Duct Tape the English Teacher & Kill the Monkeys

Photo Credit sooeze @ sxc

Do you get those voices in your head when you’re writing?

You know, that *tap, tap, tap* of the English teacher’s ruler and the squeaky, jeering monkeys?

The English Teacher Voice

She’s the one that keeps reminding you to write in the active voice, use the correct they’re/their/there, form proper paragraphs, eliminate sentence fragments, and on and on and on and on…

Should you listen to her?

  • Pros: She helps you write well.
  • Cons: She keeps you from writing well.

Yeah, I know. That makes sense.  But it’s true.

We need to pay attention to our spelling and grammar.  If my writing made no sense you’d be gone already (you’re still here and still reading, right?).

But that “teacher” voice is also the one that leads us to obsess about our word choice, stop and analyze every sentence, and ultimately keeps us from getting in a flow of writing where our voice comes out and we can connect with our readers.

So I give you permission to reach over and find her off switch. It’s probably hiding so you may use duct tape instead if you prefer.  Just let her stand quietly and be a reminder to give your writing a once over to be sure it makes sense and then get it out there to share it.

The Monkeys

And then there’s the monkey chatter… I love this term, I’m borrowing it from Melanie Benson-Strick.  She says all those annoying voices in our heads trying to “protect” us by keeping us safe and small — they’re the voices that say things to keep us from playing a bigger game or getting out there and being visible.

  • You’re not an expert.
  • You can’t do *that* (whatever that is).
  • You won’t succeed.
  • Look at how much work it’s going to take!
  • Who are you to help people with that?
  • Why would someone listen to you?
  • Everyone’s going to laugh at you.
  • You’ll make a mistake.

I’ve made mistakes.  More than once.  I’ve failed.  I’ve made typos.  I’ve been laughed at.  None of those were the end of the world!  We’ve just got to fix it and keep going.

The thing is, those monkey voices do want to keep us safe.  If we stay right where we are and keep quiet, maybe no one will judge us or disagree with us.  Maybe we won’t take any financial risks or deal with failure.

But think about the worst case scenario.  What if you fail?  What’s the worst that can happen?  Will you still be alive?  Healthy?  Able to start over and try again?  Yes, almost certainly!

Now think about the best case scenario.  What if you succeed?  What could that mean for you?  For your family?  For the people who want your products or services?

Compare those pictures.  Isn’t the best case scenario worth trying for and worth the risk?

Kill the monkeys.

Failure is okay and it won’t be the end of the world.  Move through it to the success that’s possible.

P.S. No live animals, monkey or otherwise, were harmed in the writing of this post.  If you prefer, instead of killing your monkeys you may send them to the zoo or your local animal shelter.  But join me in getting them the heck out of our heads so we can get out there and make a difference in the world.

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  1. You can’t kill the monkeys, or lizard brain as I call it but you can learn how to manage it, work with it in a way that lets you get back to doing what you want to do. The way to do that is to remember it’s there for your survival and even though it shows up negatively, it has a positive intention. We just have to look for it!

    1. Unfortunately, true. :) But I like to think of them as gone and then when they try to show up I remind them they’re gone. ;)

  2. I am laughing my head off!! Hilarious post with some REAL truth behind it! I”m heading off right now to kill some of those monkeys!

    1. Is it okay to cheer for that, since I know they’re imaginary monkeys? :D *applause*

  3. Grammar is important as is spelling but it is the balance. Funny and interesting point of view. The teacher is a huge part of the Moral Imperative that I really want to make people aware of and stop them from limiting themselves. Can I borrow the monkeys?

    1. It does keep us limited. We get wrapped up in the quest for perfection when excellence can be achieved and just as effective. You may have my monkeys, I’ll untie them and send them over. :)

  4. Honestly anything that has monkeys and duct tape in the headline is a for sure reader for me. And to back it up with great and insightful thoughts and content – well done Michelle. I have a few Monkey voices that are chattering away in there, but I’m imagining them and the English teacher all lined up with duct tape over their mouths. Nice and quiet now!

    1. Yes, the title was me attempting to write a good headline to pique curiosity. LOL

      Perhaps I should buy some stock in duct tape…

  5. Love it! What a great post and fabulous advice! I’ve already found the duct tape, and I may just throw the monkeys a bunch of bananas to keep them busy, but love the idea!



    1. Great idea! You know this made me think of how Adam Urbanski has his binder of praise from clients. There’s a “banana” to throw at the monkeys. Every time they bring ya down remind them of the people who love us, who believe in us, and who’ve achieved results through our help.

      Here’s his video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKOxT1gg8lY

  6. Love this post! You are right; I have all of those voices in my head.


    1. At least we’re all in good company. :)

  7. Michelle,

    This is the best headline you have come up with so far! I was lucky enough to have an English teacher that taught the basics and then promoted creative license. Her bottom line was, does it communicate?

    1. Thank you! I had fun with it.

      Now that’s an excellent teacher. Great way to boil it down to the core — “does it communicate?”

  8. Ah Michelle, I think you wrote this post just for me! My home language is Afrikaans, so every time I write a new post, these monkeys chatter in my ears and head like crazy. They tell me to go back and rewrite sentences, they make me wonder about my grammar and punctuation… spelling is a nightmare with the “s” and “z” because we use UK English in South Africa.. so should I type “organise” or should I type “organize”? And then I have to literally translate my Afrikaans thoughts into English words as well.

    This year the monkeys will be silenced together with my English teacher from hundreds years back who made us repeat the differences between “thought” and “fought” (“f” sound) a thousand times a day.

    You made my day with this funny but encouraging post.

    1. I can imagine that’s tough. I speak enough Spanish to communicate but am not fluent and that’d be a lot of monkey chatter if I tried to blog in Spanish. Whew!

      I love reading UK English. It reminds me of Shakespeare. :)

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