How to silence your inner writing critic

frustrated writerA friend of mine was telling me about a young writer she knows who was having some serious doubts about her writing. Man, do I know how that feels! I think any of us who have discovered the joy of writing have also discovered the weight of it, too.

A few years back I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul, a book that offers tips on how to organize your inner and outer life so you can make room for writing or other creative projects. One chapter specifically deals with conquering that inner voice of doubt, so I decided to share it in its entirety.

Reclaim Your Creative Soul
Chapter 5  ~ Treat Yourself

Our worst enemy can often be ourselves. We’re the first person to find fault in our appearance, doubt our abilities, and assume everyone is better than us. When I look back at some of the things I’ve said about myself— you’re fat, other authors are so much better at this than you, no one wants to hear what you have to say, you’re not as smart as your coworkers, your book sucks, you could never pull off that look, no one likes you…. I would never say anything like that to other people. So, why do I think it’s okay to say those things to myself?

We, as artists, are probably the hardest on ourselves. It’s so easy to bash what we’ve created, even when other people recognize the magnificence of our creation. But with art comes a sort of madness, and many of us are on the verge of throwing in the towel, certain that someone is going to discover that we’re just a hack who’s pretending to get by. Anytime we think we have something figured out, our inner critic (let’s call it “Marge,” and give her a smoker’s voice, just for kicks) comes breezing in, pointing out every flaw and imperfection. If we dare to make our art public, it gets worse. We build our worth on the feedback from others, and believe we are only as good as the reviews we receive. As soon as a bad review comes in, even one that’s only slightly negative, “Marge” repeats that criticism so we’re sure to take notice. Soon, all we hear is that bad review. It’s almost like every other good thing that was said about our art was never said at all.

There’s something I need to tell you. You are a brilliant human being with a soul too big to be contained. This is why you are an artist. Your art is your way of sharing your expanding soul with the world. If art brings you fulfillment, it’s because you were meant to be an artist. People find joy in your creations, and this world would be bland without them.

But even saying that, I recognize that the only way you will ever be able to let go of “Marge” (or to at least learn to contain that saucy wench) is if you learn to fall in love with yourself.

You guys, things are about to get mushy in here. You’ve been warned.

The first step is to stop slamming yourself. Right this very moment, I want you to promise me that you’ll make a valiant effort to stop negativity in its tracks, especially if it’s not helpful. The moment that “Marge” pipes in with unsolicited feedback, I want you to kindly tell her that you don’t need her help right now, and you’re doing just fine on your own. You need to be stronger than feisty old “Marge,” and let her know who the boss is.

Of course, dominating your inner critic is near impossible, unless you have the right tools in your belt. In this case, the right tools would be solid proof that you are perfectly capable as an artist—the things you are good at doing, the characteristics you possess that draw people in, the training or life experiences you’ve had that contribute to your expertise, the products of your creativity…. This list is as long as the talents, experiences, products and values you can claim as your own.

So, what are those things for you? The only way you can know is if you list out each of these items, adding them to a list of brag-worthy things about you. Don’t be shy, it’s not like you need to show this list to anyone. In this moment, give yourself permission to be proud of yourself. Are you nice? Are you funny? Put those on there. How about if you’re organized? Or maybe you’re like me and rock an ironclad budget. Add those skills to your list. If you run out of things, consider asking other people like your spouse or your best friend. There’s no shame in it. After all, you’d do the same for them, wouldn’t you?

Once you’ve finalized your list, study it. Memorize it. Own it. This is YOUR list. You are good at these things. This list contains the very reasons why you are wonderful, talented, unique, and completely capable. And when “Marge” comes back from her smoke break to give you an earful, kindly hold up your list and remind her that you’ve got this. Then tell her to go home.

So now that you love yourself, it’s time to take yourself out on date (I warned you about the mushiness). Yes. I am seriously telling you to date yourself. This might feel a little uncomfortable, but bear with me.

I first learned the power of taking myself on a date in the early months of my divorce. I was new at being single, and discovering that I wasn’t very good at it. Ever since I had started dating in my teen years, I had always been coupled up with someone. So being single was entirely new to me. And being single with kids? I was definitely not good at this.

As I told you in the beginning of this book, I lived with my parents in those early months, and spent a good portion of that time recovering from my failed marriage in a fetal position on the couch. But sometimes my parents would give me a night off from my depression by urging me to leave the house and do something for myself. Therefore, I’d go out.

Problem is, I was not very much fun to hang out with in my state of melancholy. I didn’t want to burden any of my friends with my Eeyore attitude. I also didn’t know what to do with myself. So I did the only thing I could think of.

I went to the bookstore.

The first several times I got a night to myself, this was where I always ended up. Here, I was surrounded by good friends. Anne Lamott, Alice Sebold, Maya Angelou, Liz Gilbert, Ernest Hemingway, Tim Farrington…. I loved the smell of the bookstore, the feel of books in my hands, the colorful covers, and the even more colorful stories. I’d grab a hot chocolate from the café, and then I’d spend the evening perusing the aisles until the store was ready to close.

Eventually, these dates with myself went to the next level. That’s right folks, it was time for dinner and a movie.

