View Full Version : How do you deal with your inner critic

10-23-2008, 06:24 AM
I've painted myself in a corner and offered to do a program for a local writer's group early next year on Dealing With Your Inner Critic and Censor (I'll surely come up with a juicier title -- any suggestions?). It will be a highly interactive program, so I don't need to do a huge amount of prep, but now that I've begun thinking about it, I've become outrageously curious about how other people experience and deal with these inner obstacles.

So, I'm asking Forum members, are there particular times yours especially acts up? Do you recognize it when it begins to whisper? What sort of messages do you hear? Whose voice does your critic use? Have you had any especially poignant experiences with it? Have you found any specific ways of backing your critic off?

Hopefully your answers will benefit us all.

10-23-2008, 06:44 AM
I'll kick off with some answers to my own questions:

My Inner Censor and Critic is named Gretchen. I described her in a blog post (http://heartandcraft.blogspot.com/2008/02/introducing-gretchen-my-inner-censor.html) last winter.

As you can tell if you read the post, Gretchen alternates between critic and censor. In the censor role, she reminds me that my words could hurt others, and that the past is best left in the past, "for my own good." When she switches her whip to the other hand, she becomes a Critic, questioning my writing ability. "You'll never be a Natalie Goldberg. If you are very lucky, you may write one brilliant sentence a month." Or, "You know you don't want to work hard enough to have a best seller. You don't have the dedication that takes, and besides, the publishing industry is changing so fast...." Or, "You think your life has been so intriguing, but the older you get, the duller it seems in retrospect. Who would want to read such mundane matters? Booooring!"

Oh, that latter is humiliating. How many times have I chanted to students, "There is no such thing as a boring life. The dullest day can become fascinating if well-told." Gretchen tells me I'm full of you-know-what.

Gretchen is especially liable to visit when I'm tired, stressed about other things, and generally weak in spirit. I'm getting better at recognizing her approach, but I readily admit she's able to spark some serious procrastination, generally in the form of e-mail, Forum haunting, rearranging my desk, listening to podcasts, reading, etc. Oh, the many ways I can find to give the appearance of working on a writing project without actually producing words!

The messages I hear are inner dialogue, and they are in my own voice, more or less, like various parts of me conversing with each other. A friend told me she always hears her father's voice.

I have not had a dramatic incident, just lots of low-key insidious influence.

The best way I know to back her off is to thank her kindly for her attempt to keep me safe by discouraging my self-disclosure or exposure to the risk of judgment or rejection. It takes some determination, but sitting down at the keyboard and getting my fingers moving generally does the trick. I may put on some yoga type music in the background, maybe light a scented candle, and I almost always have a fresh cup of coffee at hand. It may last for hours, growing steadily colder, but my hand-thrown stoneware mug is my security blanket. Sometimes, if I'm really stuck, I'll write in my journal for a few pages. That always does the trick.

10-25-2008, 06:32 AM
I think it is quite creative to separate out your inner critic and speak of her as a person. I am thinking of doing something similar in my memoir - in one chapter writing about a child (me) in a photograph as tho 'she' is someone else. Otherwise I am writing in first person.

But I wouldn't want to separate out my inner critic - I want the 'me-feeling' when it comes to internal criticism. My inner critic is never 'mean' - the only frustration I feel is over the amount of writing I get done - I am veeerrrryyy slow. I am happy though with what I produce and love editing (one of the reasons I'm slow).

10-26-2008, 06:09 PM
There are lots of approaches to stilling the inner critic. The key is to approach it like the very real problem it is and apply intelligence and creativity to push through and keep writing.

So one technique is attitudinal. If you have ever taken a course in assertiveness, you know that some people are better at speaking their mind than others, and that you can actually learn to improve your ability to "talk back" to people. Look at your inner critic as a bully, and use assertiveness training to push him or her back.

The other technique is behavioral. If you practice free-writing year after year, you simply become faster and more facile letting words flow through your mind onto the page. This is possible because you never intend to show your free-writing to anyone. It's just between you and you. As you gain skill at writing "whatever" words will flow more freely in other more formal situations.

Oh, there is one other thing. I print out my writing and edit it at a different time of day than when I wrote it. So when I edit, I'm working from markups, and I don't have to agonize as much over the initial perfection of the draft.

I hope this helps.