Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Banish the Inner Writing Critic? Maybe not so fast.

The polite name for him or her (or them) is the "inner critic". The more common appellation might be that lousy jerk (or crowd) inside my head who won't shut up and keeps telling me what I'm writing is crap. You know that voice, don't you? 

The one on constant rewind, that endless loop of self-recrimination that's moving along at a faster clip then your fingers on the keyboard, dancing to its own destructive beat, that repetitive drone of No! Wrong! Bad! Unoriginal! Cliché! Trite! Been done before! Boring! Stupid!

I think every writer, to some degree or another, has this internal censor, the uninvited disruptive guest whose job seems to be to put a stop to your writing, to make us doubt ourselves, our stories, our right to write those stories.

So, what to do?  I think we've got three choices.

If you're lucky, or practiced and determined and experienced – or maybe just handy with self-hypnosis – find a way to completely turn this voice off. Flip a switch, banish it, move on. (Good luck and let me know how you did it.)

If you're not that writer, then you'll still be dealing with that critic's carps:  It's too long!  Too short!  Not deep enough!  Plot hole!  Thin plot! Why the hell can't you think of a plot!

Option two: we learn to ignore that voice. It doesn't go away, and yes, we know it's there, but maybe we grow skilled at letting the unhelpful chatter fade into the white background noise of our brain. Yeah, we hear it, but we've learned not to acknowledge it, to write anyway. We deal with like the stand-up comic trains herself to ignore the hecklers and turn away from the audience members who keep their arms folded and mouths arranged in frowns.

This is where I find myself most often. When I hear the internal cynic revving up—No one cares! Dumb details! Vague! Generic! Learn some new damn verbs!—in another part of my brain I'm thinking, "Yeah, yeah, yada, yada, yada," and I keep writing that lousy first draft, or revising that limping second draft

But not always.

Sometimes that voice is too loud, too insistent. And sometimes, got to admit, sometimes that loathsome little twerp is too close to what I think may be the truth. Yep, sometimes that inner critic has something to say that I need to hear.

So I listen. But. I don't stop what I'm writing, don't just agree with the voice, delete, and close the laptop.

What I sometimes do is find a way to acknowledge the points that voice is railing about. I take notes, either in the side margins of what I'm writing (you can use Track Changes, or divide the text into two columns, one for your draft, the second for the critic's notes). Sometimes I jot these nagging nabobs of negativism on a sticky note, or in my writer's notebook.

Just the act of recording the criticism seems to end it – I've cleared it out of my head and have it on hand should I need/want to consider whether it has any validity. In a way, I've "honored" that inner critic—or at least what I like to think of as his well-meaning but tactless spirit—by taking down the message, and moving on.

Mind you, I don't write precisely what I hear between my ears (Crappy dialogue! Confusing backstory! Terrible transition!), but try to translate the raw thought into something that may prove helpful later: Is this conversation authentic to the time period?  Can I move more of the backstory to previous pages?  Find a smoother way to get from A to B?

What I've figured out is that the grumbling, grousing, complaining, crabby, argumentative, techy naysayer who lives in my head is not going away. He can be silenced on occasion and I know how to ignore him and push him into the background, but once in a while, that guy is going to have something handy to say. He just doesn't always say it so nicely. 

Images - all Flickr/Creative Commons: NO - AranZazu; Switch - LynnDurfey; Listening - BesZain


Peter Hogenkamp said...

Lisa, enjoyed the post. I think an outer critic is a good idea as well. And you need to listen to both. Peter

Amy Morgan said...

I loved your view and perspectives of the critic - and relieved to know I'm not the only one who "hears voices". :) Seriously, I never though to write down notes as I went to just "get them down on paper" and let them go. I will definitely be using that tip. Thanks!

Andrea said...

Great advice, thanks! Sometimes I put alternative words or phrases in brackets in my draft as both the writing and the critic's version are coming on fast and furious...leave it for later to figure out. I haven't noticed if this quiets the critic down or not, but I will be paying attention to see if it does next time!

Joan Stommen said...

Love this Lisa! I quiet mine by listening to the 'nagging negativities' as you so well said! There'll be some useful tidbit if you listen.....but I love the idea of actually writing them down!
The encouraging positive voice (brainstorm and light bulb moments!) can be annoying as it usual speaks while you're drifting off to sleep or driving down the road! Wonderful post!