Everybody has that voice in their head that likes to come off like a bit of a smarty pants. Every time you have a good idea, the voice will be more than happy tell you why that idea sucks. Every time you are feeling motivated to try something new, the voice will give you ten reasons why you shouldn’t even bother. Every time you have a cool experience, the voice will remind you of every single mistake you made.
Of course, we know that voice belongs to our inner critic (which I’ll just go ahead and call the IC from here on out).
Now I believe that it isn’t really the IC’s fault that it has such a bad rap. At the right time and place, a solid IC is necessary to make sure you are realistically approaching things and considering things from all angles. But when given it center stage at the wrong time, the IC can completely wipe out every bit of self-confidence you have.
I'm a great example. I’ve said for years that I wanted to write a book. (any other wannabe authors out there?) I started my first manuscript when I was twelve. I had a succession of starts and stops for the next fifteen years. I kept saying that I wanted to write a book so bad. But I couldn’t get it together to do it. I’d start writing, and before long that voice would creep up in the back of my head and tell me the story was crap. I’d go back and reread chapters filled with despair. Why bother writing it at all then? So I’d stuff the papers away for another day. You know- for the next time inspiration hit.
It was a fluke that I ran across an article one day about a book called No Plot No Problem! A Low Stress, High Velocity Way to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty (affiliate link). I actually thought it was kind of humorous. A book in 30 days? Who does something crazy like that? But I was intrigued so I picked it up, and then devoured the book in a day.
It left me with my head spinning. Was it possible? Could I really do it? This guy had done it, and in telling his story I knew that lots of other people had done it too. Maybe I could write a book after all.
The biggest a-ha for me in the book was Baty’s advice for dealing with my IC. (finally!) He said that you pack your IC up for thirty days and send her off to a cozy island somewhere to take a much needed vacation. There would be a place for the IC in the process, but it wasn’t during this initial writing stretch. So let the IC relax and not worry about it.
Then you get down to business and don’t look back. Don’t go back over what you’ve written, don’t judge a single thing that comes out while you are writing: just write. There is no way you can write that volume of words in the time you have if the IC is on patrol, and doing things like rereading will bring her back with a vengeance. Let her sit on her island in the sun with a mai tai, and you’ll let her know when you need her.
The advice seemed so simple and yet so life shattering at the same time. I took it to heart. In November 2004, I wrote my first novel during National Novel Writing Month. In November 2005, I wrote my second novel. Each time, I sent my IC off on a nice vacation (it gets cold here in Minnesota in the winter) and I just wrote like I had never written before.
What I discovered is that during that initial writing process I tended to lose the pure joy in writing because of the pressure of my IC to “be good”. I was missing out on the discovery of characters and what they are made of, and the fascinating twists and turns they took me when I just allow them to roam free. They surprised me. And it was EASY. By taking away all of the internal judgement for awhile, the ideas poured out of me.
So I wrote my 50,000 words, and took a deep breath. Amazed and a bit terrified because now that I had this novel, what do you do next?
Bring back the IC (who was well-rested and tanned from her month long sabbatical). It was just what I needed. Her judgmental eye and unforgiving stance on what did and didn't work all along the way was a breath of fresh air. She ripped my manuscript to shreds, but I could SEE the potential to make it better. (A good edit goes a long way.) She helped me take my novel to the next level, and I know that I couldn’t have done it without her.
So remember that there is a time and place for your inner critic. She is there for a reason. Using her effectively will make your work better. Allowing her to have a say at inappropriate times will ensure you get stuck. As long as you control her, you’ll find greater success in any aspect that you are looking to improve.
(photo credit by NotionsCapital)