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How to Turn Off Your Inner Critic—Let It Be Shit!
Contributor
Written by
Brooke Warner
November 2011
Outlining
Contributor
Written by
Brooke Warner
November 2011
Outlining

Other than not having enough time, the inner critic is the #1 thing that holds most writers back from doing what they say they’re going to do, want to do, are capable of doing.

I love doing inner critic work with writers because it’s a place to turn something that’s weighing them down into something fun. I work with my clients to name their critics (yes, we all have many!) and describe what they look like. They’re he’s, she’s, and it’s; they’re smelly, huge, yellow, agitated, fickle, lazy, and loud. And they’re usually crystal clear in their opinions: This is shit! Who wants to read this? Why are you bothering? Do you really think this is publishable? Or they come in the form of keeping you on edge: Someone is going to steal your idea; your mother is going to be horrified when she reads this; you’re going to hurt someone.

Yes, these are paralyzing messages. They sting. They instill fear. They are exhausting. But sometimes we’re so busy fighting, ignoring, and making ourselves sick with these messages that we forget there’s another option: getting curious. You’ll be surprised what happens when you invite your inner critic in. Take a look at her, him, or it. Identify its defining characteristics. Write down its messages. It might look something like this:

Your writing sucks.
Who’s going to want to read that?
How dare you share something so personal?

Take it all in, take a deep breath, and ask yourself how many of these messages are based in fear. Are you scared that your writing will suck? Are you scared someone might challenge your credentials or motivations for writing this book? Do you hold opinions about what’s appropriate to share in public?

Your inner critic is a loud mouth who sits on a pile of fear in hopes that you won’t risk yourself. If you don’t try, you can’t fail. If you never risk, you maintain the status quo. If you don’t stretch yourself, you stay safe.

Our writing pushes us outside of our comfort zone because it challenges us to be more visible, bigger, more truthful, to take a stand for ourselves and what we want.

I challenge you to write down your list of fears and hang it in your writing space this week. It’s amazing how giving voice to something lessens its charge. When you sit down to a message that says, “Your writing sucks,” rather than getting worked up about it, answer with, “Yes, it mostly does, but this is a content dump.” The point of SheWriMo is to write. It’s okay if it’s shit. The whole challenge is about getting yourself into the habit of writing and setting a pace.

So let it be shit. And do invite your critic into your writing space this week. By the end of the week you might just have a new friend.  

 

Brooke Warner is the Executive Editor at Seal Press and coaches writers to publication through her business, Warner Coaching. Sign up for her newsletter and get monthly inspiration and tips about writing, shopping, and publishing.

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Comments
  • Kierie

    I needed this today!!!!!!!!!

  • Jannette Eng

    Great article.  Thanks for the suggestion of writing down your list of fears.  I'm going to try it!

  • Elizabeth Towns

    Excellent article! I embrace the idea that risk is a relevant detractor to my writing progress. Do I risk moving forward and ignoring all of those inner critics, and how many times have they proven to be true in my past? Sometimes, that is  immobilizing. I am going to do the writing exercise described here, and let that help me move past some fears. I hate fear. It is the absence of faith - in me, in my talent, and in God. I am getting rid of it slowly but surely.

     

    Thanks

  • Sara Davis

    Well said!  I sooo needed to hear/read this....Thanks for the push! 

  • Kelli Swearingen

    amen!

  • Melody Fuller

    Thanks Brooke!

    Cheers!

     

     

  • Sonja Benskin Mesher

    yes

  • Bridget Burke

    I know this problem very well. You are so right about write it even if you think it is shit. In February of 2010 I started writing a blog on OpenSalon.com. I made a commitment to myself that I had to write something every week for a year. My rule was I had to write it and post on the same day. That way I didn't give my inner critic too much time to sabotage what I wrote.

    I kept that commitment and this February I found I had about 48 posts (I gave myself a week off now and then) and people read what I had written and I got comments. I even got an editor's pick.

    But what I really got was confidence in my writing and confidence that I was writer. This year I don't blog as often because I'm working on the first book in a mystery series I've started writing. I've joined a critique group this year to get feed back on the book. I'm now confident enough to show my writing and get feedback on it. So keep writing and let it be shit! Here's my blog if you would like to check it out, open.salon.com/Ravensword.

  • Angie Burch

    I really needed to read this!! Thank you! I have ideas and I know I can write things that make people laugh, cry, and every woman's emotion, laughter through tears. What I am not, is a technical writer. I moan and groan about how I wish I had payed more attention in language classes than I did during my science classes. I have to have someone proof everything I write, and that makes me feel, well, like shit! It is intimidating to me and that holds me back a lot. I have a friend that tells me that Picasso could paint, but the guy who made his brushes couldn't. So maybe I should try to write with the "Let it be shit!" attitude and see what happens. Thanks again!

