Excuse me, do you mind stepping off my shoulder?
When I was studying acting, we had a session on dealing with the inner critic. We imagined and conjured up a real entity. Mine was a man, who’d stepped out of the 1920s with slick black shiny hair, a pencil-thin moustache and wore a black tuxedo with coattails. We completed a long meditative session where we were encouraged to visualise this object of negativity so we could tell it to ‘get lost.’
I have developed my own quick and effective response that allows me to verbally flick him off my shoulder. As this is a PG article, I won’t share the exact phrase, that at times, has proven to be quite effective.
As an aspiring writer, my inner critic enjoys making regular appearances. Always settling himself in a comfy position where he gets the best advantage in trying to undermine my confidence with his incessant and toxic talk.
Being aware of what your inner critic is trying to do will reduce their effect on you as a writer. I am always working hard to try and not let him control my thoughts when I am writing. Sometimes I am successful. Sometimes the self-doubt barges at me and bullies my confidence away. During these times I try and think rationally and ask myself why? Why am I letting him take away my pleasure of writing?
I believe it is fear. Pure and simple.
Fear of failing. Fear of being laughed at. Fear of being ridiculed. Fear of finding out that you can’t write. That you are wasting your time on a pipe dream. If left unchecked, these negative thoughts will grow and contaminate your creative process.
In Psychology Today, Dr Margalis Fjelstad, tells us that, although no one knows for certain, we start to hear our inner critic as a child once we start to develop our ability to use language and usually from a parent who has disciplined us as children.
“It does appear that biologically we all hear negativity louder than the positives.” Dr Margalis Fjelstad
I am pretty stubborn and determined. I am also a childhood cancer survivor and I learnt very early that life is precious and should be lived to the fullest. And though I don’t always succeed, I work hard to not let my inner critic cripple my writing.
There have been many moments where I have surrendered to his rantings and when this happens, I am fearful of sitting down to write. Destructive self-talk begins to fill my headspace. I start to see my work as a load of rubbish, that my writing is not good enough, or my story is boring and pedestrian. I become uncertain that no one would want to read my work.
When this happens, I do one, or more, of the following:
· I keep writing and let my imagination and the writing nourish my creativity.
· I read the quote I have above my desk, "First drafts don’t need to be perfect. But they do need to be written."
· I keep learning and refining my craft, applying all I have learnt to my writing.
· I tell myself that, like every new skill, it takes practice. That by getting it wrong we discover what is right.
I am always adding to this list. Just recently I heard a gem on the So You Want to be a Writer Podcast: don't be afraid of rejections. That rejection will help build resilience as you venture down the publishing path. A path that will always be littered with potential rejections.
In her blog, The Creative Penn, Joanna Penn, talks about being gentle with her inner critic.
Thank you for helping me to be critical in the editing process, but right now, I need some time to play and be creative. I need you to rest, but please come back when I'm done, and you can help me with the next part.” Joanna Penn
I like this one. Providing an opportunity to be compassionate towards your creative self is quite powerful. Being kind to yourself can also instil inner emotional and spiritual strength.
After each writing session, I acknowledge and thank my creativity.
To increase my emotional fortitude against my inner critic, I have started to submit my short stories for publication online and entering writing competitions. Writing a blog and joining writing groups, connecting with other writers via social media is also helping me to find my confidence in sharing my work and in seeking feedback. Strip
I know my inner critic will always drop-in, but I hope over time I can say ‘not today, thank you,’ and send him on his way.