Outwitting your Inner Critic

Written by children’s therapist and fantasy author, Jacqueline Tucker, as a Bookshelf Blogger.

I’ve been editing a chapter from my WIP for about two weeks now, and I’m stuck. The whole thing plays out clearly in my mind like a scene from a movie, but when I put my fingers to the keyboard the image doesn’t translate onto the page.

This is a regular occurrence in my writing. Sometimes, I can power through, and it all comes together fairly quickly. Other times – present case included – it takes a bit longer. Inevitably, though, the words flow, and the scene in my head materializes before me. Also inevitably? My inner critic decides this is the perfect time to drop by for a chat.

Her favourite lines are:

  • Your ideas are rubbish. Why even bother?
  • You’re never going to get published.
  • This always happens. You’re going to stay stuck forever.
  • You suck at writing.

That last one’s a bit harsh, no?

The Inner Critic’s Purpose

The inner critic has an evolutionary purpose. It warns us against taking risks that could result in harm. It’s a means of self-preservation, a way to protect us from vulnerability and keep us safe. At some point in our lives – and in our writing careers – it was probably a good thing, this guardian of our psyche.

But we’ve grown up now. We’ve learned to step out of our comfort zones, to be brave, to say what’s on our mind, to write the stories inside of us. Now, we can approach our inner critic in a healthier way. We simply understand its purpose, thank it kindly for doing its job, then tell it to move along.

Unfortunately though, it doesn’t always move along quietly.

Personify Your Inner Critic

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about dealing with your inner critic came from Jenny Downham, author of Before I Die. In a talk she gave to the MAWYP students at Bath Spa University, she suggested personifying your critic. Think about what it looks like, what it thinks and feels. If it helps, do a bit of free writing to figure this out.

My Inner Critic

My inner critic looks like a stern librarian. Her hair is pulled back in a severe bun. Sensible reading glasses are perched on the end of a sloped and pointed nose from which she looks down at me always judging. And always telling me to ‘Be Quiet!’ She’s a bit of a shrew, really.

It’s important to pay attention to the messages our inner critics are telling us – not to believe them, not to absorb them, but to find and understand the chinks in our armor. Pay attention, too, to when these words are sneaking into the writing process. All of this will better equip us to defend against those negative messages.

Get Perspective

We must stop identifying so closely with the messages our inner critics are saying. In doing this, it helps to step outside of ourselves. It’s much easier to see the reality of our struggles when our emotions aren’t running away with us.

I’ve found it useful to view the situation in terms of characters in a story. I’ve already got a character for my inner critic – the harsh librarian, the antagonist. Now, the story needs a hero. It stands to reason that I – the writer – should be the hero in my own story. So, I created a Bitmoji of myself soaring through the air with a sword. I call her my ‘Inner Ninja.’ These two characters battle it out quite frequently. Seeing the situation this way gives me emotional distance and allows me to take the power back into my own hands.

My Inner Ninja, created with Bitmoji

Seek the Truth

The next step is to counter the negative messages with a truthful, positive one. The majority of what our inner critic tells us is at best an exaggeration – absolute words like always, never, and forever are big warning signs. At worst, the messages are an outright lie.

For example, let’s go back to my inner critic’s harshest message – it’s probably not true that I suck at writing. It might be true that I’m having a sucky writing day, but if that’s the only message I’m paying attention to, then it’s time to bring out the big guns. My Inner Ninja bursts forward with a truth, reminding me that I just graduated with an MA in Writing for Young People and received an Honourable Mention in the United Agents Prize for the most promising writing… So, maybe I’m not so rubbish at this writing thing after all?

The bottom line is that the inner critic’s voice may be ringing in our ears, but it is small and insignificant in light of the immense creative potential inside of us. When the negative whispers come creeping in, remember the inspired reality of your creativity and talent. Stand in that truth and write with courage, dear friends.

Twitter: @j_r_tucker

Jacqueline Tucker writes fantasy novels for Younger Readers filled with hope, longing, captivating magic, and the desire to find out just who you are. An extract from her novel, The Secret in the Map, is published and included within the Bookshelf Anthology.

To find out more about Jacqueline and her novel, and to read her extract, click HERE.

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