“The information is there, but it reads like an encyclopedia entry. Can’t you let us see it, for Pete’s sake?”
Look, I don’t know who Pete is or why we care about doing things for his sake, but I can understand why we’d want the best for our readers. And ensuring that our books are the best they can be is just part of being a good author, right?
“It’s not funny. Maybe you should be a technical writer. No one expects to enjoy instructional manuals.”
And maybe it’s true. I’ve certainly had scenes that had all the elements of comedy, but they weren’t funny. Why? Well, because I over-thought it? Maybe I didn’t take the time to explore the comedic elements enough? Who knows? All I know is suddenly the inner critic is back, and all because you asked me about it. Thanks.
No, really. It happens, right? You end this nice writing session, skim over the work you did, and suddenly, it hits you.
“This is utter tripe. What ever made you think you could write?”
Well, listen to this, self. In some circles, tripe is a delicacy. How about them tripe-wrapped apples?!
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Yep, this week’s PODCAST was on self-criticism.
It happens to all of us eventually–that inner critic rears its ugly head.
Look, just like doctors don’t try to perform life-saving surgeries on their own children and judges don’t preside over trials involving their sons, writers are biased both for and against their own work—often unfairly (and in both directions).
What do you do when a conflict of interest occurs between you and your inner critic? Fire him–just fire your inner critic right there on the spot.
Yes, I know. He won’t leave easily. He has a 30% share of the stock in your book and won’t sell for anything. Or something. But you can fire him as CEO of your critique board. And you should.
All joking aside, I’ve found 3 simple & effective ways to fire your inner critic:
1. Speak truth to yourself.
If there’s one thing your inner critic can’t stand, it’s truth overshadowing his opinion. He wants you shackled to his perception of things, but the truth is, no matter how much improvement your book still needs, it is not:
- The worst book ever written
- Going to get you drummed out of the writers’ guild
- Going to make people laugh at you
What it is going to need is work. Sure. Say it aloud. “Yes, my book still needs work. But it isn’t done. I’m still writing/editing/polishing it.” Then speak a further truth—one that isn’t as encouraging but is still true and still squashes that critic.
“No, it’s not the best book ever written, either. And I’m okay with that. But by the time I’m done, it will be the best version of itself it can be. Because no one else can write this book the way I can. It’s my story, my idea, my baby. Just like other parents, someone else can create a more intelligent, more talented, more beautiful child, but they can’t create mine.”
And really, think about it. Would you say to your kid, “Yeah, you’re not good enough? Joe Amazing’s son is more athletic and a lot better looking than you are. He’ll make something of himself. You’ll just always be rather inferior.” Would you? Of course, not.
Look, you don’t want to be that parent who is blind to her kids’ faults. But neither do you want to ignore their virtues in favor of only their faults, right? Show your work the same courtesy.
Fire that critic.
A handy exercise?
Pull out a pen and a piece of paper. Divide it in half. On the left, write down every thought you had about the book.
- It’s stupid.
- The reviewers will shred it.
- You can’t write.
All those ugly things that aren’t true but FEEL true. Write them down. Then beside them, write the truth.
- This book is important to me, so it is not stupid.
- Everyone won’t love every book. Some reviewers may not like the book, but others will. But no one can like it if I don’t finish.
- I can write, and I can only get better if I keep going.
2. Find what’s right with your story.
There’s something right with it. It might be hard to find over your inner critic’s shouting in your head, but keep going. You named the character well. Your idea is solid. You have that funny line that everyone cracks up over anytime they get to that part. You do have some things that you did well. Celebrate them!
If necessary, write each one down, on paper (I recommend a big sticky note) and plaster them where you can see them. Anytime the critic arrives, tell her, “Um, yes. I may need to tighten that scene, but I’ve got a solid character arc. My title rocks. No one will ever forget the scene where…”
Yes, it’s a spin-off of number 1, but it’s more specific to your story. There are things you did right. No matter what needs to be changed, there are. Remember those good things–those things you did right–and that critic can’t compete. You know, it won’t hurt, and no one will ever know if you do it, but you can actually fire that critic.
Speak it aloud.
“Listen, Crispy Critic, you’re fired. Kaput. You’ll find your pink slip in your inbox. No paycheck—actually, you owe me for all the destruction you’ve left in your wake. So just deal with it. Get out of here. Oh, and you’re so wrong. I just realized what else is right with my story. You weren’t invited to be a character in it. I did a good job there, too.”
3. If all else fails, go hardcore. Stop writing.
Yep. It’s counterproductive, but sometimes you just have to close the program, walk away, and refuse to engage.
It’s like an argument, you know? The other party refuses to back down. She’s right and no one, but NO ONE, is going to convince her otherwise. Fine. Let her have her opinion. Just let her argue with herself. An argument of one fizzles fast.
So, when all else fails, just take a break.
Tell yourself that until that critic packs her stuff and moves out of the office, you’re on vacation. Write something else, read up on your craft, whatever it takes. Even if it’s a day or two of “vacation,” it’s worth it in the long run. You’ll write better after a bit of a break.
Why? Well, it’s my unsubstantiated theory that our inner critic grows loudest when we’re the most weary. We feed it like that “rumor weed” in the Veggie Tales cartoon. Well, let it starve until you’ve got control again. Then get back in there, slash out all the garbage you let it convince you to write, and get back to the real story.
Because if you let that inner critic have his way, he’ll take over. He’ll make you change this—and that. He’ll insist it should be this way instead of that way. And by the end of the book, you won’t recognize the story. Why? Because you wrote your critic’s book for him.
And let’s face it. You didn’t sign up to be a ghost writer for a critic too cowardly to step into the light.
Write on, folks. Write on!