Do Not Fight the Inner Critic

A writer must choose between the hobby he loves and the harsh “reality” of his worst enemy, the “inner critic” in order to save his fledgling career before it goes down the drain.

This might sound like a movie to you, but I assure you (other than changing the gender), this happens all the time. You might have heard the voice in your head, and you’ve probably felt the sting in the words as you cower from another blank page with the tiny cursor taunting you.

What if I told you the “inner critic” is actually not the thing to blame?

What if I told you to embrace your real inner critic instead?

Embrace the Inner Critic

This is contrary to every piece of advice out there on the subject. I can hear you now as I type this:

“Matt, you’ve gone off the deep end. You should really study more on how the mind works.”

“My teacher taught me to ignore my inner critic and I’ve been just fine!”

“I lost my love of cats and fiction because of your bad advice.”

Execpt for the last claim, I believe I can recify some of the concerns you feel right now.

The “Inner Critic” everyone refers to is spiteful, angry, furious that you would even try to be a writer, much less breathe. You should be in a ball somewhere with your spleen dangling from your nose, that’s how much worth you ahve in this world. Writers can’t make a difference. No one reads anymore. You should just go get that accounting degree that you promised your dead great-grandmother you would get and move on with a safer life.

That is not the inner critic. That is the primal fear.

Primal Fear and You

This dastardly villain hides behind so many labels and monikers that you can’t keep it straight. First it’s the self hatred for even trying, then it’s the lambasting you take while burning the cookies, and let’s not even go into what the tub looks like, shall we?

Ready for the mindblower? This self defeating mechanism isn’t bad.

That’s right. You aren’t a bad person for feeling this, and you shouldn’t have to hide from it either. You are experiencing the normal fight or flight response when it comes to anything threatening the normal stability of your life.

You are putting yourself in danger with every word you write, and your primal mind reminds you everytime your finger touches the keyboard.

However, this is not your “inner critic.”

Inner Critic and You

If you had someone you trust give you criticism, it stings. You might take it personally, you might want to run out of the room and bathe in ice cream, and you might even want to avoid dealing with this person for a while.

However, you didn’t bash their head in with a rock (at least I hope you didn’t), right?

This is because they have advice for you that you need to hear. Once the sting goes away and you can return to normal, you know what they recommended has some merit. Whether or not you accept it is a different story.

And that’s how you should look at your inner critical voice.

It isn’t here to hurt you, and you shouldn’t hurt it. If you are honest with yourself, you can really rely on your inner critic to remind you what you might be missing from whatever it is you are writing.

That’s right, you can rely on yourself.

“Right, that’s it. Find a big ol’ T and let’s hang this bastard up!”

Don’t Believe what Everyone Tells You (All the Time)

Those people who tell you that you can’t judge your own story have it right to an extent. You can’t trust your own judgment when it comes to what you are limited in.

If you have issues with building characters, then you should let other people give you feedback on how your characters have turned out. If you have problems constructing a proper story, then you should target what people think about the tale you’ve decided to weave.

Do you notice the common thread in the last two paragraphs?

That’s right, you are operating from a self assessed point to acknowledge your weaknesses and glorify your strengths. You did something not many people feel comfortable with, much less do without the help of a substance or an outside source:

You are being honest with yourself about yourself.

It is through this honesty that you can work with a solid, stable footing and know that when people tell you something, they might have a point.

Inner Critic is More than a Feeling (More than a Feeeeeling!)

Your inner critic might not be able to verbalise what it sees, but it can express it in feelings. If you take the time away from your piece and look at it with “fresh eyes,” you’ll feel something in the back of your mind reminding you to improve something. You might not know what, but you know it’s there. YOu might not even be able to look at it at times, but the more you’re able to identify what your critic says, the easier it is to accept when the external critic tells you exactly what you are missing.

Case in point: I often had problems in developing a story. I knew this, and this is why I kept bailing out on projects left and right. I never understood why until I started working on a small scale. Instead of dumping in time and effort on 80,000 words only to see it waft away, I dug in and wrote 4000-6000 word stories, honing my skills and craft. I studied books, I read articles, and I practiced it. The more I did this, the less the inner critic reacted.

I look at some of my stories now and know I am doing quite well in this area. I’ll still have people look at it to make sure it makes sense, of course, but I won’t fear what they have to say, and I won’t be upset if they picked something I wasn’t honest with myself about.

Your inner critic is there to help you. Don’t confuse it with your inner fear.

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2 Comments

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2 Responses to Do Not Fight the Inner Critic

  1. Nice article..Really enjoyed reading it.

    I love the way your writing makes me feel that I have just further educated myself through reading it.

    You make some really good points about our inner circle being there to help us, and that we shouldn’t fear it.

    I for one have feared it in the past, so you have opened my eyes with this post.

    • Matthew Eaton

      Thank you very much for the kind words, Colin.

      As you can tell, I am pretty passionate about this because I too have gone through this and wanted to make sure people drew distinctions from “inner critic” and “inner fear.” Far too many people get lost in that, which is sad.

      Thanks for reading this, I do appreciate the time and effort you put in to comment!