Gag the Inner Critic

I overheard interesting conversations before the start of my workshops this week. Students were lamenting ever being “as good a writer” as one of the youngest writers in the group. Others parroted their inner critic with lots of negative self-talk.

One of the biggest problems new writers experience is listening too often to inner voices, what some call negative self-talk. You’ve heard it–those thoughts suggesting your idea is no good or that you’re wasting your time pursuing a writing dream. The following steps may help you overcome this issue:

1) First, recognize you are not alone. Even established writers succumb to the inner critic at times, especially when switching genres or climbing out of a slump. There’s plenty of rejection in this industry; no need to heap it on yourself!

2) Draw a picture of that inner critic, which is sometimes referred to as a writing gremlin. My gremlin looks like an old hag with Medusa-like hair who cackles like a lunatic when I have a deadline to meet. OK, so she doesn’t surface so much these days, but she caused plenty of anxiety when I was starting out. Now, she is resurrected at the beginning of every semester when I have my college students complete this “writing exercise” to get a handle on their writing anxiety. Once an image is on paper, it takes a lot of the “power” away from this inner gremlin.

3) Gag that critic! If it helps to mentally go through the motions of tying the critic up, then do it. The key is to shut that voice up. Duck tape works, but if that voice is especially judgmental, then tie the critic to a chair, haul it into the attic and lock the door. If it manages to free itself, the faint and far-away voice is easier to ignore. Make sure it can breathe. Though you may want to, don’t murder it for two reasons: First, it is part of you; second, you’ll learn to work with it to improve your writing later.

Though many new writers find that inner voice too critical at first, it will later become an asset. For now, though, it’s important to get full drafts onto paper. Later, you’ll rely on the critic to help you improve your writing. For now, don’t allow your inner critic or “writing gremlin” to cause writer’s block.

Reading with a Writer’s Eye

The best way to learn to write well is to note how published authors have applied all the writing elements and then trying to do the same in your own writing. Dissect published stories and articles to see how the pros assemble the writing puzzle.

Select your favorite novel, article, or short story from an anthology or magazine, then read it critically. Consider the following:

• Whose perspective is the story from?
• How is the conflict introduced?
• How does the main character react to the conflict?
• Does the main character solve the problem? How?
• How many scenes are included?
• With each scene is a new obstacle presented? If so, how is it resolved?
• If only one scene is used, how is the conflict escalated? Or, how do new problems arise as the main character deals with a problem?
• What is the length (duration) of the story? (A few hours, a day, several days?)
• How is the final problem resolved?
How quickly does the story conclude?

Sometimes it’s easier to reverse outline — that’s creating an outline based on what is already written.How has the writer drawn you into the piece? Underline each main point made in the article or key events in a story. Mark the anecdotes or facts used to illustrate each point in an article or note description in a story.

Review the “notes” on each piece you’ve analyzed. What have you learned? Try to emulate what you’ve discovered in your own writing. For example, suppose you notice how the author includes sensory detail. Ask yourself, have I includes sounds and smells as well as visual detail? How can I incorporate sounds? How can I weave in scent or smell? You’ll notice your own prose improving as you learn to read with a writer’s eye.

Writing Routine

love my routines — especially when they relate to writing. At the beginning of every new semester or session of writing workshops, it can be a struggle to settle into a routine. I’ve learned to give it time to settle because I know that routine ensures my creative habit. 

When paradise weather sets in, I begin my day with coffee and my journal on the lanai. The scenery inspires me and I enter “auto-gratitude” mode which is a great way to begin each day. The journaling is a warm-up for writing so it’s easy to transition to writing at a computer screen.

For new writers, it can be tough to create the writing habit, yet a regular writing routine sets a career in motion. Once you’ve set a schedule, it’s frustrating when life messes with it. It’s okay if the schedule is sporadic from time to time. It will settle back into place when the timing is right. Until then, try to write everyday – for at least 20 minutes. This time adds up. In six days you’ll have 2 hours’ worth of work. You’ll be amazed what you might accomplish.

