Squashing the Inner Critic
About three years ago, I was mid-way through the London School of Journalism's distance learning course for creative writing when I hit a wall. I couldn't write, I didn't like any of my ideas, let alone trust them to be good enough for submission and the more time that passed (the LSJ course has a two year deadline) the worse it got. It was just the latest bout in a long-running feud with the Inner Critic.
Everyone has one - that nagging voice that offers helpful pearls of wisdom such as 'why are you bothering to type when you're so bad?' And 'who on earth would want to read that crap anyway?' So powerful is my Little Miss Know It All, that I happened to be flicking through one of my notebooks the other day and came across a snippet that I don't remember writing. I thought 'hmm, this isn't that bad' only for the written voice to switch mid-sentence into something along the lines of 'this is so awful, oh my God, you're rubbish, who on Earth do you think is going to read this crap?' I laughed on re-reading but at the time suspect I must have felt deeply frustrated and disappointed in myself.
My Inner Critic and I have had a fractious relationship since I was small and ironically the LSJ course was my latest and most concerted attempt so far to squash this dark half, much like Dorothy's house squashes the Wicked Witch of the East at the start of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The feedback had been helpful and supportive but instead of spurring me on, I froze. Weeks and months ticked by. Somehow, some kind words from my tutor had unleashed the raging harpie's wrath and she was taking no prisoners.
At the time I was also lucky enough to have some free sessions with a life coach, who after much hair pulling and teeth gnashing (and that was just her!) managed to help me realise that writing was the thing I wanted to do most in life despite the views of this overbearing, opinionated and downright stubborn dark half. Once that was established she (the life coach, not my evil twin) set to work finding out why I was so hard on myself. I think I made some wild claim that good writers must simply vomit brilliant sentences out onto the page without batting an eyelid. She asked me how I knew this. I think I went on with some drivel about no-one possibly suffering like me.
So, the coach set me some homework. I had to go and find some interviews with authors about the writing process. It changed the way I looked at my writing. I began keeping a notebook of quotes that I still add to now. Some of them are so important to me they're on my pinboard behind my computer so I can see them every day. This may seem counter-intuitive and I don't wish to sound as though I was revelling in other people's pain but it made me feel less isolated, gave me the impetus to finish the course and sign up to study for an MA.
The Inner Critic is still a gobby cow but I carry the thoughts of these writers that I love and respect like holy water and threaten her with a good dousing whenever she gets too big for her boots. I hope these help you, too.
The first draft of anything is shit - Ernest Hemingway
If you only write when you want to, or when you feel like it, or when it's easy you'll always be an amateur - Philip Pullman (The Guardian - 3 March 2011)
The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt - Slyvia Plath
Keep the writers you admire most at the edge of your vision: don't let them hog the centre - David Mitchell (The Guardian - 19 November 2007)
The first draft is just you telling yourself the story - Terry Pratchett
Be who you are and say what you feel because those that matter don't mind and those that mind don't matter - Dr Seuss
For many more, similarly sage pieces of advice, I thoroughly recommend looking up the Why I Write series of interviews on The Guardian.