The Inner Critic Perspective #5: Ann Marie Meyers

I have lived a long life and had many troubles

Most of which never happened

MARK TWAIN

There’s a voice in my head that rules and which has ruled since as far back as I can remember. It’s the voice that told me stuff like:

You’re fat.

You’re not smart.

You’re not enough.

I listened to this voice without awareness as I grew up and I believed without questioning, and whenever anyone said anything that was negative or made me feel bad – (comments like: You’re selfish; Share with your brothers; What’s wrong with you?) – my inner critic validated these judgments, confirmed how selfish I was, lowered my self-worth even more and grew in dominance.

When I considered the possibility that I wanted to be a writer, my inner critic told me what it thought of that career choice. I listened. I believed. I made excuses why writing was a bad idea. In high school I studied books by D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and E.M. Foster, and when I read their bios, all I saw was how unhappy their lives were and I came to a conclusion: I decided that writers – ALL WRITERS – were unhappy people. I wanted to be happy. And so I buried my desire deep, very, very deep. And guess what.   

I WAS NOT HAPPY.

Later, when I embraced writing and realized that this was where my passion lay, my inner critic mocked me.

What will people think of you?

 What do you have to say?

 Who do you think you are anyway?

 Stay and be a secretary. It’s a safe bet.

That started another struggle inside me and for a long time my dreams ran parallel races with the fears my inner critic threw at me.

What if people laugh at you and criticize your books?   

I was at a crossroads.

If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise

ROBERT FRITZ

Author of The Path of Least Resistance

The truth is that refusing to take action for whatever reason – especially toward the thing that creates a fire in your soul and which at times can seem so scary you want to crawl into a tiny space and hide – leads to a hurt that is so much more encompassing and powerful than fleeing.

Running away never works, especially not in the long term. At some point a person has to stop running, even if from pure exhaustion, giving the thing from which you are trying to escape time to catch up. And then the inner critic has a heyday. First it berates you for trying to flee, laughs at you for your feeble attempt, then tries to reel you back to safety, to your comfort zone, where “everything will be all right and your fear will take care of you, don’t worry.”

No man is ever whipped, until he quits in his own mind

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Here’s the thing, and this took me years to learn. The perspective of the inner critic is founded, among other things, on misconceptions, false premises and limiting beliefs that we pick up as children, in the media, from our surroundings, and which we consciously, but mainly subconsciously, agreed to adopt as truth.

For a writer, the inner critic isn’t born with the desire to create stories. It comes at you from all sides based on the choices made, the beliefs, stories and limitations accepted whether deliberately or unconsciously. It’s all-inclusive.

So a belief as simple as I’m not enough is in fact ‘enough’ to fuel the inner critic to beat up anything remotely positive. In the worst-case scenario, it can make a person atrophy and not bother trying. In the case of a writer, it’s the I’m wasting my time mantra that pops up while writing, or the why bother song that constantly blasts you when rejections start coming in and you want to give up and quit.

I realize now I can never run away from my inner critic (or even my ego). Nor is it of any use to hate it, or get angry at it.

Now I face my inner critic head on. I acknowledge it. I tell it there’s nothing to worry about. I’ve become the one to console it, to make it feel safe by convincing it that ‘fear’ can be used as a springboard for action if approached in the right way.

This is not a ‘one time fix all’ scenario. At times it doesn’t work instantly. But I’m aware. And awareness is power.

My inner critic has become my sounding board and I bounce all the negatives right back at it, with as much love as I can muster. Always love – because anything said and delivered in anger will only bounce right on back at you.

The only failure of mind comes from worry and fear—or from disuse

The Secret of the Ages – Robert Collier

ANN MARIE MEYERS grew up in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. She has a degree in languages and translates legal and technical documents from French and Spanish into English. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and daughter. Meyers is an active member of SCBWI and serves as the facilitator of a bi-monthly children’s writing group.

Although Ann Marie initially started writing for adults, when her daughter was born she kept getting ideas for stories that would appeal to kids. Her first children’s book, a middle grade fantasy entitled Up In The Air was an Amazon best seller.

