Chip on the Shoulder

When I was a teenager I stayed grounded–grounded as in punished and made to stay home on a Saturday night. One time I was even grounded for having no common sense. When I asked Dad how long I was to be marooned in my room, he said, “Until you get some sense.”

I persisted, “Can I have a timeframe? How long will that be?” This didn’t help plead my case. Mostly, I was grounded for having a ‘chip on my shoulder.’ That’s ‘70s slang for a rotten attitude. Urban dictionary describes it as “someone who has a self-righteous feeling of inferiority or a grudge.” Surely that wasn’t me. (The grammar police would say, “That wasn’t I.”) You see, I still hold some of those chips.

The last writer’s conference I attended hosted many talented writers. Interspersed within this group, were also many talented writers with chips on their shoulders. You could spot them from across the room. Some would say that it takes one to know one. When asked questions about their magnum opus, these writers responded rather smugly or defensively. It took deeper conversations before the shoulder chips could be chiseled away. Look out! You never knew where these chips were going to fall. They could fall on you if you weren’t comfortable in your own vocation or writing abilities.

It’s not attractive to have a chip on your shoulder. So how does a writer prevent this from happening? First, you have to have a mission-a book in the works or a daily word-count goal. In other words, you have to write if you want to call yourself a writer. Next, you have to stop looking at other writers as if they are your competition. No one can write your story except you. No one. Believe this and competition becomes a non-issue. But here’s the clincher: those inner nattering voices that tell you that you’re not good enough or cut out for this writing thing. Stare those fun suckers down, down to the floor next to your writing desk. The little demons need to be grounded. Teach them to think twice before trying to steal your joy.

The last time I had a chip on my shoulder was after making a decision to homeschool my children. A real voice, albeit well-meaning, said, “You wouldn’t do that to my grandbabies.” Another real voice said, “If Shelly Miller can homeschool, I know I can.” That voice belonged to a mother who moved forward to homeschool her own children successfully, so good for her. As for the first voice, I heard it again last week upon the college graduation of our daughter, the oldest of the grandbabies. This time, the loving voice said, “That’s our granddaughter, graduating summa cum laude with the highest honors. And she was homeschooled!”

Just when my peacock feathers puff up and the birth of a new chip begins, I have to consult spellcheck for how to spell ‘summa.’ And here lies the last trick in avoiding a chip on the shoulder: Maintain humbleness although nobody ever gets used to the taste of humble pie.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

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