We all have one. Or many. Inner critics are the bane of a creative person’s existence. Imagine how many things you could have already accomplished in your life if you just ignored that nagging voice? If you kept pushing when he told you to stop? Imagine the possibilities. I do. My inner critic can get so loud that sometimes he makes me stop what I’m doing completely and give up.
I’m going to approach this topic as if you are about to write your first draft. You are getting ready to rev up the engine on a blank document. Your outline and some research is your only fuel. You may be getting ready for NaNoWriMo, or simply starting something new on your own. Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry. Doesn’t matter. Let’s get started.
The first thing we need to do is break him down. Take away his power. Let’s bring your inner critic out and sit him in the hot seat for a moment. I want you to take a good look at him. Does he have a face? Is he a person? A creature? Envision him. Does he have a voice? Is it rude, disapproving, or raspy? Maybe it’s quiet? Kind? Really imagine the whole picture. Then, I want you to break him apart. Because he is not a being with a face or a voice. Your inner critic is YOU.
YOU are stopping yourself from achieving great things. Your inner criticism is simply negative self-talk. That takes away some of his power, doesn’t it?
Next, I want to give you an arsenal of responses to say to yourself when your critical side starts knocking. Remember in grade school when you practiced all your snappy Lizzie McGuire inspired 90’s comebacks into the mirror, that you were totally going to tell the mean girl at school the next day? No? Just me? Anyway, it’s kind of like that.
When your inner critic starts spouting this nonsense, I want you to respond with one or all of these:
- This isn’t permanent
- Your services are not needed at this time
- This stage is about creativity, not technicality
- No one will even lay eyes on this draft
- You are not in control
Let’s break these down:
- Your first draft is not permanent. It is going to change in a million ways before your end product is ready. This is part of the writing process. Slightly overwhelming but totally okay. Enjoy this first step. Throw a towel down on the sand and lay back, soak it all in. There’s no room for Mr. Critic on your novel writing oasis. Tell him to get lost.
- Yes, you will need to edit. Eventually. Next month, maybe next year. But certainly not now. Hand Mr. Critic a crossword puzzle and ask him to sit in the other room until you’re ready. Make sure you remind him it could be months before he is of any use to you, but he still needs to wait. Quietly.
- Your first draft is literally about stretching your legs. Pushing your limits. Seeing how far your imagination can reach. It’s not about practicality. You’re testing the waters, trying things out. Mr. Critic is the over protective parent that won’t let you try the highest diving board at the swimming pool. But in the fall from the board to the waters, with your heart in your throat and your eyes shut tight, you could find your breakthrough. It could change your life. Don’t let him hold you back from that feeling.
- No one will see this draft without consent from you first. So what is it you have to lose? Oh yeah, nothing.
- When all else fails, I want you to take Mr. Critic by the collar, and say this: “You are not in control of this draft. You do not control my hands, or the keyboard, or even the thoughts in my head. You are a bully who wants to cut off my creative flow. You want to crush my dreams. Right now I will bleed words into this first draft, and later I will let you clean it up. But right now, this is about me.”
When it comes down to it, this is all about confidence. Confidence in yourself and in your abilities. I know as writers our confidence is sometimes hard to find. We’re self-deprecating creatures who are constantly ripping open old wounds in order to bleed from them…and possibly create something beautiful. I totally get that. But you have to find a balance between being the tortured artist and the powerful, creative force that I know you can be.
I know it’s so much easier said than done. Non-writers don’t seem to get it…this voice can be so loud it stops you right in your tracks. It makes you feel like going on may not be worth it. But it is. Just remember that.
I hope you’ll be joining me for National Novel Writing Month this year! You can click that link and add me as a buddy, as well as follow me on Twitter for lots of NaNo support! As always, happy writing!