Website: http://www.annmariemeyers.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/AnnMarieMeyersauthor/

The Inner Critic Perspective #4: Karen Krossing

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 did.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Web: karenkrossing.com

Twitter: @karenkrossing

The Inner Critic Perspective #3: Phoebe Chin

A Reflection Through Colours and Words

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Your doubt sounds a lot like my mother

 

And when I feel her words –

Our mouth shaping the criticism

That slaps across my cheek

I weep,

Her words stain the folds of me.

As I carry her in me,

Those words ring full:

 

“You’ll never,

You aren’t,

You must,

You should.”

 

Scarcity breeds and blooms

In her words

 

How to unravel

Years of my mother’s fear?

How do I begin?

It feels like washing blood

Out of fabric

 

I begin:

 

Offering myself

Kindness,

 

Teaching myself

Abundance,

 

Recounting to myself

Safety,

 

Allowing myself

Pleasure

 

And soaking my loss in rest

______

PHOEBE CHIN is an art therapist and multi-disciplinary artist who is looking to specialize in end-of-life care in Toronto. Her life and work are heavily influenced by her navigating intergenerational trauma, intersections of faith and queer identity, and living with mental illness. Facilitating creative spaces brings her deep joy. You can find her musings and figuring out how to take better care of herself on Instagram, and past writing on her blog.

The Inner Critic Perspective #2: Susan Marshall

The Inner Critic

“Just because you read something in a particular way, doesn’t mean it actually rhymes.”

“Why do you repeat the main character’s name so much?  It’s really grating.”

“I’m not sure why you wrote this story, is there a purpose here?”

I received the above comments—and sadly there were more—from classmates, as part of a ‘peer critique.’ While this blog post is about your inner critic, I’m first going to start with the outer critics, and those comments from years ago…

Unlike most writers, I never ever aspired to be one. I was a librarian, married to an accountant. We were hailed as Mr. and Mrs. Boring. Until seven or eight years ago, I was convinced I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. I would have scoffed at the idea that I would ever write a book.

When I signed up for a ‘Writing for Children’ class, it was for a purpose: to pen a picture book about a child with a disability, similar to my own daughter, who was two years old at the time. Unlike my classmates, I had zero previous literary aspirations and zero experience with creative writing. I was an absolute newbie.

The critique comments were on point: my first picture draft really sucked. But at the time, the negative comments gutted me. One student rightly pulled me aside after class and warned me that, by attempting to write a picture book without ever having written anything else, I was trying to scale Mount Everest without practicing on the Niagara Escarpment first. Her sage advice went unheeded.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to ‘fix’ the story, I threw in the towel. At that point, I tried to run away from writing, but it didn’t stick. And I’ve since learned that once you’ve been pulled into the writing vortex, it’s hard to extricate yourself.

I stopped with the classes. Clearly I was hopeless at writing. But many of the YA stories—workshopped by my classmates—stayed with me. For some reason, those characters and plot lines came alive in my brain during church. And eventually, they spurred my own ideas, which started to compete for headspace.

During those contemplative Sundays, when I was supposed to be paying attention to the priest, a novel started slowly taking shape in my mind. Pretty soon, by the end of mass each week, I had practically written another chapter.

I tried to silence the creative voices. Why would I want to take another stab at writing? #Masochist? But I could not get the story, which would become NemeSIS, out of my brain. Eventually, I succumbed and started writing.

I wrote the first draft of the novel, very quickly, over the course of a few months. It was utterly terrible, and I even I knew it this time. I turned to my sister and a friend, both amazing editors, for advice. They helped me beat the story into something semi-coherent, with the added bonus of consistency in my use of verb tenses. I eventually sought out an external editor, who helped me with some substantive issues. Less than a year from the start, I had a manuscript.

As a proud new manuscript ‘parent,’ my inner critic was temporarily silenced. I started submitting, and bizarrely, saw significant interest from a decent publisher almost immediately. Nine months later, the project was rejected. I then tried to find an agent, with no luck. I submitted to more publishers, and received more rejections.

It took a while, but eventually I had to accept that the initial interest was a fluke. The manuscript—and more importantly, me the writer—sucked.

At that point, I was pretty bummed out because I felt the need to write, was in dire need of instruction, but was too worried about negative comments to sign up for more classes (#Coward).

