While I Was Out: Say Hello to Your Critic

Note: I grew up in the printing plant my father owned, and he had a whole stack of pads titled While You Were Out, with check boxes and lines to fill in about things that happened in his absence. I am going to be out for a few days at a wedding, so I thought I'd fun some oldies but goodies.  Here's the first, from back in 2010:

Since I seem to have been writing a lot lately about fear, and how to keep it at bay while you write, I thought it might be time for a little practical exercise.  This is one I present in my Writing Abundance workshop.  I did it for the first time years ago and have found the results of it–a way to deal with my critic–incredibly useful.Holidays 085

One of the problems that I often hear about is people being sidelined by perfectionism.  They get paralyzed because they are afraid they won’t do something right.  What this problem really is about is listening to your own inner critic, who constantly tells you that you are not good enough.  It is one thing to tell your critic to shut up, but it doesn’t really work.  Instead—meet your critic head on and disarm him.  Here’s how, by giving him and image and a name.  I met mine years ago.  His name is Patrick and he looks like a Will Ferrell in Elf, only small and not nearly so goofy and friendly.  Instead, Patrick is a bit of a prig.   Let’s go ahead and have you meet your critics and then I’ll tell you a trick to deal with her or him.

Meet Your Critic

1. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths
2. Think about how you feel when you are being critical of your writing.  
3.  See if any images come up—color, energy, sound, smell?
4. Hold with whatever you are getting and let it come into form.  It might be an animal, a human-type creature, or something totally abstract
5. Now open your eyes and write.  More details will emerge as you do.   Write a description of what you saw and then see if you can give it a name.  Even a purple circle with the name Stan works.

Here’s the deal: after you have identified your critic, you can talk to him.  I made a pact with Patrick years ago: he lies quiet while I write rough drafts, write in my journal, and do free writing.  In return, as soon as I begin editing and rewriting, Patrick is up and at ‘em, ready to help me out.  Because that is where Patrick excels—at being critical.  Sometimes I forget about Patrick and he gets cranky, very cranky.  But then he jumps up and down to get my attention, generally when I am first starting on a project.  Then I remind him of our deal.  And then he's content to go hang out wherever it is he hangs out until I call him forth. 

So give it a try.  And report back if you feel so inclined.  I'd love to hear what shape your own critic takes.

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7 Responses to While I Was Out: Say Hello to Your Critic

  1. J.D. 05/17/2014 at 04:41 #

    That’s an interesting first sentence—writing a lot about fear. Don’t we writers all have our share of that? Always fearing we will be found out. We’re probably at our best when we reach a bit. Some of my best moments have come out of that. Yep, one heel on Patrick’s neck, my fingers flying across the keys, writing checks my ass can’t cash. Good post, Charlotte. Enjoy the wedding.

  2. Zan Marie 05/17/2014 at 06:24 #

    This works! Charlotte helped me do this back in 2010 and I really have enjoyed distracting the mean old meddling critic since.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 05/17/2014 at 15:20 #

    Thanks, J.D.  The wedding is in Malibu, and it is gorgeous and hot down here, so things are going well!

  4. Charlotte Dixon 05/17/2014 at 15:21 #

    I am harder on myself than anyone.  And the words I use to berate myself I'd never use on anyone else.  I seem to be able to tame them (thanks to my deal with Patrick) when I'm writing, most of the the time–but other times, not so much.

  5. Charlotte Dixon 05/17/2014 at 15:22 #

    I remember our conversation about that and can't believe it was 2010!  Wow.  Glad it is still helpful.

  6. J.D. 05/18/2014 at 04:46 #

    Malibu. Yes, I have heard it is hot in Malibu.

  7. Charlotte Dixon 05/20/2014 at 17:07 #

    Hotter than hell down here last week, but it is cooling down some.  There are actually clouds in the sky as I write this!

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