Chatter. Chatter. Blather. Blather. Yammer. Yammer. We all know the feeling: Our pesky inner critic is at it again, chattering, blathering, and yammering — always giving us a hard time about our writing. But while we can’t really turn that annoying voice off, we can learn to manage it so that it doesn’t get in the way of our work.
In an online article called “Overcome Your Inner Critic” on BookBaby.com’s blog, Jim Dempsey, associate editor at Novel Gazing (a professional editing service for authors and publishers), offers three helpful techniques for quieting your critic:
1. Be selective: Basically, it’s your mind’s job to question your actions in order to keep you safe. You can’t really control the steady drumbeat of criticism and questions it throws at you, because you can’t keep thoughts from taking up space in your head. But you can decide which ones you’ll pay attention to. When your mind raises doubts about whether you’re a scene is any good or you can finish a draft, remember that this is just a thought, just words.
“Ask yourself, ‘Is this is a helpful thought?’ suggests Jim. “If it’s not helpful, you can decide not to take this thought seriously and move on to the next one. Don’t worry, another one will be along again soon enough. Your mind likes to keep busy.”
Here’s how novelist Dani Shapiro handles this according to a Salon.com interview: “It helps to think of that inner censor as a beloved but annoying friend who has moved in for the duration. That friend is never going away. So you make peace with your inner censor. You say some version of, thanks very much for sharing, and then move on, past that censoring voice, and into your work.”
2. Give your inner critic a name: Coming up with a name for your own personal inner censor can help defuse its negative, meddlesome energy. It will also help you become more aware of when and why that unhelpful voice crops up. You can even view it as a character in a story: “My Whiny Inner Critic” or “My Annoying Aunt” or “My Pesky Problem-maker” or “My Unhelpful Harpy” — whatever works. Think of it as slightly annoying, but basically harmless. Sounds a little zany, but it can help put some distance between you and that voice in your head.
3. Remember why you write: Some days, your critic may have a point: Your writing may be sluggish, uninspired, dull. So what? That’s how the writing game goes — some days are diamonds, some days are stone. But even if you’re writing badly — even if you’ve written a whole scene or chapter or novella that really doesn’t work — that doesn’t mean you should stop writing. When you’re mind is being overly critical, telling you that you’re a failure, think about all the reasons why you want to write, why you have to write.
As Jim puts it, “Don’t let those thoughts of failure stop you. You don’t give up on love just because you might get hurt some time. And you shouldn’t give up on something you love. Keep writing. It takes a lot of work, and some of it might be terrible, but if you stop, no one will ever get a chance to see the good stuff.”
Wise advice for staying on the page and persevering. Write on!