Getting Rid of Your Internal Critic
So you’ve got this voice in your head. The voice says, “You’re stupid. Nobody wants to read anything you write. You can’t write. You have nothing to say, and even if you think you do, you’ll say it badly. Plus you’re fat and your breath stinks.”
Relax. Most of us have a voice like this. I call it The Critic. It’s uncanny how these voices know how to say exactly the right thing to make us so hopelessly miserable that we don’t even want to attempt anything because, of course, we’ll fail.
Here’s what I want you to do:
Imagine that you’re walking down a long hall with your critic. Really picture your critic, who may look a lot like someone from your life or may be some monster fabricated out of spare parts from your subconscious. See your critic. Smell your critic. Hear your critic’s footsteps in the hallway.
As you walk, distract your critic.Find something innocuous to discuss. Talk naturally—or as naturally as you can. Try not to get overwhelmed by the disturbing smell of your critic or the clomp of footsteps.
At the end of the hall is a big door.
Open the door, push your critic inside, slam the door and lock it. Bolt it. Take that big metal bar from the floor next to the wall and slide it into the slots on the door.
Now that your critic is locked away, you can do one of several things:
- Walk away and leave the critic there. Let someone else be in charge of the feeding and exercising of your critic. It’s not your job.
- Slide a one-way ticket to a Greek island under the door. Perhaps your critic just needs to spend some time in a relaxing environment to get over being so cranky and mean. Have the customs inspector check for cell phones and computers before letting the critic out of airport. Your critic should have no way to reach you. Change your phone number, if you must.
- Create a comfortable room for your critic, with all the things that will make her or him feel appreciated and cared for. Clearly your critic is acting out of some deep childhood insecurity and needs a more nurturing environment to recover.
- Write a letter to your critic, detailing all the ways your critic is wrong about you.
- Leave your critic locked up until she or he agrees to be helpful, and then only on second or third drafts. A first draft is hard enough to create, without someone looming over your shoulder, telling you everything you write is dreck. In later drafts, your critic can say things like, “That looks really good. Do you mind if I make a few suggestions?” or “Great work. I could check it for typos, if you like.”
- Decide that the critic came into your life in the first place to help you. Figure out what the critic was supposed to do, and whether you need that help any more. If not, thank the critic graciously and walk away. If your critic’s help is still useful, write down all the things you’d like the critic to do in a job description. In your own job description, write down all the things you’re going to take care of yourself.
So now that you’ve taken care of your critic, it should be easy enough to write, right?
If you’re like most of us, you suffer from the Blank Page Disease.
There’s a blank page sitting in front of you. A number of people—loggers, papermakers, stationers—worked overtime to get that page to you. And you have absolutely no idea what to do with it. If you write on a computer, it’s even worse. Do you know how many people it took to build your computer and get it to you? And how hard they had to work? Go ahead, feel guilty.
You done yet? Good. Then let’s begin.
So here’s what you do. Just start writing. Whatever enters your head, let it flow down your neck, over your shoulder, through your arm, into your hand, and down onto the paper or keyboard. If you really have gut-stabbing doubts about your ability to write anything of value, you have a couple of choices: find a really good therapist and work on your self-esteem, or use recycled paper for your first drafts. If you’re using a computer, let your monitor get dusty so you don’t feel like the words have to be so sharp and precise. Do not, I repeat, do not take this time to clean your screen. Or worse yet, to go to the nearest office supply store and purchase that special stuff intended only for the polishing of computer monitors. We’ll discuss creative procrastination later.
Hey, wait a minute. I’m doing all this talking and you’re doing all this listening. Enough already. Start writing.