Yes! I Remembered! It’s ‘Be Insecure’ Day

It’s the first Wednesday in the month and for once I’ve remembered to be insecure.  I have to remind myself these days because I’m not half as insecure as I used to be.  I care a great deal less about what people think of me, and agonise a good deal less about whether they publish me.

So what – I hear you cry – has brought about this extraordinary state of affairs?  Well, it started with a pancake.  We used to have soya pancakes due to my daughter’s egg allergy, but since she’s left home we’ve reverted to the eggy variety: and as I was mixing, some thoughts were churning in my mind about Lent.   I have often in the past given something up for Lent but we are now so hard-up that the kind of things I used to give up (chocolates, TV, meals out, having a car, etc) I have perforce given up for good.  So the thought of renouncing yet another luxury did not appeal: take away my chocolate digestives and life is just not worth living.  And as the first pancake frazzled in the pan I had a brainwave: why give up something nice?  Why not something negative?  That, after all, is the idea of Lent: not spurious self-sacrifice but giving up those addictions and attachments which hold you back.  Like, say, insecurity and self-doubt.

So that was my decision: for six and a half weeks I would give up self-doubt.  The little voice that undermined my confidence and poured cold water on my dreams, would be shown the door.  But how? I hear you cry.

Well, there are various methods, but I chose to write affirmations.  Every day I would write at least 108 affirmations focussing on positive things (Why 108?  I’ll tell you in a minute).  I would write, for example, ‘I feel secure’ or ‘I am a good writer.’ (I mostly phrase things in the present tense to make them seem more real.)  After a while you start to feel it working – but then the doubts creep in – so to combat this I created a ‘doubt cloud’:  I squiggled a cloud-shape on the page and imprisoned all the niggling doubts inside it.

Writing – or repeating – affirmations is a technique I learned from yoga.  Traditionally yogis repeat a mantra; a word or short phrase in Sanskrit; and instead of counting they use a mala, a sort of longish rosary containing 108 beads.  The number 108 is held to be significant because it has so many denominators: it’s divisible by 3, 4, 6,8, 9 and 12.

Self-doubt and insecurity are the plague of the artist.  We need the critical voice but it comes in much too soon – at the start of the work rather than towards the end.  We need it when we’ve finished the first draft, but it pops up when we’re just beginning – and sometimes before, filling the blank page with dire prognostications.  For example, when I started writing again in 1981 I wrote a sentence or two and then underneath commented ‘too wordy and Dickensian.’

Consider the difference between these two poems:


Christopher Robin is going.
At least I think he is.
Nobody knows.
But he is going –
I mean he goes
(To rhyme with “knows”)
Do we care?
(To rhyme with “where”)
We do
Very much.
(I haven’t got a rhyme for that “is” in the second line yet.
(Now I haven’t got a rhyme for bother. Bother)
Those two bothers will have to rhyme with each other
The fact is this is more difficult
than I thought,
I ought –
(Very good indeed)
I ought
to begin again,
But it is easier
To stop.

This poem is written almost entirely by the critical voice.  There is no flow because Eeyore’s critical voice never shuts up.  Compare his effort (and I mean effort) with this flow of Pooh’s:

What shall we do about poor little Tigger?
If he never eats nothing, he’ll never get bigger.
He doesn’t like honey and haycorns and thistles
Because of the taste and because of the bristles.
And all the good things which an animal likes
Have the wrong sort of swallow or too many spikes

But whatever his weight in pounds,
shillings, and ounces,
He always seems bigger because
of his bounces

Piglet wonders whether the shillings ought to be there.  ‘They wanted to come in after the pounds, so I let them,’ Pooh explains.  And there you have it.  Eeyore never gives anything a chance to ‘come in because it wants to’ and so his poetry never gets off the ground.

If I’ve learnt one thing in writing poetry, it’s this: you may have intentions.  You may intend to write a poem about snow, or autumn, or a garden.  You may intend to write free verse or a sonnet or a limerick.  But the poem has intentions too – and if you are wise, you’ll listen to them – and not your insecurities.

And here’s the link to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group:

Kirk out