Quieting Your Inner Critic

Last Updated on March 23, 2022

Man overwhelmed by his inner critics shouting at him, one on each shoulderIf you're a writer, you've probably spent at least a little time (if not an enormous amount of time) procrastinating. It's okay; it's part of a writer's job description. Excellent communicator. Verbally adept. Outstanding narrator. Supreme procrastinator.

You know the scene: You sit down at your computer, and three hours later all you've done is write emails and look at pictures on Facebook of what your friends had for breakfast. Or perhaps you've gotten as far as opening a new, blank document, and you're staring at just how blank the blank document is when you suddenly realize that you have to go dig up your front lawn and put in a xeriscape. Then again, maybe you haven't even gotten anywhere near your computer, finding yourself instead in front of the fridge, planning out the fabulous fig tart you're going to make with mascarpone cream and a rosemary cornmeal crust (someone's gotta do it; the figs are going bad).

There are a million excuses for not getting to your destination: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, filling a new blank document with the written word.

So why all these excuses? Why are writers so prone to procrastination? It's probably because you know that as soon as you do make it to the computer and secure yourself in the chair, a quiet but insistent voice in your head is going to start ridiculing you, telling you just how absurd it is that you're even trying to write a book (or a blog or a children's story). The voice will then detail all the reasons why you should not quit your day job.

If your Inner Critic sounds anything like this (and believe me, you're not alone if it does), then it's no wonder you avoid the computer. Procrastination is the gentler path.

So, how do you win? How do you quiet the Inner Critic long enough to get the words out onto the page? Here are a few suggestions:

Write Badly

That's right. Write crap. It's kind of like the martial art aikido. In aikido, when an attacker comes at you, you take him by surprise by moving with his energy rather than against it. If you apply the concept of aikido to the writing process, you take your Inner Critic by surprise by joining its energy rather than resisting it. You give your Inner Critic what it keeps telling you you're going to produce: bad writing. Your Inner Critic will be caught off guard and will hopefully — at least for a spell — drop its attack.

Write Daily

Create a daily writing habit. Floss your teeth, wash your face, write five hundred words. It's like establishing any habit: you'll feel resistance at first, but after twenty-one days, it'll begin to feel . . . well, normal . . . or at least familiar. Even if the Inner Critic keeps snarking at you, if you continue to write daily, you'll be sending a message to the Inner Critic that you don't care what it thinks.

Write From Your Body

Write from your body? Yes. Drop down out of your head and into your body. Pay attention to your senses. Watch your body's experience, just like in meditation. What are you feeling, smelling, hearing? Take a break and go for a walk . . . and pay attention to your walking. Touch a stone. Smell the jasmine. Let the writing come from that place of sensory awareness.

You see, the Inner Critic lives in your head, not in your body. The body doesn't bark at you for every less-than-inspired sentence you write. Your body doesn't have an opinion on your writing at all, doesn't care how good — or not good — each sentence is, isn't concerned with whether you find an agent or get published. And ironically, this is exactly the pressure-free zone conducive to inspired writing.

What all of these approaches have in common is that they keep you in the process of writing, rather than focused on the outcome. They take away some of the pressure — and the preciousness — of writing by stating: It's just a job. Sit down and do it. They help you not care so much about the quality of what you produce. And if you don't care whether you're writing well, you have a better chance of . . . writing well (or at least coming up with some gems in the muck). But you can't fake it; you can't pretend not to care. You have to really not care.

I'm not saying you should never care about the quality of your writing. The caring just needs to wait for the second draft. The critical mind does a superb job of discerning what to keep and what to toss . . . in the second draft. But if you engage with the critical mind in the first draft, the critical mind's evil twin, the Inner Critic, will come along for the ride.

So I invite you to invite your Inner Critic to wait outside the door... at least until you're done with the first draft.

To find more hints and support for your writing, check out my new blog at http://writingcoachnomi.wordpress.com/

Nomi Isak is a writing coach and book editor. She also teaches writing workshops.

Related Posts