How to battle your inner critic
When you doubt that your writing is working, try one of these approaches
May 16, 2012
You may know your inner critic by name. Author Julia Cameron calls hers “Nigel.” You definitely recognize the voice. It is the sound of persistent criticism that has the potential to do you more harm than any book reviewer or newspaper critic could. It specializes in weakening self-confidence and breeding self-doubt. To prevent that insidious voice from sabotaging your writing, read on.
The power of the inner critic
A common message from an inner critic is that you’re not good enough, says Gini Grey, author of From Chaos to Calm. Whether it sounds like a concerned friend or an overbearing relative, the main task of an inner critic is to harp on your weak spots, so that what started as a nagging doubt spirals into full-blown fear. This can prevent writers from taking the necessary steps to progress in their writing.
Even though Steph Auteri, a writer, editor and career coach, has been published in numerous online and print markets, she’s hardly immune to the power of her own inner critic. “As a writer, I’ve always been my own worst critic,” she says. “I agonize over every word, self-editing as I go, so that it takes me eons to get through just a few paragraphs.” And she’s not alone: “So many people have that ‘not-enough’ message lurking in the background, and the inner critic can use it to stop them in their tracks if they’re not aware of this,” Gini Grey adds.
Confronting your inner critic
When you’re feeling vulnerable, Auteri says that a simple change in your mind-set can help. She recommends writers create a “warm and fuzzy folder,” a collection of positive feedback and emails. Building a supportive team of friends, family and a good writing partner can also keep your spirits up and help to filter out your own biased thoughts from the truth. Grey also believes writers should shift their attention from what’s wrong with their writing to what they like about it: “Each writer has his or her own purpose and gifts. Focusing on those will help the writer rise above the critic’s concerns.”
Another way to take on your inner critic is to question the validity of what it’s telling you. Is your work really terrible? Or are you being too harsh? When you are able to perceive the inner critic as a character, not a truth, you can then make a conscious decision about how to deal with it. “With this simple awareness, you can begin to separate yourself from it, knowing it’s not you, but just a critical voice in your head,” Grey says. “You can follow its misguided guidance, or you can treat it the way you might treat anyone in your life who constantly judges, criticizes and manipulates you—ignore, laugh or counter with a positive message.”
An alternative approach to handling your inner critic is to look at it as an overprotective ally. All writers face a litany of criticism and often carry the weight of past rejections. If you can think of the inner critic as the vulnerable part of yourself trying to prevent further disappointment, you may begin to have compassion and even develop an appreciation for it. “It can be beneficial to look at your work with an overly critical eye,” Auteri says. “It means that when you finally do send something out, it’s more likely to be polished and professional.”
Brandi-Ann Uyemura is an associate editor for Psych Central and a freelance copywriter, blogger and features writer.