Co-existing With My Inner Critic
Unfortunately, my inner critic is alive and well. I can see him, crouching in the corner of my office. I picture him as a Gandhi-like figure—only he’s mean-spirited—who beams negative thoughts into my head as I write. Right now, he’s rubbing his hands together, preparing to strike.
Things I’ve noticed about him:
He never sleeps.
He never takes his gaze off me.
He strikes when I’m at my most fragile. Sometimes, it’s right after I didn’t get a grant or a book contract fell through. Maybe this writing project stinks, he says. Maybe you’ll never get it right.
I’ve also noticed that he’s subtle. He doesn’t directly suggest that my project stinks. He plants the seed of self-doubt. Then he waters that seed until it germinates and grows into a weed with deep roots. Until I’m saying out loud to my family, “This writing project stinks. I’ll never get it right.”
His voice becomes louder then. Deafening. Maybe all your writing stinks, he says.
If he’s timed it right, I start to feel small. Too small to talk back to him. Too small to write my stories. “My writing stinks,” I say to myself. And I believe it.
The weed he planted forms tubular roots that become new weeds. In the corner of my office, my inner critic smiles. It’s a crooked smile worthy of a dastardly villain.
The thing is, my home office is supposed to be my creative space. It has my most treasured writing books, my uncluttered desk—just the way I like it—and a cozy chair for reading and pondering. I’ve carefully curated my office to be a place where I can experiment without judgement. So, who let my inner critic in?
I can’t help it. He’s a part of me. Believe me, I’ve tried to get rid of him.
I’ve shoved him outside my office. But he lurks in the hall, waiting until he can sneak in again.
I’ve barred my office door with sixteen (metaphorical) padlocks, installed (metaphorical) gun turrets and hired (metaphorical) guards to patrol the perimeter of my safe space.
But when I settle at my desk to write, he’s back in his corner.
I’ve learned that my inner critic exists wherever I am, and I cannot banish him no matter how hard I try. This means I have to co-exist with him. Even though he serves no useful purpose that I can see. Even though he’s an evil villain who’s constantly plotting against me.
How do I co-exist with something so vile? Here’s what I figured out:
- I accept him. Okay,I tell him.It’s you and me, here in this office. And I’m going to write, damn it. So, you can sit in your corner and beam negative thoughts at me. But I’m going to be over here, writing.
- I out-shout him. This is a great writing project, I say really loudly to myself. I really like this sentence. And that one. This part needs some re-writing though. Soon, his voice becomes background noise. It’s like I’m trying to write in a noisy café, but the woman at the next table is loudly describing her recent medical procedure in gruesome detail. So, I put on my noise-canceling headphones, and I get to work.
- I regularly weed to remove negative thoughts he’s planted. To do that, I examine my thoughts about writing to figure out if they’re truths or misbeliefs. For example, does all my writing stink? Well, no, since I’ve had writing successes. If the evidence doesn’t support the thought, I ponder what new thought I can form that is based on the evidence. When I form that new belief, it’s a more honest one.
My belief is that writers are made of strong stuff because we battle the darkness on a regular basis. We follow our characters through impossible situations, we feel their trauma, we honour their pain. Because of that, we have the inner strength to endure our own inner critics.
I believe that each of us also has a source of good inside us who can help keep our inner critics at bay. Who, you ask? I expect you already know the answer.
My writer’s intuition hovers in another corner of my office. She has shimmering wings and a magic wand. She knows when I’ve written a beautiful sentence. She recognizes the moment when a plot point slides into place and completes my story. She’s waiting to beam honest writerly truth into my brain, if I’m not too busy listening to my inner critic.
The more I learn about writing, the stronger my writer’s intuition gets. Most of the time, she doesn’t even see my inner critic. He’s hardly a blip on her radar.
KAREN KROSSING wrote poetry and rants as a teen and dreamed of becoming a published writer. Today, she’s the author of seven successful novels for kids and teens, and she runs writing workshops to empower emerging writers. Her recent titles include Punch Like a Girl(Orca),which was runner-up for the Kaywell Books Save Lives Award, and Bog,(Fitzhenry & Whiteside), which won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. She is currently enrolled in an MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.