From Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:
Quieting these voices is at least half the battle I fight daily. But this is better than it used to be. It used to be 87 percent. Left to its own devices, my mind spends much of its time having conversations with people who aren’t there. I walk along defending myself to people, or exchanging repartee with them, or rationalizing my behavior, or seducing them with gossip, or pretending I’m on their TV talk show or whatever. 1 speed or run an aging yellow light or don’t come to a full stop, and one nanosecond later am explaining to imaginary cops exactly why I had to do what I did, or insisting that I did not in fact do it.
I happened to mention this to a hypnotist I saw many years ago, and he looked at me very nicely. At first 1 thought he was feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm button, but then he gave me the following exercise, which I still use to this day.
Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want–won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.
A writer friend of mine suggests opening the jar and shooting them all in the head. But I think he’s a little angry, and I’m sure nothing like this would ever occur to you.
When I read this–kicked back in a big chair, sitting in on a D&D game (a normal Wednesday evening occupation when dance classes are on summer hiatus) and tugging absentmindedly at the other end of a tug-of-war with a ferocious puppy–I laughed out loud in delighted disbelief, that classic “you too?” moment that lies at the heart of writing. I managed not to drag my husband away from the table, or distract the party en masse from the eponymous dragons, but it was a near thing. On the bus on the way home, he assured me that it these voices are in fact a thing; which is to say, a commonality among a good plurality of the populace, if not the entirety.
I immediately saw that this could be true, but not falsifiable, which was a small pang to my scientific heart. As anyone I knew well enough to ask is a creative person, and thus probably swarmed with their own wee demons, any inquiries into the subject would result in approximately the same level of accuracy as the telephone poll that declared Dewey’s success in the 1948 presidential election.
This was last night. So today, when my internal monologue starts to explain itself–which it does, with odd and foolhardy regularity, considering how little use it is, I repeat to myself, for every little detail, this little truth:
No one cares.
If I were presenting a major work to an audience, this would be a crushing sentiment, and one I ruthlessly crush in the bud as needed. But for leaving and coming back to my cafe table three times because I had forgotten things and changed my mind, it is true. And it is freeing.
And if some cynical young writer is sitting in a balcony making observations on human nature… well, let her speculate as she will.