Taming Your Internal Critic

All writers are phonies, and all writers know it. How do you know it? A voice inside your head keeps saying so while you type.

You didn’t know that other writers suffered from that voice, did you? Stick with me, and I’ll show you that you’re not as odd as you think, and I’ll teach you ways to deal with your debilitating quirks.

The mildest form of Internal Critic asks, “Are you really sure about that?” Good question for REVISION, but it slows up DRAFTING. It leads to a slow slide of confidence, like this: “You just might be wrong about that last sentence you just typed. Or maybe just part of what you wrote is a little shaky. Or maybe you got the emphasis just a little wrong. Remember the last time you screwed up?” Confidence drains, and you trudge along. Or quit.

I once coached a writer who would type a sentence, and then search on the Internet to see if it was right. He plodded along, checking each sentence before he wrote the next one. Needless to say, it took him forever to finish anything.

Most Internal Critics are imaginary, but some are real people, including reviewers, 10th-grade English teachers, editors, even mothers. As you type, you anticipate, for example, your editor’s reaction, inevitably negative: “He’ll hate this. He hates all my stuff. What if he asks me how I know this? What if he calls me ‘a little college snot,’ again?” And your Internal Critic cripples you. (I just mistyped “Internal Crisis!”)

At the other extreme, consider my own Internal Critic. He screams at me sentence by sentence: “That sentence sucks! The one before it is worse! If you print this drivel, everybody will laugh at you! Stop typing! NEVER WRITE AGAIN!” He also has yellow fangs, nasty claws, and flaming eyes.

Your Internal Critic damages your confidence sentence by sentence. HE DISTRACTS YOU INTO THINKING ABOUT YOURSELF INSTEAD OF WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY. And that’s the problem.

It’s okay to think you’re a phony; we all are. But you need to shut your Internal Critic up while you’re DRAFTING, and train him to say the right things during REVISION.

Here’s how. You need a “mantra,” a little saying that shifts your attention, away from yourself failing at the keyboard, to what you’re trying to say. You just keep repeating the mantra as you compose. (Mine is “Keep typing, Don.”) Other writers have found the following mantras helpful:
· “It’s the content, stupid.”
· “This is just a draft!”
· “Shut up, Mother!” (or “editor!” or “Sister Snarlissima!”)
· “Nobody will see this draft but me!”

Yes, I am suggesting that you talk to yourself while you compose. Your Internal Critic shouts at you as you type, and so can you, but calmly.

One stage later, in REVISION, you want your Internal Critic to change his tone. No longer can he sneer, “You’re no good.” You want him to say things like, “That sentence is merely good; give it one more try.” He might even exclaim, “Hey, this is really going well.” On a splendid day, he might admit, “You’re okay.”

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Published in: on March 5, 2009 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  

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