Taming Your Inner Critic

Depending on what you do and how public it is, you can usually tune out most of the critics in the world. However, there’s one critic you can’t avoid, and that’s the one looking back at you from the mirror.

Returning to non-technical writing has been an interesting challenge for me because I’ve been hypercritical of myself from an early age. And yet I’m also supposed to be taking my writing more seriously–meaning not just dashing off a first draft and calling it done. There must be a balance point somewhere, right?

However, like most writers, I have a vicious bastard of a critic lurking at the back of my mind who has little to no mercy.

The trick, I suppose, is getting my inner Critic to be more constructive. Constructive criticism would include things like:

  • You misspelled/applied improper punctuation/used bad grammar on X.
  • This character needs to be better developed.
  • Your fictional world/environment needs to be developed/explained better.
  • Is that the best word you could use or could you use one that’s more precise and more interesting?
  • Your style needs to be more vibrant.

All of those criticisms–and there are others I could add, given enough time–are valid and lend themselves toward improving my writing. However, once the Critic plausibly inserts his foot in the door, he starts getting meaner.

  • You don’t know people well so you can’t write about them well.
  • You don’t have any good stories to tell.
  • You don’t have any ideas.
  • Nobody’s going to read/like what you’re writing.
  • You’re not living up to your potential if you can’t get a decent story written and sold.

Et cetera. Note the difference in the two sets of comments? The first set are concrete, specific, practical, and related to the writing. The second set are more subjective, more personal, and more self-defeating. And if your Critic lives inside your head, hounding you ever time you sit in front of the keyboard, he can drown out every other thought, including something creative or useful that you actually intended to write.

So the best thing I can think of to do with my inner Critic is to focus on the work and put up a mental barrier–imagining an actual STOP sign–when he starts getting personal. Just as I would not accept that sort of rudeness or negativity in a professional technical writing setting, so I should not accept it with my other writing. Writing critiques are business, not personal, even if the stories are very personal. Writing well is challenging enough without questioning your ability to do so.

Stop Sign

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