Staring at a dead end, I eventually put the manuscript, along with the dream, into a drawer. I threw myself into other activities, thrilled to be done with writing.

Unfortunately, my husband continued to drag me to church each week, and try as I might to pay attention, another YA story idea started percolating. I considered becoming an atheist, but in the end, I went back to the computer.

I wrote another terrible first draft of a second novel, but I wasn’t going to submit this one. I knew it sucked, and I sucked, but I was starting to love the process. Writing was my new hobby.

As a stay-at-home-mom, with my youngest starting half-day school, I rationalized that spending my free time writing would keep me out of the mall. And since there was no cost, I waspractically savingthe family money.

Once I finished the second manuscript, I meant to take a break, but instead, I started re-editing the first one (NemeSIS), again. Eventually, I had two manuscripts but no confidence to submit either of them.

Unsure of how to proceed, I became intrigued by a Kirkus Reviews‘pop-up’ ad. As a librarian and reader, I knew Kirkus Reviewshad a solid reputation. And while the indie review was expensive, look at all the money I had saved! I guess ‘the mall’ found me, somehow. In the end, spurred on by atime-limited discount coupon, I took a deep breath and put down a credit card.

Even before I finished the transaction, I vowed to myself that if Kirkuspanned NemeSIS, I would bow out of writing—church be damned—forever. My outer and inner critics needed official confirmation of my literary suckage. Basically, I put my fate as a writer into the hands of a lone book reviewer and braced for the worst.

Months later, when I opened the email from Kirkus, I was confused. I read the review repeatedly, not quite comprehending the words. Despite the tag line, ‘A smart choice for teen readers,’ it took one of my kids to read it out loud, before I grasped that the review was positive. I was stunned.

I suppose it’s exactly as Malcolm Gladwell espoused; I needed to spend all those hundreds (thousands?) of hours —writing, rewriting, thinking, editing, not praying—to gain a basic literary competency. 

And while I eventually managed to get NemeSISpublished, my inner critic is still quite vocal, reminding me just today how badly the first draft of my third (#OMG) manuscript sucks. At this stage, I have some faith that if I keep working away, the story might turn out okay in the end.

Although maybe not, seeing as I’m such a crappy writer. The Kirkusreview was surely a fluke! Hmmmm, maybe I should stop being a coward and take another writing class? But they’re pretty expensive, and besides who needs outer critics chiming in when the inner critic never shuts up?

Wait! What if I spent my time at church praying to become a better writer, instead of ignoring God and plotting books? I could even reach out to St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint for writers and journalists? Nah! As if I could even call myself a writer!

Hey, I’ve got it! I’ll go all-in with Saint Jude, the dude for lost causes, and likely the only one at this point who can help me with my writing…

One of four daughters, SUSAN MARSHALL was born and raised in an estrogen-fuelled household in Hamilton, Ontario. Always a big fan of libraries, Susan graduated with a Library Science degree from U. of T. Naturally disorganized, she quickly opted out of the field, instead working for The Globe and Mail and then Seneca College. Four kids later, she decided to stay-at-home.

Susan lives in Toronto with her husband, three sons, a daughter, a dog, and a cat. Her first novel NemeSIS (think ‘sister bully’) was published in 2017.

Website: www.susanmarshall.ca

Twitter: @sueemarshall

The Inner Critic Perspective #1: Maureen McGowan

In Support of the Inner Critic

When I chose “The Inner Critic” topic for this blog I thought it would be easy. I’m blessed with a particularly powerful one and figured I’d have a lot to say on the subject. But as the time to write this post drew near, and then the deadline came and went, my inner critic settled down on top of my head and squished out every ounce of rational thought.

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When he finally released me, (I feel sure that my inner critic is male), he left me bruised and yet with an urge to come out in his support. (Stockholm syndrome? Brain damage?)

Joking aside, I do think that our inner critics provide a valuable role—pushing us to be better, to expand our comfort zones, to learn more and improve. How can taking a critical look at our work or striving for improvement be bad?

