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Creative Flow: How to Silence Negative Voices and Write

From Bryan: This is a guest post by Josh Irby. Josh is a writer who lives in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina with his wife and four children. For more than a decade he has worked with university students, helping them tell better stories with their lives. If you come to Sarajevo, you will likely find him in the corner of a local café sipping a macchiato and talking with friends. Visit Josh’s blog www.joshirby.com

My children are inquisitive. When I am driving they ask at least one question per minute. Sometimes, their questions come so quickly and loudly I cannot hear my own thoughts.

I feel like my brain is being hijacked.

Often, when I sit down to write, I feel the same way. I try to engage my mind with the world of words but my mind is under new management. I am no longer in control.

Photo Cred: Dreamstime

Photo Cred: Dreamstime

In this case, however, the voices are not those of my children. They are voices from within.

Silencing those voices is my secret to finding my creative flow.

Internal negative voices come in many forms.

  • There is the Critic—“That’s not good enough.”
  • There is the Cynic—“No one is going to read it.”
  • There is the Doubter—“Perhaps writing is not for you.”

And, of course, all of their friends.

These voices take up residence in our minds and prevent us from creating.

If we want to release our writing voice we must silence these squatters.

Here is how I silence the voices in my head.

Recognize the voice.

At first, all my internal voices sound like my own. They sound like my thoughts. However, whenI listen closely, I discover something different.

Most of these voices actually come from people around me—friends, family, teachers, leaders.

One voice I regularly hear as I sit down to write says, “Your not a writer. You are just faking it. Shouldn’t you be using your time for something more productive?”

It is really hard to create something compelling with this message echoing in my brain.

But, as I have given attention to the voice, I recognized it. It sounds familiar.

When I was in high school I met with my guidance counselor to talk about college options. She asked me what subjects I enjoyed. I told her I liked Biology and Math. She swiveled in her chair and looked in her big book of careers. Rotating back towards me she said, “You should be a Biomedical Engineer.”

And so, I went to engineering school.

Today, 20 years later, when I sit down to write, my old guidance counselor swivels around in my mind, looks in her book, and asks, “Writing? That’s not what it says in my book.”

I have allowed her to take residence in my mind. She drones on and on, “You are not a writer, you’re an engineer.” And because of her voice, I struggle to call myself a writer.

But now that I recognize her voice I am on the way to evicting her completely.

There is power in calling something by its real name.

Reject the Voice.

Once I recognize the voice, I speak back.

Here is where we get a little psychoanalytical. As long as that person has power over me, that voice will have power over me. I need to let them know that they don’t own me and can’t tell me what to do.

What relevance does my high school guidance counselor have on my life today?

Only the relevance I allow her to have.

What power does a voice have in your life? Only to power you allow it to have.

  • Don’t allow a bully from middle school to still determine how you view yourself.
  • Don’t allow a side comment from a parent to overshadow the truth.
  • Don’t allow a past failure to lead you into failure today.
  • Don’t allow one discouraging person to prevent you from getting your work out to the thousands who will be encouraged by it.

Reject the voice.

Note: This might require hard conversations with real people. This might require a little confrontation. This might require discomfort.

But, how much is your freedom worth? It’s sure hard to create with unwanted guests living in your mind.

Replace the voice with the truth

Just because I remove a voice one day does not mean it will not come back the next. To rid myself of negative inner voices I must replace them with the truth.

The truth:

  • My guidance counselor did not create me.
  • She did not determine my gifts and talents.
  • She is not God’s representative to dictate my life’s direction.
  • If God gave me the desire and skill to write, then I should write.

That’s the truth.

And, the truth, when spelled out, is powerful.

Now, I am not talking about made up, wishful mantras. Just saying, “I’m the best writer ever!” does not make it true. The truth is, your probably not. Neither am I. There are many who write better than you and I.

When we use this wishful thinking, we only replace a lie with a lie. It’s like drinking a Coke. Sure you will get a burst of energy but it can’t sustain you.

But there is truth that sustains:

  • You are a unique creation. – Tweet this.
  • No one writes exactly like you. – Tweet this.
  • If you don’t write, you cheat the world of your voice. – Tweet this.
  • There are readers waiting for your writing, you just have to write and find them. – Tweet this.

That’s the truth.

When you recognize, reject, and replace the negative voices in your head, you will discover the beauty of a quiet mind. And your unique voice will flow out onto the page.

How do you silence your negative voices? Share in the comments.

Do you want to use your writing voice for good in the world? Then join my Open Letter Challenge writing contest. It’s fun. There are celebrity judges (including Bryan Hutchinson). And there are prizes!

~Josh Irby

Message from Bryan: The next post on Positive Writer is the announcement of the winners of the “You are a writer!” writing contest! Did you win? You will soon find out, and next week I will present new contests with bigger prizes! In the meantime, go enter Josh’s exciting open-letter writing contest.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins



  • Great post, Josh. How do I silence those voices. I’m learning to say positive things back to them. And thanks to Bryan and other encouraging posts he puts out there, I am getting better and better at it.

    I think it’s funny that we decide which comments we will believe when they are all in the same voice—ours.

    • Joshua Irby

      Thanks Anne. The truth, when spoken, is much more powerful than the voices.

  • Deevra Norling

    This is a brilliant post. Thought-provoking topic and wonderfully written. So Josh, don’t doubt your writing skill – you did a superb job in this article. 🙂

    • Joshua Irby

      Thanks Deevra. I appreciate the encouragement.

  • Great article. Great coaching: It will come back to my mind like a boomerang the next time the my critic begins.

    • Joshua Irby

      Thanks Marilyn!

  • Such a relevant topic and great advice. I silence the negative voices by repeating, out loud, my new mantra, “I am a writer. I am awesome.” I say it until the negative voices go away. By saying this over and over, it fuels my belief in myself and empowers me – I know I am in control and not the negative voices.

    • Joshua Irby

      Those words “I am a writer” are truly powerful.

  • troy mc laughlin

    Way to go Josh loved the post. As you said in the comments “the truth when spoken is much more powerful than the voices.” I’m choosing to listen to the Voice of truth. #dudewriters4ever

    • Joshua Irby

      Thanks Troy! It is a choice isn’t it.

  • When I feel that negative voice nagging at me, I do want to identify it and usually can. Rejecting it and replacing it is a whole other matter. I, often, find that I’m not able to do either one. What I end up doing is just telling myself, “Tough, write anyway. Worry about what isn’t right later on.” Then I buckle down and do it.

    • Joshua Irby

      What’s most important is to push through the voices. But if you can find the truth that really speaks to the voice’s lie, then you can do some real damage.

  • themagicviolinist

    This is great. 🙂 My inner editor is always trying to get me to change things in my book, so I cover her mouth with duct tape.

    • Joshua Irby


  • Pingback: 5 Great Writing Posts Last Week: Traditional Publishing, PR for Authors SEO Friendly Content Silencing the Negative Voices & More. - Hugh O. Smith | Hugh O. Smith()

  • Maria C. Pires Costa

    Thanks very much indeed for your brilliant, encouraging tips to everyone who thinks ” If God gave me the desire and skill to write, then I should write.” 🙂
    I’ve relished the post!

  • Mini

    grate content thank you so much too k a long time to work through it