapy. It opens out your life to the world and lets the world in.

        – Kate Christensen 


        Trust yourself. If you’ve remembered something very well – a fight, a kiss, a plane ride, a certain stranger – there’s a reason. Keep writing until you figure out the significance of your most vivid memories.

        – Kelly Corrigan


        I want my story to be an engaging story that just happens to have happened to someone they may not know at all when they start to read the work but feel like they’ve known all their lives when they’ve done reading.

        – Edwidge Danticat


        To me, writing personal narrative nonfiction should be an act of generosity toward the reader. It’s an invitation. The writer is saying to the reader, “Come along with me while I tellyou a few things and explore a few ideas.” The writer is saying, “Come a little closer and I’ll confide in you about a few things.”

        – Meghan Daum


        Finding courage may be the hardest thing about writing. First I had to find the nerve to voice myself at all, to find that place in myself and follow it. Then it became about the courage to write authentically. To think and act outside of the confines of the world that shaped me, to express my own truth and my own voice.

        – Sue Monk Kidd


        The reason to write memoir is to put something important out into the collective consciousness, to distill one human life as you’ve come to understand it.

        – Anne Lamott


        When you tell your story, other people start telling theirs. It gives everyone a bigger span of experience than just the ones they’ve had. When anybody tells a candid story … it tends to make the world bigger and safer for everyone.

        – Sandra Tsing Loh


        Pretty early on I learned that for better or worse I was going to use my life in my writing … Not because I think my life is more interesting than anyone else’s, but rather I was going to use the self as a means to write stories that feel universal. The only way I know to do that is to plumb the depths of my own heart, mind, body, and spirit.

        – Cheryl Strayed


        You get the most powerful material when you write toward whatever hurts. Don’t avoid it. Don’t run from it. Don’t write toward what’s easy. We recognize our humanity in those most difficult moments that people share.

        – Jesmyn Ward

        I found both comfort and discomfort in these words, which is only a small sample of wisdom and honesty collected in Why We Write About Ourselves. (It also includes a fair amount of advice on writing and the writing life, if that is of interest to you.) 

        The main thing I want to remind myself as I work on my project is that my story can be used to hold space for others to share their own stories. That the connective tissue between my own work and future readers of it is my own willingness to be vulnerable and truthful. 

        And if you find yourself in a similar quagmire with a true, personal story of your own, let me reassure you: 


        YOUR STORY MATTERS. It’s that simple. 

        –  Stephanie Dethlefs (that’s me!)

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        Your mother called to say “Stop it”

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        Your mother called to say, "Stop it."

        I’ve been plagued by anxiety since adolescence. I worry endlessly about things over which I have no control, and also things over which I do. My mind becomes a tornado, everything in its path drawn as evidence to support the working theory of the day. 

        These theories are usually some version of: 

        I am doing a bad job at _____. 

        I’m not good enough at _____. 

        No one cares that I _____. 

        The two people who bear the brunt of my tornadoes are my husband and my mom. 

        My husband, as many husbands do, usually suggests fixes to the problem. 

        My mom, on the other hand, listens intently and then tells me to stop it. 

        When I first realized that this was her pattern of response to my drama, I was equal parts confused and annoyed. Didn’t she know that I would stop it if I could?  And, also this:  I want to just stop it, but I don’t know how.

        For the past few months, I’ve been intentionally studying and changing my thought patterns, and I’ve learned that she was right. 

        Yes, Mom, you were right. 

        Not only is it possible to just stop it, it is the only way to move forward and feel better.

        A tornado is a weather event that will trample over everything in its path. It is not stoppable. The only thing to do is allow it to wear itself out. 

        In the past I treated my thought tornados the same way. I let them run themselves out, leaving me hiding under the covers sobbing. But the thing is, thought tornados are stoppable. 

        Here’s an example: 

        Let’s say I’m spinning about not being a good enough parent. Perhaps my child is struggling with someting at school. I’ve collected heaps of evidence from past and present that show me how I’ve created this problem. I didn’t teach her how to handle this situation or I solved problems for her. 

        Now, let’s say that I catch myself thinking I am not a good parent. First of all, simply noticing the thought presses the pause button, and the tornado freezes in place. I change my thought to I am a good parent. OR, if that feels like a stretch, I am a parent.

        Sudddenly all of the evidence I’ve collected is no longer relevant. The wind in the tornado is no longer whipping. The whole thing disappears. 

        You might be asking what any of this has to do with writing. Well, let’s take a thought I’ve explored in previous posts.

        My stories aren’t interesting. 

        Evidence: other writers have interesting stories, my essays have been rejected, etc.

        Pause the tornado.

        Alternative thoughts: my stories are interesting. OR I have many stories. OR I have stories.

        The tornado dissolves, and you are ready to write. 

        If you are struggling to get started, or struggling to find the time, or struggling with the blank page, I guarantee there is a thought tornado ramping up. 

        All you have to do is stop it. 

        Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

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        Build Your Story One Brick at a Time

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        Build Your Story One Brick at a Time

        My daughter had a big writing project due this week for her 7th grade Language Arts class. She loves writing, but only when it’s on her own terms (a.k.a. only when she feels inspired. Sound familiar?)

        The assignment had a lot of moving parts. Required types of entries, illustrations, charts and graphs, cover pages, peer editing…the whole gambit. 

        Needless to say, as the deadline approached, she was feeling pretty overwhelmed. 

        I, of course, pulled out the Anne Lamott standby. “Just go ‘bird by bird’, honey. One step at a time,” I encouraged.

        I’m pretty sure she rolled her eyes. Such is being the parent of a 13-year-old. 
        But the truth is that Lamott’s classic Bird by Bird has been a must for writers and creatives for years for a reason.
        There is no way to build anything without breaking it into small steps. 
        If we don’t do this, we get overwhelmed. Overwhelm leads to anxiety.  Anxiety leads to … well, I suppose it’s different for everyone. For me, it leads to Netflix and cake. But it doesn’t lead to productivity, there is no doubl about that. 

        Even if your story is small – perhaps a single blog post or an essay – the simplest way to tackle it is one small piece at a time. 

        Maybe this looks like an outline, or a bulleted list. Maybe it is a word count goal (in the next 30 minutes, I will write 200 words.

        What the bricks ARE is up to the writer. But it will be sanity-saving and far more productive to take the big vision and then take a look at the pieces that need to be arranged. 

        Action steps: 

        1. Envision the story as a whole. Understand your themes, intention, and audience. 
        2. Take it apart. What pieces need to be created? 
        3. Set a schedule for when each piece will be created. 
        4. Write. One. Piece. At. A. Time.
        5. Stand back and take in your masterpiece. 
        If we allow overwhelm and anxiety to persist, it guarantees that we will never get this story out into the world. And that would be a tragedy, in my opinion.
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