It’s certainly beneficial to have some humility and self-awareness, to know that every word we write isn’t brilliant. It behoves us to understand that no matter how much we’ve learned about writing and storytelling, or how many books we’ve written, that there will alwaysbe more to discover, ways to improve. I firmly believe that a healthy inner critic can drive us to produce our best work.

Three cheers for the inner critic!

On the other hand… an overly aggressive inner critic can be stifling, soul crushing, and can keep us from taking the risk to put words down on paper in the first place, or to submit anything we’ve written for publication.

Hmmm…. Suddenly all my warm, fuzzy feelings for my inner critic have vanished.

Or maybe it’s that my inner critic served his purpose, but then outstayed his welcome. If my inner critic served me well when I started writing, perhaps I’m done with him now. It’s not that I plan to stop learning or improving—that part is great—but to be frank, over the years my inner critic has turned into a bit of an asshole.

I’d give anything to return to the heady days, early in my writing career, when my inner critic was tamer, or pretending to be, when he could be silenced by a great day of writing, by a light bulb turning on at a workshop, by a great talk with my writer friends—the days his voice could be extinguished by a request for submission or a contract offer. Those were the days.

Lately, none of those things can silence my inner critic. Not fully. Not even a contract. Not even a glowing reader review or accolade. No, my inner critic has grown so loud and oppressive he’s hard to shake off.

But I do remember when he was useful.

When I decided to write my first novel I knew I had a lot to learn, and being a good student I set out to learn all I could. I joined multiple writers’ groups across more than one genre, I took courses, attended conferences, and I joined a very serious critique group with like-minded women. We met weekly, tearing apart each other’s work without mercy and holding each other accountable to meet goals and submit work to agents.

Looking back, those days were marvellous! With each new discovery, each new skill, my confidence built, and I became keen to share my insights and knowledge with others. I shared what I’d learned with others in online groups, I conducted workshops at conferences, I judged writers’ contests and mentored beginners.

My memory of those days could be slightly flawed, but I do believe there was a time when I truly believed I’d figured this writing thing out. Mostly.

Yes, I knew there’d always be ways to improve, but I got to a point where I believed I’d learned enough to pass. Plus, I had a modicum of external validation (agents, contracts, accolades, letters from readers), enough to convince me I had talent and skill. For a while, my inner confidence was louder than my inner critic.

Oh, to return to those halcyon days!

As the years went on, as I left one agent and signed with another and then left him, too, as I published books, received a few minor awards, achieved what most would say was success with sales and reviews, my inner critic grew in pace with my achievements. In fact, I’m pretty sure that he grew faster than my success. Perhaps he feeds off accomplishment, always keeping a few steps ahead, prepared to cut me down to size without warning.

And with all my inner critic’s negative talk, at some point I started to believe I knew nothing. That I knew even less than when I started. Which is objectively nuts.

Ignorance is bliss, I tell you! It’s like the more I learn about writing and storytelling, the more skills I develop and the more books I write and publish, the louder my inner critic shouts that I know nothing, that I have zero talent, that I’ll never achieve my literary dreams.

Was it just a few hundred words ago that I came out in supportof my inner critic? What was I thinking? I must have been crazy. Stockholm syndrome indeed.

Time to face facts: my inner critic is an abusive jerk!

Working in a creative field requires a delicate balance. We creative types are often overly sensitive, easily crushed by criticism and setbacks, and yet criticism and setbacks are inevitable.

In the publishing world, rejection and disappointments are as certain as death and taxes. None of us needs an inner critic to feel bad about ourselves or our work, to push us to get better. There are plenty of external sources to do those things for us. (Any author who’s ventured onto Goodreads, without protective armour, can tell you that.)

Forget the thesis I stated at the outset of this post. I was wrong. Inner critics are the worst! The very worst!

Anyone know a good assassin?

 

MAUREEN MCGOWAN is the award-winning author of two YA series, and also writes romance as Mara Leigh. Maureen left a career in finance to pursue writing fiction. Aside from her love of books, she’s passionate about films, fine handcrafted objects and shoes. You can find her on all the usual social media places and at: www.maureenmcgowan.com

P.S. Her inner critic says this post sucks.

P.P.S. She’s not as oppressed by her inner critic as the above implies. Thank you for your concern, but no need to call the authorities. Yet.