Photo by @MSG via Creative Commons
Do you have a voice in your head that tells you that your work isn't good enough? That your time is better spent doing something actually productive? That you'll never earn a living doing this (writing/blogging/painting/etc.) and you might as well quit right now before you make a fool of yourself?
Yeah, I have that voice, too. The dreaded Inner Critic. Sometimes that voice can sound like a whole chorus of inner critics, all of whom know my weakest points and tenderest buttons.
When I look back on my life I see that I have wasted a lot of time letting that voice talk me into not doing things I really wanted to do. I believed I wasn't good enough, or skilled enough, or creative enough. I let myself believe a lot of excuses about not having enough time.
But these days, I don't have time for the voice. I want to write. I want to paint and cook and make things. And also I want to be an awesome parent. In order to make room for all of that I have to spend more time doing and less time waffling around, feeling bad because of the voice.
Here are some of the things I do to help deal with my inner critic so I can get back to making. I think they will help you, too.
As much as I want to hate my inner critic, I realize that voice comes from a valid part of myself. One that is afraid both of failing and succeeding. One that has strong opinions about what is "good" and what is not. One that can help me create high quality work, when the time is right.
But not when I'm writing a first draft. When my voice is speaking up when I'm right at the beginning of a project, I channel my inner mama and talk to it like it is a toddler: "I hear you. I hear that you have something to say. But right now I have something I'm trying to write. Will you go play over there for 30 minutes? I will give you all of my attention as soon as I'm done with this."
Make sure you do invite it back when you get into revision mode, because that's when that voice can really be valuable.
(I don't make my toddler play for 30 minutes without me. My inner voice has a much longer attention span than my toddler does)
Sometimes the voice will heed my request to go play, but sometimes it is whiny and clingy. When that happens, I turn up the music, go to a coffee shop, change my scenery, or just set a timer and start writing. Write really fast. Don't go back to fix grammar or mis-spelled words.
You can write faster than your ciritic can niggle and eventually you will leave the voice behind.
When you have asked for a break and tried to outwrite it, but the voice is still there, give it a minute and check in with what it is saying.
I was recently working on a draft of an article and my critical voice was just haranguing me. "This is stupid," it was saying. "This doesn't even make sense. Who would want to read this?"
My inner critic isn't very nice to me.
A couple of days later my critique group suggested some major restructuring to my article draft. And with fresh eyes, I could see that they were totally right. My draft didn't make a lot of sense the way I had structured it, but by moving the pieces around it would flow so much better.
Which my inner voice had been trying to tell me all along. Sometimes it pays to take a minute to see if that voice is telling you something you can learn from.
Turn Toward (what am I most afraid of?)
Sometimes my inner critic is trying to tell me something bigger than editing tips. Sometimes my voice is speaking up because I'm pushing my own boundaries, or because I'm delving into a subject that brings back bad memories or opens an old wound. This feels different than the standard inner voice.
When this happens, I stop. I listen. I soothe. If my voice is my inner toddler, I take a moment to wrap her up in my arms and tell her I love her and that she is safe. I pay attention to the fear, the hurt, and the sadness.
But then I go back to being an adult and I make a decision about whether I should continue or not. Some wounds need air to heal. Some boundaries need to be broken so I can grow. My inner voice can tell me when I've reached a tender spot, but my grown-up self needs to decide whether it is safe to proceed or not.
Step Away From the Keyboard
If none of the techniques I've described above works, I do something drastic. I walk away for a while. Do something else and set it aside. Sometimes I just need a short break to clean up the kitchen or to water the garden. Sometimes that's enough to shake loose the thing I'm stuck about so I can get perspective on it.
Sometimes it helps to do something physical - go for a walk or go to the gym. Don't even think about the project you are stuggling with or your bad feelings about it. Just set it aside. Try again tomorrow. Or the day after that.
This doesn't work if you have a deadline, of course, but sometimes your critic is acting up because your creative well is dry and you need to refill it. Pamper yourself a bit and rest. Return when your ideas start popping again and I'm willing to bet that critic will be quiet for a while.
What techniques do you use to manage your inner critic?