Silencing the Critic

I do not know about you, but I am my own worst critic. And let me tell you, I can be mean. Oh, the things I will say to myself about myself are not things that I would ever let anyone else get away with saying about anyone, myself or a stranger. I would be horrified if I ever heard anyone speaking to another human being that way. And I don’t talk or think that way about anyone else either, just myself.

It is something I am working on.

Occasionally though, it does sabotage my writing.

I will start off excited by an idea and dive deep into it and then, out of nowhere, my inner critic will pop up and just rip it to shreds. It will try and convince me that what I am working on is utter drivel. That it is not worth the time and energy to put on the page and that I should feel shamed at the thought of inflicting it upon the consciousness of others.

Like I said, I can be mean.

I don’t know how mean you are when criticising yourself, but self criticism is often a writer’s worst enemy.

Mine usually rears its head around 20K words. It’s actually quite predictable. That is the point where the new and exciting aspect of the story line has faded a bit and the hard slog of blending plot and story kick in. While I hope very much that you are not as mean to yourself as I am to myself, because my meanness comes in a predictable wave, here are a few tips I use to silence that inner critic.

First of all my inner critic tells me that no one will want to read what I’m writing. (actually the words are sometimes much harsher, but that’s the gist). So I just very calmly inform my inner critic that no one else has to read it. I am writing this so that I can find out what happens to the characters. I know that Bob is going to have to fight the slug monsters, I just want to find out how he gets from his house to the Bowl-a-Rama. That’s the reason I’m writing it and if no one wants to read it then that is just fine.

Usually I can get a stretch of silence from my inner critic. Sometimes there is a snort of derision, but as I have several manuscripts that are in the back of my files that I finished and have not released into the wild, the voice knows that I am perfectly capable of writing a book and not turning the manuscript into a book.

Of course my inner critic often tells me I should give up writing what I’m writing because if it isn’t worth showing to anyone else then it isn’t worth writing. Which is utter balderdash.

That’s right I said bolderdash.

I don’t often get to use that word in real life so I am using it here not only because I can but because it is appropriate.

Writing is a bit like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. That means that telling yourself writing something no one will see is pointless is very much like telling yourself running on a treadmill is pointless because it isn’t an actual marathon. I doubt very few people can run a marathon without actually learning to run first. You learn to run by running. You learn to write by writing. You can take as many classes as you want. You can read as many books about writing as you want but that can only give you so much. Most of what you learn about writing you learn by writing. Everything else is just theoretical.

Everything I have written, whether it turned into something like a short story or novel or just ended up as a snippet in a notebook has taught me something. Sometimes it is a writing exercise i did where no character was allowed to speak and could only convey their opinions and thoughts through action teaching me how people move through a space and communicate in non verbal ways. Sometimes it is just finding an odd combination of words that tickles my brain and can be used elsewhere. Sometimes it is a story idea. while not all writing is going to win awards and build a readership of millions, not all writing is designed to do that. It doesn’t make it any less valuable. So when your inner critic tells you not to bother with what your working on, look them dead in their snarky little face and say “Balderdash.”

Because really that word deserves a lot more use than it gets.

Sometimes you just need to keep going. And you know for this I like my trusty timer. Because I do so many timed writings that may or may not be used elsewhere, I have gotten used to not worrying about how my writing prompts come out. So when I am writing a writing prompt I just think, I can’t stop writing until the timer goes off. I don’t think about how good it is, because that’s not the point. The point is to continue writing until the timer goes off. It doesn’t have to be good. In fact it often isn’t. You’ve seen my morning prompts. Some of them contain ideas that I will later mine for actual stories but in and of themselves they are not actual stories. Certainly none of them is ready for print. At best one of them may end up as a vignette. So there is no pressure.

Because I use my timer for these writing prompts I have sort of conditioned my inner critic to switch off when the timer is going. When my inner critic is particularly nasty, I can sort of trick them into silence by turning on the timer. I’ll use the last sentence I put down as my starting point and set the timer for fifteen minutes, just like I would a writing prompt. Then I write. Later I will need a lot of editing, but it shuts down the critic and gets me going. Generally once the timer goes off, I will be sort of a groove and I can keep going, leaving my critic behind for a while. Sometimes self-trickery can work to your benefit.

Inner critics are hard to ignore. They are born of self doubt and the voices of all the people who criticize your previous efforts. Sometimes the critics are well meaning. sometimes they are not. Sometimes they don’t even mean to be critics. A lot of the time as children we are told to be nice, play fair and that certain things aren’t topics for discussion. Sometimes when you are writing, you can’t be nice. You can’t play fair, and sometimes you will find yourself knee deep in topics that aren’t polite to discuss. n inner critic can play upon those things like nobody’s business and make you doubt everything. The trick is just to hang in there, keep going, tell the tale you want to tell and generally, if you loved what you were writing at the start, you will fall back in love with it again later. Personally I have hated every book I’ve ever written around the 20 K mark and didn’t start to see it as positive again until I got to about 40-50K. It happens with pretty much everything I write. But still I keep going. And if you have a story to tell, I hope you do too.

I also hope you end up using the word Balderdash more in everyday situations.

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