The Toll of Inner Stinginess
No. 141 | By Christine Carron
Stinginess is an unwillingness to spend and a lack of generosity. “Inner Stinginess” is the phrase I coined for the tendency I’ve noticed in myself and other writers that adds an edge of harshness to how we run our writing adventures.
For example, we experience inner conflict about spending the time it takes to get our writing done. Instead of allowing ourselves the grace and space to proceed at a healthy, sustainable pace, we expect ourselves to produce at a constant, near supersonic (and completely unrealistic) velocity.
As for the “lack of generosity” aspect, we sometimes can be so far from generous with ourselves, it boggles the mind when we are able to step back and observe what we are doing.
For example, think of a time when you experienced doubt and vulnerability because you were unsure on how to proceed on a writing project. Or when you had a natural human response of disappointment or upset to a tough critique. Or when you realized that the project you poured your heart, soul, and sweat into for years evidently still wasn’t good enough to make the cut.
At those times, did you meet yourself with compassion, kindness, and curiosity. Or did your Inner Critic swoop in for a spirit-crushing tirade?
Treating ourselves in these punitive ways—that often spring from Inner Stinginess—tanks our productivity in the long run, as I have written about here and here. It also creates a serious joy deficit in our writing adventures.
The first step to switching out of Inner Stinginess is to strengthen your ability to catch yourself when you are in it. To help you do that, here are four signs that you may be in the grips of some serious Inner Stinginess.
Sign #1: You make progress with your writing but then immediately diss it.
Imagine you show up at a friend’s house once a week to help them, and every time you do, they dump all over you for not showing up more often or staying longer. How motivated would you be to keep going over there?
Yet, how often do you treat your own progress in this very way? Dump on it. Tell it (and yourself) that it’s never enough. Or good enough. That you should have done more. That you should be going faster. That you should have done it better.
Sadly, this tendency is extremely common and is, in some cases, held up as model writer behavior. Case in point: the norm that we get a first draft done and must immediately turn around and call it sh*tty.
At worst, this kind of thinking quick steps us right into demotivation and despair. At best, it makes getting our writing done more challenging then it needs to be, totally dragging on our productivity.
The generous move, and the productive move, is to celebrate all progress no matter what.
(And, for heaven’s sake, stop calling your first drafts sh*tty.)
Sign #2: You often complain about or resent writing related work.
Sometimes we writers can fall into a pattern where we bemoan having to spend time on any task that isn’t immediately increasing our word count. That position makes pretty much any task or effort that isn’t writing, i.e., getting words on a page—no matter how necessary or useful to our ultimate success as a writer—suspect and a point of contention, frustration, and even scorn.
Yet, if we want to ace the writing adventure, the reality is that the full scope of our writerly work includes way more than just writing. Here is a completely random and non-exhaustive list of writerly work (that is not writing) that takes time, effort, and attention, and is totally legit.
Keeping your digital files organized; learning new technologies like Scrivener; building your author platform; figuring out how to build your author platform; researching agents and publishers; planning and managing your writing work; ideating around plot, characters, setting, and the like; decluttering your work space; attending conferences; building your writing network; participating in a critique group; doing personal growth work so you can more effectively handle your inner critic; getting your computer repaired; building your author website or overseeing the person who is building your author website; learning how to market your book; applying for grants or scholarships; practicing your craft, etc.
It is not necessary that you are super excited about every task above. If, however, you keep telling yourself that writers shouldn’t have to to this type of work and get in a negative, semi-offended tizzy every time you are “forced” to deal with it, that position absolutely will make it harder to get this work done.
You, in essence, are dragging on your own forward momentum.
That is a stark statement. I know. It is also true. And we each have to decide if we are going to cling to the beliefs, positions, and patterns that undercut our potential for writing success. Or are we going to (kindly, courageously, and with generosity) figure out how to get all the work done that increases our chances for making our writing dreams come true.
The great news is once you make the decision to handle all your writerly work, it actually gets easier. And can even become fun. Which is what Goodjelly is all about in the end: helping writers get the full scope of their writerly work done so that they can fully delight in their writing adventure. Wahoo to that.
Sign #3: You keep setting extreme writing goals even though you consistently fail to hit them.
You likely know the quote (often misattributed to Albert Einstein) that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Many writers continue to set harsh, unrealistic goals for themselves with aggressive due dates even though they constantly fail to meet those goals and due dates.
The logical thing to do would be to make a different plan. But Inner Stinginess causes us to double down. It creates that unwillingness to give ourselves the time to (a) learn how to plan more effectively, and/or (b) do the personal work to understand and resolve whatever it is that is going on for us internally that causes us to have such harsh, rigid expectations of ourselves.
Constantly making and failing to meet goals and hit due dates is not motivating. We know this. Yet Inner Stinginess keeps us locked into that pattern.
Sign #4: You run your writing adventure with all or nothing thinking.
Have you ever caught yourself using never, always, or all in the way you talk about the writing adventure? Examples: I will never get published. I will never get this manuscript done. I always get rejected. I’ll never find an agent. All agents are jerks. My publishing house never does anything for me.
All or nothing language can keep us stuck and spinning in emotions that can tank our productivity.
I want to be very precise, we’ll all experience frustration, doubt, anger, and disappointment on the writing adventure. I am not suggesting that we try to spiritually bypass those feelings and emotions. I am saying we can watch our language—which we are already adept at since we are writers—so that we don’t inadvertently amplify and extend their effect.
When I catch myself slipping into all or nothing thinking, I have one simple adjustment that helps me honor where I am but minimizes the all-or-nothing tailspin. I add a extra phrase at the beginning of the sentence: Right now, I feel like . . .
If I apply that to some of the statements above, we get:
- Right now, I feel like I’ll always get rejected.
- Right now, I feel like my publishing house never does anything for me.
- Right now, I feel like I will never get my manuscript done.
This little phrase makes a huge difference. First, it is the opposite of spiritual bypassing. You are acknowledging exactly what you are experiencing. Second, it let’s your brain introduce a smidge of executive functioning into the mix, where you are able to manage and regulate your emotions rather than letting them fully tank your reasoning skills.
We need our reasoning skills to kick in as soon as possible after we take an emotional hit. They are key to helping us effectively plan how will move forward from the experiences that—temporarily—throw us out of our confidence, our power, and our determination to keep going.
The Universal Antidote to Inner Stinginess
The key to shifting yourself out of the grip of Inner Stinginess is to be generous with yourself. Instead of dissing your writing productivity, choose to celebrate all of it no matter how small. Instead of constantly holding yourself to aggressive, unreasonable plans, generously give yourself the time to design more effective plans that motivate you and boost your confidence.
Instead of defending an idealistic, limiting view of what writing work is, generously expand your vision so you can more effectively, confidently, and even joyfully tackle the full scope of your writing work. Instead of amplifying the internal impact of challenging situations you face on the writing adventure, be generous to your mindset and motivation by making editorial adjustments on those all or nothing phrases to dampen their impact.
And, perhaps most definitely, be kind, compassionate, and generous with yourself whenever you catch yourself in a mutinous swirl of Inner Stinginess. It's going to happen even after reading this post. (It happens to me and I teach this stuff.)
Inner Generosity is a move of power. It is a move of grace. It is a move of patience. And cultivating a practice of Inner Generosity will not only make your writing adventure more enjoyable to be on, it will massively boost your writing productivity.
So go be generous to yourself and your writing today. You’ve got this!