Check the label!
You probably do this without a second thought when you’re shopping. You check to see that foods contain healthy ingredients, to make sure cleaning products are nontoxic. Maybe you check labels to see where something was made, or whether it contains the kind of wool that makes Aunt Ethel itchy.
But how often do you notice the labels YOU put on things? Specifically, the labels you apply–probably without thinking–to yourself, your writing, your needs and desires?
We humans are hard-wired to name things, to give them labels. Unfortunately, our brains are also hard-wired to pay more attention to negative information–which means that those negative labels are often on the tip of our mental tongues.
Have trouble getting started on that next chapter? Your inner critic slaps on labels like lazy or not very creative. Skip writing for a few days or weeks? That inner critic labels you “not serious about writing.”
What labels do you apply to yourself or your writing? They might be getting in your way!
There are three common types of labels that can block creativity, reinforce self-doubts, and even paralyze our ability to imagine.
My writing coach once asked me if I would talk to a friend the way I talked to myself. This question is a good way to gauge whether you’re engaging in some unhelpful name-calling, putting down your muse, yourself, or your work. Labels like lazy, stupid, slow, scattered, and blocked don’t spur your creative side; they shut it down.
If you wouldn’t use a label to describe a good friend, don’t apply it to yourself or your writing, either!
Common “Name-Calling Labels”
For Their Writing…
Not good enough
Not a “real” writer
Labels don’t have to be obviously negative to get in your way. All they have to do is turn your attention away from solving a problem. Common excuse-making labels include too busy and too stressed.
Excuse-making labels often begin with the words “I can’t write/create/brainstorm right now because…”
Excuse-making labels often focus on placing blame for the problem on someone or something outside of yourself.
Are you “too busy” to write? Maybe. I often am! But if you accept “too busy” as a label, it’s easy to let it define you. It’s easy to forget that we usually have some control over how busy or stressed or overwhelmed we are.
You might be surprised to hear that seemingly good labels can be just as harmful as obviously negative labels. Think about it, though: what happens when you tell yourself that your latest book/story/essay concept is
The Best Idea Ever!
Does the thought help your words to flow effortlessly from your pen? If so, more power to you!
For the rest of us, though, labels like greatest and best and breakout create an enormous amount of pressure. Suddenly you face a daunting standard when you sit down to write. If the idea is so great, your writing better measure up to it!
Grandiose labels create stress, and stress is the enemy of creativity.
Chuck those labels–good and bad! Just focus on doing the work.
So what labels sneak into your writing process?
The good news? Once you’re on the lookout for them, harmful labels are pretty easy to spot. Once spotted, you can replace them with labels that reinforce your creative journey rather than hinder it. I’d love to hear what labels you’ve had to eliminate from your vocabulary as a writer! Please share your examples and insights in the comments.
I also hope you’ll come back on Thursday, when we’ll dig deeper into how to replace those negative labels with a problem-solving mindset!