Tag Archives | inner critic

Just Put The Words on the Page: Why is This So Hard Sometimes?

Soundsky-1229984You’ve heard it a million times, and so have I.  Hell, I’ve said it a million times: all you have to do to write is get yourself to the page and throw words at it.  And yet, sometimes this is just ridiculously difficult.

Like, for me, this morning, when I struggled with writing a scene. I let my attention wander to ponder a book I desperately needed wanted for research, and this led me down one rabbit hole after another.

All I had to do was throw words at the page until I finished the scene (which I had sketched out in note form already).  And I wasn’t doing it, until finally I strong-armed myself into completing the scene (which didn’t turn out half bad for a rough draft).  But it started me to thinking, once again, about why this happens.  We love writing or we wouldn’t be writers, right? And yet sometimes it takes the 10th army to get us to the page.

And I realized that for me, and maybe for you, too, its the constant carping of my inner voice.  When I listen to it, it leads me astray.  It says things like aw, c’mon just go check your email one more time.  Or, you know you’re a crappy writer and this particular scene sucks so why bother? Or, you’re stupid and so is your writing.  Or even, everybody hates you. (Now if that isn’t ridiculous, I don’t know what is.)

Yet when I’m able to ignore it, I go directly to the page and my writing flows.  I don’t waste time obsessing about what other people think of me or how my writing is going to be received.  I’m happy and I feel free.  These times have historically been few and far between, but they are getting more common with my understanding of the carping inner voice and some techniques to deal with it.

The inner voice is, of course, your ego and your ego’s job is to keep you safe.  S/he has done a good job up till now, because here you are, reading this in one relatively unscathed piece, correct?  And yet in your ego’s efforts to keep you safe, it sometimes often goes a bit too far.  Your ego would probably be delighted were you to stay safely at home, never risking venturing out into the big scary world.  This goes for the physical world and the mental world.  Free, unfettered creativity is the ego’s worst nightmare.

Because what if you reveal something deep and true and unique about yourself that people might judge?  What if those words you’re putting on the page become a book and people, gasp, actually read it? What if you succeed? What if you fail? What if people criticize you?  On and on the ego’s fears run, a constant litany and threat of doom.  If you listen to it, you’ll never get any writing done, trust me.

So not listening to it is the key.  But your inner voice is a persistent bugger, and it will continue to carp at you non-stop no matter how many times you scream at it to shut up.  Another way is called for.  That way is to acknowledge it and then let it go. As the revered meditation teacher and Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, just say hello and goodbye. This is surprisingly effective, especially when done over time.

And one of the things that has really helped me is something I learned from Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Think about that inner voice as if it were a real live roommate in your home.  Would you give its constant chatter any credence? Would you pay attention to anything it said? Would you believe its crazy stream of words? Of course you wouldn’t.

If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, its a person who talks non-stop.  I end up tuning them out, ignoring them.  And yet I often let my inner voice run my life.  So I’ve given my inner roommate a name–Irene–and when she starts spouting nonsense I say to here, “Hello Irene.  Goodbye Irene.”  Then she can go off and spout away but I don’t have to listen to her.

This is a wonderful practice not just for writing but for every aspect of life.  It is such a relief to get away from Irene whenever I can!  And when I’m not listening to her, I can appreciate the present moment, and I can write with a whole brain and a whole heart.

Do you have an inner roommate who talks at you constantly? How do you tame him or her?

(Note: you may also be interested in posts I’ve written about our inner critics, a different but similar beast. You can read about that here or here.)

Image by seungmina.

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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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What Your Inner Critic Wants You to Know

Gnome_tedsblog_creepy_584432_hI wrote a guest post for Jessica Baverstock at Creativity's Workshop  on the writer's Inner GPS, our internal guidance system that is never wrong and can help us greatly with our writing.  (You can go read it now, I'll wait.)

And because of that, I started thinking a lot about the Inner Critic, which is the antithesis of the Inner GPS.  And because I was thinking about the Inner Critic, mine (a gnome-like imp named Patrick who is dressed all in green), popped up with a few things to say.  Inner Critics are vocal that way.

Here is what Patrick had to say about what your inner critic wants you to know:

1.  We love to make a lot of noise.  We can't help it, making noise is our nature.  And most often you'd probably think of it as discordant noise.  That's because we're the aggregation of years of the negative messages you've received–the teacher who made red marks all over your paper, your cranky grandma, your alcoholic father who raged at you, your bitter aunt. 

2.  We also like to lie.  We tell you that what you're writing is a stinky, steaming pile of crap when really its a deep lyrical essay.  We say that your house is a mess and your family hates you for it when really they are so, so happy that you are at your desk writing.  We tell you that you are stupid, fat, ugly, no good down to your very soul, when really you are a beautiful, spirited child of the universe.

3.  We can be tamed.  It takes consistent effort, but we can be trained to be quiet.  We don't like it (see #1), but it's the truth.  We can be tamed with this process: acknowledge the negative thought we offer, release it, and replace it with a positive thought.  The thing we actually love about this process is that you really have to do it over and over again and many of you get bored and quit. And then we can run wild and free again.

4.  We accept negotiations.  Maybe you can give us something to do while you're busy writing the first draft and then call us in for the editing rounds?  Perhaps you can send us off to practice yelling and screaming elsewhere until you're ready to do a grammar and spell check?  Think about what how we could help you and then pitch us a deal.  We might just agree.

5.  We are not the boss of you.  We like to make you think we are.  It's so very easy to convince you that such is the case.  A snide comment here, a negative remark there, and before you know it, you've slunk away from your desk before you've even written word one.  The other Inner Critics will probably hate me for this, but here's a little tip: when all else fails, we respond well to war being waged on us.   Stop slinking away, turn and face us and yell, "Shut the f@#$ up, you measly, slimy son of an old shoe!"  And then we'll do exactly that.

