Banish Your Itty-Bitty Shitty Committee Tips for avoiding self-sabotage
I know their voices well.
They say something like: “Wow, you think you’re a writer? You’re terrible at writing. Oh, you’re writing a novel? That’s hilarious, because you’ve been stuck on the same paragraph for the past half hour. You’ll never finish.”
They’re the little voices in your head telling you that you can’t do it. They’re slowly but surely crushing your dreams.
They’re your itty-bitty shitty committee.
I’ve heard the shitty committee called many different names. “Core negative beliefs”; “self-sabotage” (in The Artist’s Way); “angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices” (in Bird By Bird).
But I love “itty-bitty shitty committee.” It’s so catchy, and makes them seem much less consequential. I first heard the term during a personal development workshop called TLC, which I attended with my writing group.
My committee is constantly at work when I’m writing. They make me scared that I’ll never write anything good or worthwhile. And it takes a lot of energy to shut them down.
If you are also constantly battling your shitty committee, here are a few tips to get them to STFU:
- Don’t leave your desk. When I start criticizing myself, I’ll find any excuse to stop writing—calling my mom, getting almonds from the kitchen, watching an episode of “Breaking Bad”. But leaving kills my focus and I feel even crappier later, after I’ve wasted the day.
- Let your first draft be crappy. “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts,” says Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird. When writing food reviews for a magazine, she’d write the entire first draft—“twice as long as it should be, with a self-indulgent and boring beginning…”—and then edit the next day.
- On that note, give your writing some space. I recently re-read a short story I wrote about six months ago. I had so much distance, it seemed like someone else’s story entirely. Editing was suddenly crystal-clear, and I was so excited about finishing it that I started working immediately. I don’t always recommend a six-month break, but a few days or even a week will always bring some much-needed clarity.
- Have a backup project. If you keep doing the same thing, you’ll get the same results. This seems so simple, but that doesn’t discount its truth. I also learned this during TLC. When writing my novel feels like pulling teeth, and it seems like there’s absolutely no hope, I work on my memoir instead.
- Tell them to shut up! Over and over and over. Eventually, the conferences they hold in your head will become less and less frequent.
What are your favorite shitty committee-silencing techniques?
Photo courtesy of Sam Miller.
[…] a phrase that’s been very useful in helping me identify what the enemy is: it’s the itty-bitty shitty committee, and recognizing it is the first step in making it go away. Not only is IBSC a catchy and […]
Such a great article that I came back, years later, to read it again. Thank you for still having it up.
I’ve had this ridiculously awesome photo with the terrific headline printed out and hanging over my desk ever since this was first published. It makes me laugh to look at it and realize that of course I don’t care what these assholes think of my work. it helps to look at them and remember that.