Writing A Draft? Silence That Inner Critic!

by Anne Wayman

freelance writers inner criticOne of the things that gets in the way of writers is their own inner critic. You know that voice. It’s the one that tells you every sentence, or almost, is all wrong and just awful and that you’ll never be a real writer and that no one will ever want to read your work… etc. etc. etc. etc.


It’s that internal sense that your efforts are not worthwhile and that probably you aren’t worthwhile too.

Every Writer Has An Inner Critic

Every writer I know or have ever heard of has an inner critic or inner editor that, if not silenced, at least while they are working on a rough draft, means nothing gets done. We need that voice that helps us edit our work, but not until we’ve got some work to edit.

It’s sad. I have a friend who I know is a decent writer because he was my editor at a magazine in the dim distant past.

He’s wanted to write a novel for ages and has made I have no idea how many attempts. Each time, however, he’s quit before he really gets started because it, in his words, “isn’t good enough.”

To be fair, he’s never shown me those starts, but even if he had I suspect I’d agree they aren’t good enough – not yet! And it’s that “not yet” that’s really important. Very few of us can write draft that is good enough to publish. Certainly not of novels or book-length manuscripts.

When your inner critic stops you from creating a rough draft, it effectively stops you from writing because you’ve got nothing to rewrite and edit.

Silence or Work With Your Inner Critic

Here are some ways to stop the inner critic:

  • I actually talk to mine. I know it sounds silly, but I mentally, or even out loud, thank it for being there, assure it I understand it’s trying to help, then I ask it to postpone the criticism until the rough draft is finished. (This is roughly an NLP approach. Richard Bandler’s Guide to Trance-formation is a good place you can start if you want to know more about this technique.)
  • Sometimes I just sort of grit my teeth and write anyway, knowing it’s awful, but reassuring myself this isn’t final copy and that I’ll have ample time to rewrite and rewrite.
  • I have, on occasion, turned my screen down so low I can’t see the words I’m writing. This is strange, but it will get me over a particularly difficult bout of inner-critic-itus.
  • If I find I’m having difficulty I look to see if I’ve left something else undone, like the purpose statement.

  • I also have some published writing that’s pretty awful. I don’t even have to re-read it to know my writing skills have improved. That helps, but I had to silence or learn to work with my inner critic to get there.

I’m also fairly gentle with myself – which comes from self-knowledge. I know if I have a bad day with my inner critic this morning, I may need a break and a walk, an extra cup of tea or even turning the computer off for a day is often enough to get me writing again. I suggest you be gentle too, but not so gentle you get little or nothing done.

A saying I like is: Easy Does It, But Do It!

How do you work with your inner critic so you get the writing done?

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Image: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by LadySkyePainter

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy April 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I tell my critic that I’m not writing to publish, right now I’m writing to get it on the page. I’ll make it publishable in the next draft and editing process. It gives me the confidence to write even the terrible prose that I know will have to be changed later.

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annew April 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

Great way to handle that internal critic.

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Craig September 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

I find that it helps to focus on quantity (word/page count) during the first draft, and let quality take care of itself. Then, I go back and edit heavily to improve those initial ideas.

Writing a blog can help; it gets you in the habit of producing content regularly, especially if you stick to a publication schedule. You quickly learn to let the ideas flow so that you can hit your deadlines.

Great tips, thanks for sharing!
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C. Nzingha Smith September 8, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Great! I am working on a few book projects and it is definitely hard to turn the voice down and off. I am going to try a few of your suggestions and see if they are helpful! Thanks.

C.

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Lori September 8, 2010 at 9:02 am

Well I want to know where you got the graphic – it’s perfect! Did you make that one yourself, Anne?
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annew September 8, 2010 at 9:31 am

Look at the bottom and you’ll see it came from http://www.flickr.com/ – by LadySkyePainter

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Carol Tice September 8, 2010 at 1:52 am

I learned a technique as a reporter that I still use for stories involving multiple sources: Write without notes, quotes or attribution. Just write what you remember, leave blanks for names. You’ll remember all the best stuff. Then go back through your notes later to find the little factoids and exact name spellings, and fill in the tasty quotes.

You’ll create a better draft faster, and without getting bogged down in worrying about whether you’re citing everything correctly.
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annew September 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Good idea… quick drafting is an excellent way to break through… had forgotten that one. Thanks

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Dann Alexander September 7, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Great tming with this one Anne. I am at first draft of my book. Im finding my inner critic is shutting the hell up pretty much. That to me is a testament to the product I am producing. It looke better all the time.

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annew September 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Good for you!

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