10 Ways To Conquer The Inner Critic
A post by @Hunter on the Dramatica Forums asked about Inner Editor Woes.
I've been focusing on trying to tame the inner editor for the last year and a half. Here are a bunch of the things that have worked for me (though it's always an ongoing struggle).
#1 Understand How Your Left And Right Brains Work TogetherRecognize that "you" are really made up of two very distinct beings. On the one hand you have what you think of as "you" -- your conscious mind / left brain, and on the other your subconscious / Muse / right brain. The inner editor is part of the former, and is useful in revision; but when you're writing new words you want the right-brain Muse to be in control. (In fact, the entire writing process is about getting the two sides to work in harmony together.)
Note I don't know how scientific these concepts really are -- is your conscious mind really confined to your left brain? But thinking of things this way has been extremely helpful for me.
(UPDATE: Actually, this does seem to be a fairly accurate, if simplified view. See for example this article.)
#2 Write Using A TimerSet a timer and set a reasonably high word goal for that time. 10 minutes is good (you want it to be short enough that you can't procrastinate thinking you'll catch up later), along with a target of 150-200 words. You may have to work up to that target (maybe start with 100 words), but the point is to just be writing without thinking and without editing. Once the 10 minutes is done you can come up for air, take a little breather, look up anything you need look up. Then set the timer again, and repeat.
Although I have trouble doing this, it's best if you don't stop for any research while the timer is going -- not even to check something in your own manuscript! Just make quick notes like [last name] if you forgot a character's last name, or [cool club name], etc. If your manuscript will have square brackets in its actual text, you can use a more specific token like [TC: cool club name] since so that you can search on [TC: later. (TC stands for "to come".)
#3 Check Out The Writing Teacher Whose Focus Is Conquering The Inner Critic
In the wide world of writing classes, whether online or in-person, one teacher stands out when it comes to conquering your inner critic. Her name is Holly Lisle and she runs a site called Holly's Writing Classes.
Items 1 and 2 above are examples of techniques I got from Holly Lisle's How To Think Sideways writing class which I highly recommend. It has many more techniques on this and other writing topics. Her Find Your Writing Voice class could also be useful in this area too.
In addition, her entirely FREE How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn't Suck is great for conquering your inner editor. You show yourself that you can complete and revise several stories in a short amount of time. And even though they're short, the course makes sure that they're still actual stories with a beginning, middle, and end -- and they have meaning.
I would also highly recommend Holly Lisle's podcast, Alone In A Room With Invisible People. Several episodes deal specifically, at length, about conquering the inner editor. I found those so inspiring that on the days I listened to them, I found I had better writing days where the words really flowed!
- Episode 1: The Inner Critic
- Episode 5: Ruining Reading By Writing
- Episode 21: What If I Don't Have Talent
- Episode 22: Bad Habits Writers Have
#4 Realize First Drafts Are Only For YOURealize that first drafts are only for YOU, no one else. Stephen King called this "writing with the office door closed". It means that when you're writing the first draft, you're not trying to impress anyone, you're not thinking about other readers. You're just having fun, playing pretend. If it's cool, funny, sweet, charming, heart-wrenching, beautiful, impressive to YOU then it's awesome, and so is your first draft.
#5 Don't Let Your Talent (aka Taste) Hold You BackRead this often: Zen Pencils Illustrates Ira Glass's Advice For Beginners
It basically describes why the most talented people are often the most critical of their own work especially as they're developing their talent. If you're one of those, don't let it cripple you! To narrow that gap between your ability and taste/talent, you need to produce "huge volumes of work", but you'll never do that if you let self-criticism stop you.
#6 Write Most / Every DayWrite most days, or every day*. If you can, find a window of time that's approximately the same time every day. (I like writing after everyone else goes to bed, so like 10:30-11:30, which I have often stretched later during NanoWriMo.) This does NOT have to be ALL your writing time, or even most of it. Just your one regular window that you can fall back on if you don't manage any other time that day.
* For some people, it's best to have a break day to recharge; for others, a break day with no writing can set you back and make you lose momentum. Experiment. (I find I fall into the latter camp.)
#7 Sleepiness HacksIf you're really struggling against the inner critic, you can use a sleepiness hack to get going. Some people recommend writing immediately after waking up in the morning, because their left brain is sleepy and the right more active. For many this works wonders.
It did not work for me -- I found I'm actually more critical at that time. But I was able to reverse it, staying up late so that my inner critic got sleepy and didn't really care what I wrote. At first I had to stay up past midnight to get to this state, but once I got some practice and momentum, I found I could write at more reasonable times.
#8 Use Caffeine AppropriatelyWatch how your inner critic responds to caffeine, especially coffee. A little coffee works for me if I'm feeling relaxed, but if I'm stressed the coffee makes things worse. Tea works better for me -- contains lower levels of caffeine along with certain compounds that have a calming effect. Everyone will be different. (Though I have a pet theory that so much good literature comes out of England because of the higher tea intake there!)
#9 NanoWriMo In NovemberFor me NanoWriMo blows every other technique out of the water! It works because of the near-impossibility of the task -- 50,000 words in one month -- kind of makes my Inner Critic throw in the towel. It doesn't listen to pleading -- "please be quiet so I can have fun writing" falls on deaf ears. But it gets math, so it understands that 1700 words every single day is not going to happen if we agonize over every scene, description, sentence, word choice...
#10 Let The Story's Words Be What They AreThe other day, using the 10-minute timer etc. I was able to get past a particularly challenging scene that I didn't know how to write. I was nervous and gritting my teeth to start, like my left brain did not want to give up control, but once I got going it turned out fun and almost easy.
Reflecting on that I came up with this advice for myself:
"Don't worry about what the story's words should be; just let them be what they are."