Monday, January 19, 2009

Me, Myself, and My Inner Critic

As part of my 2009 promise to myself, I’ve been doing my best to write something everyday and to refrain from watching TV when I should be writing. To assist me in my endeavors, I’ve signed up for an online class on motivation, hoping that it will be the jump start I need to keep my butt in my computer chair and increase my writing output.

We started the class by identifying where we are in our writing at this moment, our “here”. I was astonished by the number of writers whose stories sounded much like mine. They were frustrated by the lack of time for their writing, by how all the demands of life conspired against them to keep them away from their computers. But most, like me, were even more frustrated by their lack of production when they did have uninterrupted time to write. And like me, they couldn’t always identify why they weren’t writing.

Our instructor, a life coach, asked us to identify our goal for the course. I wrote “To write more and to write more quickly.” Although I have had some success with my writing, completing six novels, three of which are available as ebooks (the fourth is being released as an ebook on March 6, 2009), I have many, many more half-finished books sitting around in paper form or on my harddrive. I am the Queen of the first three chapters. What typically happens is that I start a project with great enthusiasm and the first three chapters almost write themselves. Then I start to second guess my original vision and the novel comes to a crashing halt at about chapter four. This has happened whether I have completed a detailed outline or have tried to fly by the seat of my pants.

And the books I have completed have taken a really long time to finish, the result of many critiques and countless rewrites. I began to wonder: is there something besides the TV that keeps me away from my computer?

Sometimes if I’m stuck on a project a little voice inside my head convinces me that this writing thing is just too hard. “Forget about writing,” it tells me. “It’s not very good anyway. Why waste your time?”

Yes, I have a voice inside my head. No, I’m not delusional, at least not most days. This voice is my Inner Critic and it can be pretty mean to me. Often it tells me I look fat, and when I make a mistake it tells me how stupid I am. But it really gets going when I try to write.

When I think of a great plot twist, it doubts it. And when I read a particularly good book by someone else, it tells me to just give up all hope because I’m never going to be able to write like her. Who do I think I am anyway? It’s enough to make me walk away from the computer.

Is my Inner Critic is undermining my confidence? Am I my own worst enemy?

The instructor says that when I hear my inner critic bad mouthing my writing I should tell it this: “I am a writer working on my next novel so shut the hell up and leave me alone.” Hmmm… I don’t know. Is being a more confident, productive writer as simple as telling the voice in your head to shut up?

As I told you in my first post, being published in ebook form has increased my confidence, but I don’t think I’m all the way there yet. How can I become a better writer, and a happier writer, if I don’t think my writing is good enough?

My questions for today: Do you have a mean Inner Critic that’s undermining your confidence? What do you do to shut it up? Are there things you do that boost your confidence and make you feel good about your writing? Can you really shut off your Inner Critic by telling it to shut up?


Janet said...

Do I! He sits on my shoulder, constantly looking at what I'm writing, constantly telling me how bad it is or inaccurate. It's a wonder I can get anything written (even now, I've had to back space and rewrite because he didn't like the word I had chosen).

Great post, Jana. I think as writers we all have that little voice (not to be confused with the other little voices - how they all co-habitate up there, I have no idea) that is really doubt. What other job do you have that is based totally on your imagination? And then is subject to someone else's likes or dislikes? The statistics of getting rejected far outweigh the chance of getting published - good fodder for an inner critic (See, they didn't like it either).

I think taking a proactive approach, like you're doing, is great. I hope it works well for you. My strategy - I give him the reins and tell him to write the damn thing. He either does (and sometimes it's good) or he shuts up.

Karen said...

I don't know why we call it a critic, its more like a bully. I think my inner critic's volume is softer if I have a plan or a goal for the day. I also like to play soft music in background when I write, it helps me to focus. Maybe you're already winning by recognizing he exists but refusing to fall prey to his mechinations.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I'm glad I'm not the only who rewrites emails and blog comments. I can't even make myself hit "publish" without previewing it first. I won't even tell you how many times I rewrote the actual post.

