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You should stop being a people pleaser if you want to become a more effective writer…
If you’re a writer and a people pleaser, I can tell you how your life is going to go.
Your writing side will lose and your people-pleasing side will win.
I started thinking about this issue after reading a recent post by Oliver Burkeman, author of the insightful and life-affirming book Four Thousand Weeks.
Quoting the psychotherapist Stephen Cope, Burkeman reminded us that no one else really cares what we’re doing. But many of us fall into the trap of believing they do.
As Burkeman puts it: “The offices of the world are full of people subconsciously treating their managers as mothers or fathers or older siblings, while themselves busily replaying whatever role it was – “helper”, “crisis manager”, “high achiever” – that made them feel most approved of as kids.”
Why does this human habit of people pleasing have such profound implications for writers? I think there are five reasons.
1-Takes too much time
Looking after other people is time-consuming. And so is writing. At a certain point, you’re going to need to choose. There’s not enough time in the world to do both tasks equally well.
I have worked with many writers who’ve told me they cannot write because their partners or their children come first, their boss comes first, their volunteer work comes first. Of course, I never argue with their priorities. Each individual gets to decide what’s most important to them. But I also believe that important people in our lives can be honoured and cared for, even if they aren’t attended to “first.”
I recommend that most people write for a small amount of time (as little as five minutes is fine) every day, first thing in the morning. Writing first protects that time and allows you to begin your day with an impressive accomplishment, which is going to make you feel great and make the rest of your day more productive.
Notice I’m not saying you should ignore your partner or your children or your boss or your volunteer work. I’m simply saying adjust your schedule a little so you allow yourself a small amount of time to write, first.
(Also, I give parents of young children a free pass. Kids are young only once. Put your writing plans on hold until they’re a little bit older. Ditto for anyone caring for sick relatives.)
2-Makes you too vulnerable to the standards of others
We all have tastes. My favourite colour is green. My favorite vegetable is broccoli. My favourite food is cheese. My favourite non-fiction author is Patrick Radden Keefe. My favourite fiction writer is Elizabeth Strout. You likely have totally different tastes. As you should. We are different people!
Embrace these differences instead of being ashamed by them. Or instead of second guessing what other people like best.
Now, of course, if you’re writing for a supervisor or a client, you are going to be forced to meet the tastes of that person. I’m not saying you get to charge through your writing life getting to do whatever you want, all the time.
But understand that you’re writing for someone else for a specific reason (say, for money, or to get a degree.) Safeguard your own standards and your ability to believe in yourself even if you have to write to someone else’s standards for a while.
3-Decreases your authenticity
People pleasers hide their own preferences to accommodate those of others. But hiding your true feelings makes you feel fraudulent and also prevents other people from getting to know the real you. Self-disclosure is important for all relationships, but particularly important for writers.
If you can’t say what you really think, what is the point of writing?
4-Increases your anxiety and stress
People who chronically please others suffer from more stress and anxiety. This leads to fear of writing, which makes writing uncomfortable for some and angst-filled for others. (And who wants to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable?)
As well, increasing your stress can lead to health issues like headaches, upset stomach, poor sleep, heart disease and frequent colds and infections.
5-Increases your need for adulation and praise
If your self-worth depends entirely on what others think about you, the act of writing is going to be filled with fear. As a people pleaser, you need praise. So each sentence turns into a guessing game: Will my readers like this? Is this comment going to offend anyone?
To write with confidence and a sense of “fun,” writers need to temporarily blind themselves to the needs of their readers. Notice I’m not saying they should stay this way for the entire writing process. Editing is the time to make your writing more accessible and interesting to readers. But while you’re writing, don’t worry about others, and write only to please yourself.
So, if people pleasing is such a bad thing, how do you regain control of your life?
I have three suggestions:
1-Learn how to say no
I often like to remind myself about Warren Buffett’s comment, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Yes, learning how to say no is often the difference between success and failure.
People pleasers have an exceptionally difficult time saying no. I used to be this way, too, until I developed a protocol for saying no politely and with compassion. It works! The big secret I’ve found is to stop yourself from saying yes to anything right away. Instead give yourself plenty of time to think things over, first. For more tips on how to say no, see this post.
2-Use time blocking to protect your time
People pleasers are too busy saying yes to people to feel they have any control over their own lives. But the busiest people in the world use time-blocking to squeeze more juice out of every day.
When I first heard about time blocking — the habit of scheduling every day in advance — I thought I’d never be able to manage it with the “unique” demands of my working life. Guess what I discovered? I’m not unique!
Read my post on time-blocking to discover how you can identify five to 15 minutes of time to write every day. Yes, that’s all you need. Just 250 words a day will give you 65,000 words by the end of a year. And that’s almost enough for a book.
3-Create scripts to dissuade yourself from being a people pleaser
We all talk to ourselves all the time and I think the scripts running for people pleasers go something like this:
- If I don’t do XYZ, these people are going to be left in the lurch.
- If I don’t do XYZ, these people are going to think less of me.
- If I don’t do XYZ, no one else is going to do it.
So instead of reaching for those old scripts, try new ones. Here are some I suggest, whether for using with yourself or other people…
- “I am loveable for ‘being,’ not doing.”
- “I matter just as much as my family and friends.”
- A “no” to them is a “yes” to me.
- I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.
- I’m the safe-keeper of my own time and energy.
- Unfortunately, I’m already at capacity.
- I’ll have to pass on that project.
- That project deserves more time than I can give.
- I have plans that day, but thank you for thinking of me.
- I’ll get back to you on that.
- I don’t have my calendar with me, so let me check when I get home.
People pleasing is a hard habit to turn off. But if you want to pursue a life as a writer, it’s worth making the effort.
My video podcast last week addressed how to improve your fluency in English. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Do you need to hire an editor — but don’t know how to do it or you’re worried about the cost? Learn where to find editors and how to save money doing it with help from my inexpensive and rapid-fire How to Hire an Editor online course.
Have you ever been a people pleaser? How have you helped yourself? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Feb. 28/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!