One of the joys of strolling through my local library is that I’ll often come upon an unexpected book that catches my eye. During November, when NaNoWriMo (National NovelWriting Month) was in full swing, the library showcased a book called, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro.
Part memoir, part writing guide, Still Writing deals with territory that’s familiar to many of us: turning childhood pain into art, balancing life and work, overcoming resistance to writing. In a chapter called “Inner Censor,” Dani describes her own inner critic, which she calls a “frenemy” in this way:
“Here are some of the things she whispers, or shouts, depending on her mood, whenever I’m beginning something new:
This is stupid.
What a waste of time. (Condescending laugh)
You really think yo can pull that off?
So-and-so did it better.
What a dumb idea.
Are you ready for a nap?”
Sound familiar? All this chatter is designed to shut her down, Dani says, and then adds, “If I’m not writing, my heart hardens, rather than lifts.” Over years of writing, Dani says she’s learned to handle her censor by:
“Accepting our coexistence” – Writers and their inner critics need to get along. Fighting doesn’t work. So she starts by “recognizing her – oh, hello, it’s you again.”
“The I.C., once you’re on a nickname basis, should be treated as an annoying, potentially undermining colleague.”
After you’ve accepted your own “toxic little troll,” says Dani, you have to be vigilant and alert – you have to recognize the different guises she can take and the stories she can tell you about why you shouldn’t write what you’re writing: It’s not commercial enough; it’s the wrong genre; you need a more exciting protagonist.
“Under the guise of being helpful, or honest,”says Dani,”my censor is like a guided missile aiming at every nook and cranny where I am my weakest and most vulnerable. She will stoop and connive. All she wants to do is o stop me from entering the sacred space from which the work springs.”
Here’s the key says Dani: The censor knows that, “once I have begun, she will lose her power over me. And so I dip my toe into the stream. I feel the rush of words there.” How do we defeat our censor? By writing. Armed with this simple truth, let’s all write on!