Who would want to read what I write?
Does that question fill you with curiosity and anticipation? Or with self-doubt and despair? Is this a stopper question for you or a starter?
It really can go either way, although it can be difficult to imagine feeling the opposite of your original reaction. This kind of question is like the image to the right: is it a young woman or a old crone?
Young Woman or Crone?
Either answer is correct. Whether you see an old woman or a young one doesn’t reveal anything profound about your personality. But you see it one way and it’s hard to see it the other way.
Unlike the young woman/old woman image, your tendency to see stoppers or starters does have a significant impact on your writing.
Stopper or Starter Quiz
As you read the following questions, identify how many are stoppers that make you sigh, slump in your chair and adopt the Eyeore attitude (“Good morning Pooh. If it is a good morning, which I doubt.”).
- What do I know?
- Who cares?
- What’s the point?
- Who do I think I am?
- How could I begin?
- What difference can my writing make?
If you see more starters than stoppers, congratulations, your Inner Coach is predominant. If you see more stoppers than starters, your Saboteur is predominant.
The Saboteur is what some people call the Inner Critic, but the Saboteur has far more tricks than criticism. Assaulting you with rhetorical questions that push you away from writing is one of the Saboteur’s favorites.
Questions are powerful, especially if the questioner assumes she/he knows the answer. Consider where the power lies when teachers ask questions in class or on exams and when Senators question witnesses at Congressional hearings.
When I’m at my best as a coach, I ask questions that open hidden doors and expand my clients’ perspective. Coaching questions don’t presume an answer. They invite us to consider possibilities, look for more answers and ask more questions.
But Saboteur’s rhetorical questions shut down our thinking and limit our perspective. Like any powerful tool, a question in the hands of the Saboteur is a dangerous weapon.
How does your Saboteur personalize stopper questions for you? What questions pop into your mind to stop your initiative, stall your creative thinking, or keep you from even thinking about writing?
It is our never-ending job to disarm the Saboteur. Start by taking the rhetorical, “you idiot” tone out of the questions that stop you. Ask them as genuine questions.
Change “How could I even begin?” to “How could I begin?” and you open your mind to possibilities.
When asked as genuine question, “Who would want to read what I write?” is the beginning of vital audience analysis. The genuine version of “What do I know” is the start of brainstorming. “Who do I think I am?” is an intriguing existential question when you really think about it.
The Saboteur’s rhetorical questions do have one redeeming characteristic. When you transform the rhetorical to a genuine question and freewrite a real response, you often identify the Saboteur’s hidden tricks and discover how to stop them before they stop you.