April 3, 2013

On December 19, 2012, Seaspray Wonderlust wrote, Just in case you were wondering:
Someone who tells you you can’t do something, someone who you want to think good of you. This person criticizes you and haunts you until you no longer believe in your dream. But, being a BOB, them criticizing you, although they don’t know it, and maybe you don’t, makes you want your dream more, often making you succeed. In other words, 
Do it for BOB!
I noticed you have something in Writing Magic about this, but I think this is a bad problem, and you should- not make a whole post about it, but add it in to your next one. Bearing in mind, BOB sits in his comfy chair eating your compassion and belief while you are sitting and thinking that your dream sucks. When you are like this, BOB, who is not a nice guy, wins. SO do your dream, and BOB will fall out of his chair, and have to go make his own food. Don’t Become a BOB, and don’t let a BOB posses you. Refuse to listen to BOB, and he will go. I know I shouldn’t be encouraging this type of behavior, but Kick BOB out of your head. BOB is an impostor, and an idiot. Prove BOB wrong. You will, as long as you don’t believe him. 
Do it for BOB!

Interesting! There are internal and external BOBs.

I tell this story often when I visit schools and kids ask me when I started writing. I can’t remember if I’ve told it here before or if I put it in Writing Magic. Anyway, I wrote stories in elementary school and junior high (no middle school back then), and high school – until I took Creative Writing with Mr. Pashkin, who turned out to be my BOB. Several years ago I found the folder with my writing from that class. In the beginning Mr. Pashkin wrote nice comments on the upper margin of my stories and poems. Then I came to the one on which he wrote, “You know your problem – you’re pedestrian.”

Pedestrian has two meanings, the less well known of which is plodding, dull, boring. Mr. Pashkin didn’t merely say that my story was boring, which would have been bad enough, he said I was. Up until then Mr. Pashkin had seemed really nice – interested in his students, encouraging, etc., and then BOOM!

I remember believing his judgment. I’m very practical, always was, very down-to-earth, which I equated with boring. Since I agreed that I was boring, I felt ashamed at having been found out, and I never asked him what he meant. Probably he didn’t mean much. Maybe he was just trying to get a rise out of me.

For twenty-five years, I didn’t write. Well, I wrote a musical for children, but I thought of it as just a vehicle for my husband’s music. I didn’t think I had any talent as a writer. I thought my writing couldn’t be anything but dull.

A job finally got me past this. I was assigned to writing the public service announcements and meeting notes for my state government office, and people admired my work. Then I tried my hand at picture books and embarked on the nine years it took me to get an acceptance from a publisher.

So Mr. Pashkin is an example of an external BOB whom I internalized. After I graduated from high school I carried Mr. Pashkin around inside me and didn’t dare take a writing class in college.

Defiance is one approach to dealing with BOB. If that works for you, let him be your motivator. You’re writing to prove him wrong, and you get deep satisfaction from doing so. Every well-crafted scene, every thrilling moment, every deft characterization is a screw twisted into BOB’s soul, a nail in his coffin. Hooray!

The other approach, which works better for me, is to fill my writing mind with countervailing, positive voices from people who admire my writing or even from people I think would admire it. And often I remember my younger self and write for that version of me. I write what I would have enjoyed reading.

Unhelpful criticism is pernicious. It poisons what we love, and we have to guard against it, whether the enemy is someone else or, as Pogo said, “The enemy is us.” Many writers who stop writing, artists who stop painting, musicians who stop making music do so because they let BOB strangle them. Let’s not join their ranks!

Be aware of self-put-downs. In a poetry workshop I took, after we finished an exercise, we’d take turns reading what we’d written. Our teacher imposed a $5 fine on anyone who introduced a poem with a derogatory remark, like, “This isn’t very good.” Or, worse, “This is really bad.” The fine brought us up short, woke us up to what we were doing to ourselves. In your writing groups you can do something like this. And you can ask friends to alert you when you’ve been hard on yourself.

The poems in the workshop were all first efforts. We hadn’t revised. There is absolutely no value gained from dumping on work in its early stages. What I think we were saying to each other is, “I’m not stupid enough to think this is any good,” an irrelevant comment. It’s also a warning to other people to go easy, which isn’t what we want. We want helpful, honest, specific criticism that will help us write better, in this case better poems.

So we also need to be able to differentiate between BOBs and people whose criticism is useful. Sometimes BOBs are sneaky. We think we’re getting something useful, so how come we feel so bad? I’d say if you feel rotten three times in a row after showing a piece of writing to a friend who appears to be kind, figure this is a disguised BOB, and don’t continue showing your stories to this person. You can still be friends. Go ice skating together. Go to the movies. Criticize other people’s books together – as long as the BOB doesn’t make you feel dumb doing this.

And here are BOB prompts:

• Your MC is BOB. He is paid by a foreign power or a neighboring kingdom or an alien civilization to stifle creativity at home. If his treachery succeeds, his homeland will atrophy on the world stage. His cover job is as an arts critic. Write a scene in which he interviews a top artist. Get inside his head. Help him along. At the end of the scene, the artist is riddled with self-doubt.

• BOB decides to pen his own book, since no one else can get it right. Does he approve of his own work? Or is he as self-critical as he is critical of others? (Could go either way.) Is he a good writer? Write what happens.

• BOB is lonely, so he decides he’ll feel better if he has a girlfriend. Write a story about his quest for love.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. That $5 fine reminds me of something I did at camp last summer. We had a talent show, but before we started, the leaders told us that if anyone started out saying "This isn't very good" or "I haven't practiced this in three years, so I'll probably mess it up" or anything like that…we had to be accompanied on stage by the Confidence Sheep. This lovely Confidence Sheep was a stuffed animal in a blue dress, with velcro front hooves. A couple people had to hold the sheep on their lap, and one guy had to have it hugging his neck while he played guitar. That Confidence Sheep was a good reminder to stop tearing ourselves down!

  2. I loved this post! For the last six years I've been battling with my BOB, who got into in my head freshman year of high school and stuck there. He was my creative writing teacher, and crushed any hope I ever had of being an author. One year later, I had him again as my English teacher, and he smashed me all over again! I hadn't really realized I'd carried him around with me, long after graduation, until I read this post, and I realized "What in the world are you still doing in my head, Mr. Bigler?! You are SOOO not welcome there! Boot it!" It was rather freeing 🙂 I really needed this–thanks so much!!
    PS Michelle I looooove the idea of the Confidence Sheep!

  3. I love that story about your writing group! There's a member of my group who almost always apologizes for how rough her (really wonderful!) submissions are. We've already been bugging her about that, and I'll have to share this story next time. 🙂

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