If family interruptions stifle your writing plans, it’s even more important to set a regular writing schedule. Not only will it help your family realize you’re serious about your writing (and if you want to receive payment, it is at least a part-time job) but it helps you take your writing seriously.

One woman I know posted “office hours” to help family get the point. Another made a “mailbox” by taping a file folder to the door. If the kids wanted to ask her something, they wrote it on a slip and put it in the mailbox, which she checked several times a day. Only emergencies warranted interrupting. Other tricks include wearing a specific “writing” hat — if it’s on your head, no one interrupts the  creative flow.

If you have small children, they won’t understand that you’re “working” so you may have to focus on adding up paragraphs instead of minutes. Target writing one paragraph during nap time. They’ll build to a story or article in a few days.

Every little bit helps.

All Things Writing

Looking for tips about writing? See my blog at the or click here.

Recent topics include: Recharging Stalled Writing, Breaking Writer’s Block, and  Setting Goals instead of New Year’s Resolutions.

If you want to know how  and what I read in my free time and how I incorporate that into my writing workshops, see my Goodreads page.

New Year’s Gratitude Walk

With the same eagerness and excitement that sends me to the foot of the sparkly, light wrapped tree on Christmas morning, I wake on the first day of a new year eager for my gratitude walk. It’s simply wandering through my home and giving thanks for everything in my life. It’s about taking time and allowing photos, knickknacks, and other mementos to trigger gratitude for the life I have today.

I begin outside, and move indoors, then eventually to my journal and reviewing past entries. Sometimes I need to begin with strong coffee (if my celebration to ring out the old was exuberant). Clasping the hot mug of black coffee, I sit on my lanai watching the steam rise into the crisp air and am grateful that my condo has this spacious screened porch. I notice how the rising sun slowly brightens the long wispy needles of the white pines. I’m grateful that the air is chilly here but not enough to bring snow. I’m grateful for the birds I hear squawking at each other and the relative stillness of the morning as my neighbors sleep off their celebrations. White Pine

As I move inside, I wander from room to room looking at photos and cards, trinkets and keepsakes on shelves and recall the experiences and memories behind them: the career-changing conference, a vacation that involved riding Harley motorcycles, excursions to obtain swan photos, a arrowhead found in a Michigan sink hole. I give thanks, whether uplifting or simply constructive, in these experiences; they’ve shaped the person I am today.

I even express gratitude for the furniture and decoration: how I found a favorite torchiere lamp, how I acquired each painting on the walls and other artwork, why I selected the office desk I use. I silently give thanks for the beauty and joy all these “things” add to my life. They represent my past goals and what “achievement” meant to me at that point in life–and they make my current life comfortable. For that I am grateful.

My journey draws to a close as I settle in my favorite journal-writing chair and begin to flip through last year’s entries looking for pages I’ve marked, reading partial chronicles, and reflecting on how all my past experiences–good and bad–shape my future. I find bits and gems of new ideas in the pages and make plans for which to develop and which to allow to “simmer” longer.

I’ll admit, my gratitude walk itself is one of the things I am grateful for. It evolved out of heartbreak, when I took down a Christmas tree after a long-term relationship ended. As I wrapped each ornament I thought about where it came from: a trip to Bronner’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan in the middle of summer, the crystal unicorn ornament from my college roommate and the others she and I exchanged for 10 years, the annual 24-carat gold-plated ornaments from my first post-college employer.Image

I realized that each held a memory–mostly pleasant–that were a part of me. They could not be erased but they did help shape me. That annual reflection was recorded in my journal and eventually evolved into my gratitude walk. It’s a great way to begin the year because it focuses on the experiences of the past and how they’ve shaped the present. It’s a means for reflection and positive thoughts in moving forward into a new year. A fresh new year, with no mistakes.

I’m looking forward to my journey. I hope you are too. Happy New Year! May 2013 be the year all your plans and dreams come true.