On this special evening, I took myself out to an ethnic restaurant on the other side of town. I didn’t even flinch when I told the waitress, “One, please.” Inside, I was sure every eye was on me. But outwardly, I acted as if going out to eat by myself was no big thing.

Admittedly, it was a little awkward to sit at the table with no one in front of me. There was no one to talk to, or even to look at. I ate my dinner in silence, trying not to look around too much. I think I even brought a book to bide my time. Couples and families surrounded me, and it was apparent that I was the only single dining that night.

But you know what? As I ate, things started feeling a little less awkward. I realized I had somewhat of an advantage. I didn’t have to make conversation if I didn’t want to. I could fully enjoy my meal, focusing on each bite one at a time. No one was watching me. No one even cared that I was eating alone. I could order what I wanted, eat at my own pace, and just enjoy my own company.

After dinner, I walked next door to the movie theater and chose the movie I wanted to watch. Going by myself, I knew which movies it would not be—no action movies, no government schemes, no horror, no car chases. Without a date, I didn’t have to worry about coordinating tastes at all in my movie choice.

“One for ‘Garden State,’ please,” I told the person at the ticket counter.

Once inside and seated, couples surrounded me once again. But when the lights dimmed, it didn’t matter. Even more, I realized just how awesome it is to go to the movies alone. I laughed aloud at the funny parts. And when things got sad, I cried without shame. There was no one there who would see my tears, so I had a really great therapy session right there in the middle of the movie theater. It was cathartic. It was liberating. And it was the best date I’d been on in my life.

Isn’t it time you got some quality time with yourself? How about just straight-up pampering yourself, whether alone or not? There are so many things you can do. You could take yourself out for a healthy meal. You can go get a massage. You can play mini golf. You can…. Well, you can do one of these fifteen things, all under $20.

  • Take a bubble bath with bath salts and scented candles.
  • Enjoy a night in with a good book. Bonus if it includes a cozy drink and fuzzy socks.
  • Take yourself out to lunch and a matinee.
  • Buy yourself flowers. Throw in a small box of chocolates if you want to feel extra special.
  • Purchase a new magazine and read it in the park.
  • Get all Zen at a yoga class.
  • Go for a bike ride in the country. Don’t have a bike? Bike rentals are cheaper than you think.
  • Check out the animals at the zoo.
  • Learn something new at the museum.
  • Be inspired at an art gallery.
  • Visit with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Host a friend’s night in.
  • Be a tourist in your own town and check out the sights.
  • Get more sleep. Sleep in, take a nap, or go to bed early.
  • Make time for your significant other.

Now that you’re feeling all gushy about yourself, it’s time to commit. What I mean is to take a whole entire day off for yourself. If you can swing it, take a whole entire weekend.

My friend, Molly Kurland, is a successful massage therapist in the area we live, and the author of Successful Strokes: A Realistic Guide to Creating a Lucrative Massage Business. Her job as a masseuse demands a lot of her time and energy. Home life is no less energetic. Her family recently adopted two new puppies that have now reached the high-energy stage of teenagerhood. On top of that, Molly is working on writing and other creative endeavors. There just isn’t much down time. So once a month, Molly kisses her family goodbye and heads for a weekend getaway in the nearby seaside town of Gualala. Here, there is no Internet, no TV, no phone calls, nothing. There’s just her, a private room, a hot tub, and time to spend any way she wants. Sometimes she uses this free time just to read a good book. Sometimes it’s when she gets her best writing in. Sometimes it’s just a chance to breathe in silence. Molly has told me that this solo getaway is her key to happiness, and the way she ensures she can be fully present for her job and family when she’s home. She’s made it a priority to do this at least once a month.

We should all make it a priority to get away from it all on a regular basis. Just as I spelled out in chapters 1 and 4, it’s so important to take a break from the busy part of life and just be still for a moment. It’s especially important for our art so that we can unclutter our minds and create with an unencumbered soul. While taking a weekend away isn’t possible for everyone, most of us are able to take a day off, maybe even a few hours.

After all, YOU are important. Now treat yourself that way.

CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Baby Step: It’s time to write that list! Get out a pen and paper and write down all the things you’re good at, the things about you that make you wonderful, and anything else that’s positive about you. Enlist the help of your family and friends to make sure you have a complete list. Once you’re done, hold on to that list. Then refer to it any time you feel doubt or criticism start to creep in.

Level Up: Take yourself out on a date—just you. Note how it feels to spend time by yourself in a crowd of people. Does it feel weird? Are there any benefits? Could you see yourself doing this more than just this once? Write about the experience when you’re done.

Be Hardcore: Go away for the weekend. If that’s too difficult, strive for just a day. But leave town by yourself so that you can spend some time getting to know YOU.

If you’d like to purchase the whole book, you can find it here.

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5 comments

    • Make that list of all the things you’re proud of that you’ve accomplished or that you know you’re capable of, and then keep it handy. Those negative voices can sneak up on you and paralyze you in your tracks. But if you have the TRUTH ready as your weapon, you can fend off those negative voices and keep on being your brilliant self. I’m rooting for you!

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