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.