Firing that Inner Critic

Something I get asked quite a bit in the various workshops I teach, is essentially how to deal with the inner critic. The questions come to me like this:

How do you deal with worrying about family reading your sex scenes?

My (sister/mother/father/aunt) says I can’t write about this because I’ll hurt people – what do I do?

Every time I try to finish my story, I get bogged down in editing – how can I get past this?

All of these are evidence of the inner critic at work. Even those voices that “sound” like they come from someone else, those are simply concerns that we’ve internalized. It’s like a part of our brains is a tape recorder, faithfully taking down every criticism leveled at us. Then, when we got to write, it “helpfully” plays all of that back for us.

So, a lot of the time I tell people this is part of the gig (which it is) and you simply have to get good at exercising the discipline of shutting this voice off (which is also true). At the most basic level, it’s like learning to exercise regularly. At some point you have to shuck the excuses, laziness and don’t-wannas and just do it.

Write the sex scene anyway.

Write the memoir anyway.

Don’t go back and edit until you’re done.

All of that makes it sound easy, which it isn’t. It’s simple, but not easy. But I haven’t had better advice than this. 

Recently, however, I discovered a tool for myself that I want to share.

Because – don’t mistake me – these things don’t go away. I’ve never met any writer, no matter how practiced or successful, who’s said they no longer hear these undermining voices. The syndrome can come and go, depending on overall life and emotional health, and on the project. 

I struggled with this not long ago because of a chain of events where several people said critical things to me. A couple of them were angry with me and said things deliberately to hurt me. Even though I knew that intellectually, my inner tape recorder faithfully took down all of it, playing it back for me over and over, along with other stuff – negative comments from reviews, chance remarks that no one meant in a bad way. It became this inescapable ear worm that filled my head when I tried to write, making it both difficult and agonizing.

Finally, I made a stack of blank paper squares. I set them on my writing desk with a stainless steel mixing bowl (nothing special about that – just so I wouldn’t set my desk on fire, as appealing as the notion was at the time), and a lighter I use to light the candle in my tea warmer.

Every time one of those repeated phrases came into my head, I immediately wrote it on a square of paper and then burned it. Witness my pile of ash above!

You know what?? It worked like a charm. Those confidence-sapping earworms disappeared. And stayed gone. So much so that I can’t remember now what they were, much as I’d like to give you examples.

I’m encouraging you all to try this. Let me know how it works out!

4 Replies to “Firing that Inner Critic”

  1. I love this one, Jeffe! I plan to use it in more than just writing. I have a lot of ear worms ?

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