What does your Inner Critic want you to know?

Photo by TedsBlog.

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Whatever Works

So, we teaching and coaching types love to give advice (except that the true essence of coaching is not so much giving advice as pulling what you yourself already know to be so out of yourself).

I, for instance, love to tell people to do Morning Pages.  (If you don't know what Morning Pages are, they are three pages of glumping on the page all your crap and good stuff as well, first thing in the morning.)

And I love to tell people to use prompts.

I also tell people to do what is most important to you first thing in the morning.  I presume that writing is most important to you.  So I further presume that it is what you will aim to do first thing.

I could go on with my list of helpful things I tell people.  Like, working with your inner critic, not checking email first thing in the morning, knowing your market, the power of prayer and meditation, and on and on.  And, some might say, on.

But here's the deal:

If what I say works, then use it.

If it doesn't, then don't.

But find something that does.  The point is, not everything works for everyone.  But my offerings are based on working with dozens of clients and students over the years.  And how will you know if they work for you until you try them?

Truly, I don't care if your favorite technique to get the words flowing is to stand on your head and rub your belly button.  If it works, do it.  I'm all about getting the words onto the page and I know full well that even though we like to haughtily say that writer's block doesn't exist, it really does.  Because I've experienced it, and so have you. 

But just because it exists doesn't mean it can't be dealt with.  It can.  Keep trying things until you get over it.

Okay, that's my rant for the summer.  I promise.  Now tell me what kinds of techniques work for you to get the writing flowing?  Alcohol?  A nap?  A brisk run?  Chaining yourself to the computer?  I'm all ears.

***Guess what?  I'm offering the book proposal teleclass again this September.  And right now, there are crazy fast action bonuses: an early-bird price AND a free coaching call.  But hurry, because the fast action bonus is time sensitive.  Check it out here.

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Friday Guest Post: The Good, The Bad, and The Critical

Please welcome our first Friday Guest Poster, Jessica Baverstock!  Jessica writes the wonderful blog, Creativity's Workshop, in which Creativity is featured as a real character.  Creativity writes in purple ink, you gotta love it.  And both Jessica and Creativity have really good things to say about writing, as you'll see when you read this post.  Funny story: Jessica had no idea that I was planning to alternate guest posts with mini-critiques on Fridays, but I am, and because of that, the topic of this post is perfect! 

The Good, The Bad, and The Critical
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by Jessica Baverstock

A couple of months ago we were introduced to Charlotte's Inner Critic, Patrick, and then invited to come face to face with our own Inner Critic. Criticism is an important concept to understand and become comfortable with because, as writers, we are always encountering it – be it from our Inner Critic or from others who voice their opinions about our work.
 
We usually think of criticism as the evil, creativity-killing blight of a writer's existence and strive to avoid it at every turn. Anyone who criticizes our work is either an unenlightened cretin who doesn't know good work when it bites him in the nose, or a heartless dream-quasher who opened our eyes to the futility of our struggle so we may now slink away and overdose on hard liquor and dark chocolate. It's not uncommon for us to vacillate between the two opinions as if we were traversing the stages of grief. Very rarely do we manage to accept the criticism without the emotional roller coaster beforehand.
 
However, not all criticism is created equal. There are two types. One is the soul-destroying, idea-murdering negativity that insidiously eats away at your self esteem and drive to succeed. The second, while demoralizing at first, is actually a gift – an opportunity to make changes and improve. If you can identify which type you are being subjected to, then you can decide whether to work on accepting it, or plow on in spite of it.
 
Here is the checklist I use to identify the good from the bad.
 
1. Is the criticism reasonable and helpful?
 
Helpful criticism is usually accompanied by explanation.
 
For example, which of the following two 'criticisms' do you feel is helpful?

    "You'll never be able to get this book published. Your writing is mediocre at best."
    "Your main character is a bit flat. I think he needs more back story. His motivation is just not showing through."

The first example is too vague. "Your writing is mediocre" doesn't provide information you can use to improve and certainly doesn't give you the incentive to try harder. The second example is helpful. It gives you specifics and a direction. While both examples hurt, the second example is the kind of feedback you need to hear. Don't ignore it. It's your opportunity to improve.
 
2. How experienced is the person giving the criticism?
 
Has this person actually worked in your field, or are are they just offering an opinion because they believe it's expected? You would obviously give more weight to feedback from an experienced writer than from great-aunt Maud who never has a good word to say about anyone.
 
This principle can also apply to your Inner Critic. When you are starting out in an endeavor, your Inner Critic tends to be trigger happy, vigorously attempting to scuttle anything 'flawed.' However, remember that your Inner Critic is not yet experienced. It needs time to gain understanding and insight. Perhaps it's worth ignoring that criticism for a while until your experience and skill have improved. Vice versa, if you are an experienced writer and your Inner Critic is nagging you, perhaps he's on to something and you need to take the time to listen.
 
3. Do you receive the same criticism from multiple sources?
 
When your critics begin to agree, it's definitely time to sit up and take notice. As James Surowiecki  says, there is wisdom in crowds.
 
If everyone who reads your novel mentions its abrupt conclusion, then it's probably something you should take another look at.
 
Good Criticism Exists! Use It.
 
Crowds and experts have been known to be wrong. However, understanding the weaknesses in your work will always help you in the long run – to find ways to address those weaknesses or learn to hide them behind your strengths. By always being open to helpful feedback and opinions you can grow in your writing, reaching heights you never could without first addressing the flaws.
 
Remember though, everything improves with practice. Your first efforts at something new will always be below par. Do not let criticism discourage you. Use it to continue improving.
 
What methods do you use to identify helpful criticism?

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Say Hello To Your Critic

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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