Writers from my latest Step Into Your Story program learned about the inner critic throughout our five weeks together. As each individual shared their internal dialogue, especially prior to reading aloud, the others began to realize they had similar patterns. One member of the program reported that the words of their critic felt so “normal” they didn’t realize how stifling it was. Although the words of the critic may not have been exactly the same for each writer, the energy and the effects were the same – constricting, and at times, debilitating.
These writers also learned a crucial element of the writing process and noticed where their inner critic disrupts this process. During Step Into Your Story we explored the notion that there’s a time and place for feedback and edits, but it’s not during the fresh writing, first draft stage. The desire to have writing come out perfectly formed, with all the right words in the perfect order, is one form of the critic. There are ways to nourish our creative flow without being sidetracked by the inner critic.
Learning about my inner critic was essential to developing my memoir manuscript, and I’m committed to sharing what I know with everyone in my writing programs. Here is some guidance to help you along in your writing journey. We can tune into our body sensations and our thought patterns to decrease the force of the negative messages from our inner critics.
Step One: Begin Noticing How Your Body Feels
Learning to catch the energy of the critic is an important first step. Shallow breathing can be a powerful indicator. Are you feeling contracted in your body? Do you feel anxious, or fearful in some way? Do you have a sensation of wanting to shrink into yourself? These are all cues that the negative energy of the inner critic may be taking over. Noticing creates the possibility for change.
Step Two: Listen To Your Inner Dialogue
Is it encouraging or focused on everything that’s wrong with your writing and your desire to write? You might be hearing versions like, “This plot has already been written.” Or “Who would ever read this?” “Aren’t there enough words in the world?”
Just writing these examples has my stomach clenching in response. Since this insight is focused on learning to soften the power of the inner critic, here are some tips that I and many others have found helpful:
Tip 1: Be Kind Yet Firm At The Same Time
Remember that your critic exists for a reason, most often to keep you safe, to keep you from becoming too visible. That may have been helpful in the past, or in other settings. However, when it’s time to sit down and write, try acknowledging the critic, and give them something else to do.
For example: “Thank you for sharing, now head over to that corner and have a nap.” Make it playful if you can. The critic hates laughter. You might try exaggerating a gesture or a phrase just for fun. No matter what you do, make sure you remain in charge of your creative process.
Continue writing, taking short pauses as needed to connect with your body, your breath, and the quality of your thoughts.
Tip 2: Tune Into The Dialogue Of The Inner Critic
It can be helpful to take some time to write everything down, unedited, and review them on the page. Those words are like directional signs to your strongest values. I plan to write more about this in my July Insight Post, but here’s one small example:
Early on in setting up Adventures in Writing, my inner critic was telling me that I’d built my business on a house of cards and that everything could easily collapse. The critical voice went on to tell me I was wasting my time, that I’d let down all of my clients and be a failure in my business. Ouch!
With the help of a mentor, I realized that I was building my business on a strong foundation of integrity, accountability, and showing up when I say I will show up. This was not a house of cards. At the same time, I acknowledged that the younger part of myself was scared that I was becoming too visible, that I would be vulnerable to the criticism of others. That fear is based in earlier childhood experiences. At this point in my life, I’m willing to take up more space in the world and offer the best of my learning to others. I can now thank the critic for pointing to one of my core values.
If you haven’t had a chance to see my INNER CRITIC VIDEO, this short clip will entertain and enlighten you.
Also check out my FREE DOWNLOAD – WRITING FEEDBACK GUIDEBOOK for tips about how to ask others for feedback on your writing, as well as how to give supportive feedback to others. You can download it by filling out the form below.