I'm really trying to silence my critic and move forward with my writing but it's a constant sruggle. It's something I'm likely going to have to deal with all my writing life.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
I like that: I'm going to call him my inner bully from now on. He really is a bully. Some of the things we tell ourselves we'd never say to anyone else. We'd think it far too cruel.

I agree it's easier for the bully to attack you when you're looking at blank screen and don't know where you're going. Several years ago a former member of SRW gave me an envelope of affirmations. They were just bits of paper that said things like "You're a good writer" and "You have a wonderful imagination". The idea was that every morning you were to pull out about five of the affirmations and read them, and really try to believe them. I haven't done that for a while but it's a lovely way to start a writing day. Thanks for reminding me of those affirmations. I'm going to have to start doing that again!


Sara said...

Hi Jana,

I'm new here - this is my first time commenting - but reading your post I felt like you were talking about me! I too spend far too much time in front of the TV when I should be working on my novel. The ironic thing is that I LOVE the writing process so I am often confused as to why I often find it so hard to sit down in front of the computer.

But I've come to the same conclusion that you seem to be coming too, that the real reason I avoid the writing at times is because I'm afraid to fail at writing.

There's a voice in there that tells that if I'm not writing, I'm not failing. If I sit down and finish the book and still never manage to get an agent or get it published, then I've failed.

What I should realize is that, as a writer, the ONLY way I can truly fail is if I don't write.

Thanks for the great post!

Suse said...

Hi Jana,

When I was driving home from work, I was trying to think if I have an inner critic. If I do, I guess he/she isn't that bad. It might be from all those years of teaching and telling my students they need to be kind to themselves. I think some of that has rubbed off.

Having said that though, there still must be something that keeps me from BIC HOK TAM. It might be like Sara said, if I don't write and send things out, then I haven't failed as a writer. (Maybe it's easier to say I didn't do well because I didn't try, then to find out I tried and then failed.)

You and Janet are not the only ones that rewrite emails and blog posts. At work, we even have the other two coworkers proofread some of our emails before we send them out.

That sounds like an interesting class you're taking. If you learn some great secrets for motivation, let us know. Maybe we can learn by osmosis.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Great post, Jana. I can just see you at your desk, pulling at your hair and cying, 'Why, why, why?'. LOL

I guess I'm blessed because my inner critic doesn't really bother me...or is it that after 20 yrs in the military, I have a thick skin and can ignore it?

When I write a post or a comment, I always check and re-check prior to posting but that's because if I don't, sure as anything, I'll have an error. It's not a 'might have', it's a 'will have'. I taught myself to type before I entered high school and I've always had probs with accuracy. I can type fast but backspacing slows me down - big time! I never considered that re-checking and previewing prior to posting had to do with doubt about my writing skill...just my typing technique.

My doubt lies in the fact I'm trying so hard to improve my writing skills that I'm losing 'my voice' along the way. That's scary.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Sara,
So glad you joined us! Welcome!

I love writing too. I love making a story out of nothing, giving it twists and turns and making characters come alive.

At least I love it when it works like that. But sometimes writing is really hard, and it's very easy to doubt your ability. I really like what you said: "as a writer, the ONLY way I can truly fail is if I don't write."

I think I may write that in big black letters and put it next to my computer!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Suse,
What a gift you've given your students if you taught them to be kind to themselves. I have a tendency to be my own worst critic, but fortunately, the older I get the more slack I cut myself. At least sometimes.

An unforeseen consequence of writing this blog is that I'm writing about things that I've avoided thinking about. I've had a few "ah ha" moments as I'm writing. Sometimes I feel like I'm really spilling my guts. It's been an interesting experience.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
That picture you have of me pulling out my hair? Sounds about right.

I'm glad to hear that if you have an inner critic you don't bother listening to him. But I'm curious about how you feel you may be losing your voice. Are you trying so hard to write to a style you think will be publishable that you're worried it's not you anymore? I'd like to hear more about that if you have a chance.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Jana, not much new I can add to this, although I can whole-heartedly relate. Just thought I'd comment that I find it interesting how often in your post's replies, everyone is referring to their inner critic as 'he'. I wouldn't have expected that! My inner antagonist is most decidedly female, the snide little bi... side of me.