  • Jane Baskin

    OMG this is so right, and so timely for me! I have been struggling with promoting my book, now that I have self published it. The book's okay, but success? ah, there's the rub... INNER CRITIC: "Don't waste your time. You'll never be successful. No one will want to read your book. Everything you touch turns to shit."  ME: "But...but...but"

    I hear you, let it be shit. I realize now I must do what I have to do, and if it's shit, let it be!

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Courtney, This is probably the hardest---when you're writing memoir and the voices are telling you you're lying, cheating, veering too far from the truth. Despite all the controversy over memoir in past years, it's important to know that it's still okay to do composites and to bend the truth a bit, especially to disguise people. The big scandals have really been about people who have outright lied, so hang in there, and thanks for sharing this. It's one a lot of people feel scared about! And I would encourage you to stay with your genre.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Barbara, thanks so much for this comment. None of us is alone in this. :)

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Melody, ha ha! What a great reframing. Thanks for this!!

  • Barbara H. Horter

    You've voiced it exactly. I've read someplace where writers as famous and well known as hemingway questioned his worth and the importance of his writing. be that as it may, when the jitters as to our own credibility comes to heart, in the middle of a creative project, we tend to think we are the only one. Your reminder is timely and something that should be kept to reread all the time, so that we don't forget! You've said it all so well!

  • Melody Fuller

    Nothing that anyone writes is shit.

    Taking these types of messages in hazardous to your health.  I say reject and purge all the harsh and negative criticisms of all things in your life--out.

     

    I challange you to write down your joys, victories, accomplishments, and the shit you slayed that made you(not anyone else) go: "Hmmm...ain't that some shit..."

    I challange you to tell your negative inner critic to step the blank off and to go find a hobby. I challange you to embrace the fact that you wrote/write period-dot.  I challange you to not down play your shit as *content dump*.  I think any writing you do, be it for a month or a lifetime is about so much more than habit and pace.  Writing is about YOU.  You are much more than habit and pace, right?  Now, I am my husband's habit, which is a damn good thing...I digress, sorry.

     

    Some of my elementary school *critics* would say: "You act like your shit don't stink!"  I always said back: "It don't, you do." I would hear this same shit as I got older, mainly from men and women who I bested in one way or another.

    So, if you gone' say your writing is shit, at least move to the mantra and attitude of: "--AND my shit don't stink."

    With that change of mentality, I bet you, you will write less shit and you will take no shit off of your full of shit inner critic (wink).

    When you invite your inner critic into your writing space this week, remind that bitch that you are not taking any shit outta her and if she wants ta' stick around, she better get her shit together.

     

    Cheers!

     

     

     

  • Autumn

    I needed this article today!  Thanks Brooke! :)  (I would print out all my inner critic's comments but they'd become wallpaper. :P lol!) 

  • Veronica Young

    YEAH BROOKE!!!  "Let it be SHIT!" is my new mantra! I smell a Tshirt in the works!

    I also just sent you an email a short time ago regarding my request for editing. :)  


    Veronica

    www.veronicainspires.com/about

  • Torill Bye Wilhelmsen

    "Why do you write THIS?". Well, tiny little inner critic, because I would love to see how this new perspective will transform the whole story. So, shut up! I´m writing!

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Ann. It is a good question, and this is the very probably the most important thing you can learn as a writer---how to discern between what's good and what needs to be revised. I have writers who take editorial feedback and hypercorrect, losing the good stuff. The best way to discern what's shit and what's caviar is to work with an editor you trust. Someone who's not afraid to tell you what's working and what's not. Then their feedback starts to worm its way into your writing habits so that you in fact begin to get it. It's a learning process for sure. Not something we have a sense of in our own writing. The problem so many writers face is not having objective readers. Very good question!

  • Satya Robyn

    Ann - great question : ) I guess for me the FIRST barrier is letting myself write (regardless of what comes out) - and then we can use our critical capabilities later...  Love the article, Brooke!

  • Ann Ormsby

    How do you know what is shit and what is caviar?

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @FYCJ, anything new is worth a try! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Sabine A.Reed

    Love the title of this post. Sometimes you just have to keep on writing even when you know it's bad just to maintain the flow of the story... you can always edit it later and make it shine. 

  • RYCJ Preparing to Publish

    Funny, I grew up with 'these' critics that came from the outside and moved inside me. At first I was hurt, then pissed the you-know-what off, and now I don't even notice them...wherever the critic is coming from.

    I will share a little something else, what caught my attention...fear is a phenomenal thing not easy to talk away. Public speaking is the only one I can think of for me...and trust me, I've been coached, and trained, and massaged, and therapharized, and prayed with, for and over, and even tried studying my father who of all things was a toastmaster. Nothing worked. I will admit though...I never made a list. I'll give it a try and see if it works.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Thanks everybody! And thanks for sharing your post too Janece. It's a huge issue. We could write a book on it! :)