The Things You Keep Telling Yourself You Can’t Do

Yuvi Zalkow. Yuvi is a bit of a fixture on this site. My obsession with his I’m A Failed Writer series is well documented. One of the things I love most about these videos is how Yuvi constantly pushes himself to try new things. Rather than iterate, he innovates with each new effort. Today, Yuvi, the author of A Brilliant Novel In The Works (GO BUY IT NOW!), shares how someone as neurotic as he is manages to keep pushing himself forward.Note: While I’m away this week toiling away in the desert (read: I’m working and playing in Las Vegas) I’ve asked a few friends to step in and take over for me. Today’s guest is

I have a real affection for the phrase, “there’s no way I can pull this off.”1

When I started writing short stories many years ago, I felt there was no way I could write a story that would affect others. It took quite a few years, but I started getting published by better and better magazines. At first I was strictly a short story writer, actually a VERY short story writer (had a problem with commitment), and so when I realized one day that I was mistakenly working on a novel, I thought there would be no way I could sustain a story for more than 20 pages. But then I completed a draft of the novel. And four more drafts after that. And then I thought no one would publish this insane novel. Forty rejections later, I found a publisher. And a fabulous literary agent. And the book is coming out in August. When I started making these silly “I’m a Failed Writer” videos, I assumed they would be incomprehensible to others. And yet here I am, a year into the series, and I’m shocked and honored by the positive (and even the constructive negative) feedback.

So what’s my point with this arrogant laundry list? Well I’m not suggesting that by saying, “There’s no way I can pull this off,” it is somehow a guaranteed formula for success. I have entire closets (and thousands of files, effectively sorted by Hazel) that represent my wasteland of things that I, in fact, could not pull off, just as I predicted. (For example, no one will ever — EVER! — want to see my attempt at writing a particularly long story about an aging, incontinent man.) I just wanted to point out that my brand of pessimism is connected to something that can actually amount to a few successes.

But it’s definitely more complex than just, “There’s no way I can pull this off.” That sentiment alone will leave a person too demoralized to proceed. There’s a second part to it. A part that I only whisper — if I admit at all. And that is another voice that says, “Let me see if I can pull it off anyway.” These two voices may seem like they could cause a case of multiple personality disorder, but there’s a way to use these voices in a surprisingly productive chorus. The first one helps keep your expectations low, keeps you from arrogantly expecting to write a bestseller in a month (or in a year, or in five years). The second voice gives you the curiosity and stamina (and stupidity) to keep at it — at least so that you go far enough to genuinely assess the (in)sanity of your project.

Together these two voices (with preferably salty tongues) can give you the audacity, the tenacity, the other-cool-word-acity to do something that no sane person would ever try to do… and occasionally succeed beyond your somewhat wildish dreams.

Over time you learn to use these voices more effectively. You become more efficient at the process. You learn to filter out the ideas that really are too absurd (see: incontinence) versus the ideas that might turn into something interesting even if they are risky (see: failed writer series). But you also need to hold on to a sort of child-like innocence that allows you to fiddle and experiment without being shackled to an end goal, at least not right away.

The more I talk about it, the more it sounds like a real tightrope walk. And maybe it is — balancing these two parts of the creative process. But I know that I need a mindset (even if not approved by my therapist) that allows me enough crazy to be creative and enough dedication to occasionally make something of it.

What do you think? Do you buy it? Am I full of shit? Do you have a similar (or a very different) set of kooky mantras to guide you?

Be sure to stop by Yuvi’s site and say hi to him on Twitter while I’m gone. He’s probably lonely…


  1. NOTE: Real-life quote has more swear words in it.  

7 Responses to The Things You Keep Telling Yourself You Can’t Do

  1. My college roommate used to say that my alter ego was Lara Croft/Tombraider. I apparently have my own issues with multiple personalities…Anyway, I think my alter ego slowly has merged with my ego. Most of my work (I think.) is borne from the tension that occurs between the two. Most days, I’m surprised by the things I write or draw. I think that happens when I stop worrying about my ego and start listening to the alter. My version of your statement is more along the lines of “I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

    • “I think my alter ego slowly has merged with my ego.” – Line of the day! It is amazing to see what we can actually accomplish when we are “dumb” enough to just do it anyhow.

        • Wow. I both scored a great line from Erin with the alter/ego thing… plus I ended up learning about Krav Maga for the first time… 

          I do like, Erin, how you’ve revealed the specific statement that you seem to be operating with… [I apologize for ending a sentence with a preposition on the VERY DAY you posted about it on your blog!!! Should I have said “with which you…” or just retooled the sentence altogether???] I think everyone has a slightly different variation of this statement and so it is cool to see what drives people to do cool things…

  2. I LOVE incontinence. Just so you know.

    I pretty much feel and believe deeply that every single thing I write totally sucks. That way, if anyone actually likes it I will be happily surprised (and mildly perplexed). 

    Crazy does seem to be a necessary driving force behind creation. Therapy often stunts my writing. 

    I love Erin’s statement: “I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m going to do it anyway.” That’s brilliant.

  3. […] say a big thank you to all of the amazing guests here on the site. If you haven’t checked out Yuvi Zalkow, Aaron Mahnke, Todd Chandler, Gini Dietrich and Mike Vardy’s posts yet, please do. Speaking […]

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