The inner critic needs little introduction. Regardless of where you are in the creative journey, you’re likely very familiar with this inner gremlin.
If you’re new to writing, then the inner critic will be your biggest enemy.
This may come as a surprise.
You may think that your lack of experience, knowledge, or ability may be your biggest hindrances, but these three aspects are within your control.
You can choose to gain experience by writing; you can improve your knowledge by reading fiction books, ‘how to write’ book, and attending courses, and you can improve your overall ability by combining these two steps together, applying what you’ve learnt to your writing practise.
Newbie writers must learn how to overwrite their inner critic and to ignore their harping. It will tell you that you’re no good, that writing is a waste of time, and that do body cares what you have to say. Some of this may be true.
If a newbie writer isn’t careful, their hunger and discipline can become dampened by their inner critic. It can stop you before you even begin, but it is possible to develop creative strategies for handling the critic so that you can continue doing what you do best: writing.
But don’t go thinking that established writers are free from the critic’s grip. Oh no, if anything, the voice gets louder and sneakier. Sometimes, it can be hard to separate the critic from the critical self. (NB: I can appreciate that these terms are similar, but stick with me!)
During the drafting of a manuscript neither the critic nor the critical self are invited to the party, but once you begin the revision process, the critical self is vital.
What’s the difference between these two voices?
Essentially, it’s how they talk.
The inner critic is mean. The critic will say, this story is no good, you are a terrible writer, what a dumb idea, they did it better, maybe you should check your email instead of write, or you can’t pull this off.
The inner critic pinpoints a fault and makes it personal while offering no solution.
The critical self, confusingly, may say similar things, but it’s usually followed by a suggestion or some kind of encouragement.
For example, this story isn’t working (but you can fix it). This paragraph is awkward (rewrite it). What a dumb idea (make the plot more complex). Theydid it better (there’s a market for this). Maybe you should check your email (do not check your email!). You can’t pull this off (yet. Do some more research. Practise, practise, practise).
The critical self identifies when something isn’t work in the novel, but it doesn’t fling its hands into the air, admit defeat, and close up shop. Instead, it rolls up its sleeves and gets to work.
The critical self is our friend, especially during revision.
The inner critic is not our friend and every writer or creative must find a different way to handle it.
Everyone’s critic tends to offer up the same generic opinion — you suck and everything you write sucks — but our unique critic may fall into one of the following camps as well.
You need to write and publish more content. You cannot rest! You must do more, more!
Every piece of writing could do with one more edit. Nothing is ever good enough or ‘ready’ for publication.
Everyone is fantastic, productive, successful, inspired, motivated, and clever all the time. You, however, are none of these things ever.
Publishing = being judged. So, you better think really hard about what you’re going to do. Make a plan and an outline. Think about it. Make a new plan and outline. Repeat.
Writing is pointless. No one want to read my stuff. I am so out of my league.
Perhaps reading these descriptions have helped you better identify your inner critic?
These categories can be used as a spring board for personifying your inner critic. Maybe you can give them a name, describe what they look like, and where they live.
The uber-creative author known as SARK, takes this one step further. Whenever her critic appears, she acknowledges them, listens to what they have to say, and then she imagines them being arrested and taken away, or she invents a job for them.
For example, you could ‘send’ your inner critic away to be an egg packer in France or to escort wild life crossing the road in South Dakota. Think about what type of job would suit an Overachiever (CEO) and what type of job would suit a procrastinator (nap champion).
For type A personalities, this may seem a little silly, but you might be surprised by how effective this little mind game can be.
When it comes to dealing with the inner critic, it can be helpful to have a wide range of solutions at your disposal for what works one day may not work the next.
Another activity you can do is sit with your inner critic and have a dialogue with them.
What are they worried about? What is the worst that could happen? Is this situation survivable? What might you do if such an event occurred? Would you really allow your life to unravel to this extend? Is it possible that you could prevent this, if so, how?
If the inner critic appears while you are working, and if you find that their opinions are interrupting your work flow, you may find that simply writing out this criticism on a piece of paper is enough to dispel its power.
When my critic starts piping up with comments like ‘this is boring’, I write down the comment, acknowledge that my writing may indeed be boring, but then continue on anyway.
For some people, a firm ‘no’ said a loud whenever the critic starts piping up may be enough to silence them.
For those who are a little more type A, you may find that questioning your critic’s opinion is the most effect method. When met with a criticism like, this book isn’t very interesting or you’re writing is bland, ask yourself, ‘Is that true? Can I be certain that is true?’ Naturally, the answer will always be ‘no’, because nothing (besides natural laws like gravity, death, and taxes) are certain.
We cannot be rid of our inner critic, and we wouldn’t want to. Their job is to keep us safe and sometimes it is important to be afraid. Fear stops us from crossing the road without looking or publishing an unedited first draft.
Our critics aren’t going anywhere, but with awareness, mindfulness, and playfulness we can learn to live and creative with them. Once you discover your unique formula, it’s possible to turn a critic into a creative ally.
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