My Inner Critic, the Hero

Truth be told, I’m kind of proud of my inner critic. I mean, the girl has gone through a complete transformation during my writing lifetime.

"If you believe in fairies ..."

You need only flip through the journals I wrote throughout my teen years to realize she was probably just filing her nails, occasionally glancing over her shoulder and screaming, “Omg, you’re soooo talented!” as I scribbled my angsty poetry. She called that a good day’s work.

As I got older and more serious about my writing, she grew with me. She got tougher and became strict about how often I was writing, and how much. She became very vocal about when she did or didn’t like something, but didn’t really have the knowledge or vocabulary to explain why.

College courses and creative writing professors and fiction workshops helped her find her voice. My inner critic became emboldened when the same critiques and advice she’d been trying to get through to me got echoed by others. In times when she didn’t completely agree with the feedback, she showed surprising maturity by taking a step back, telling me to chill the eff out already, and helping me sort through what constructive criticism aligned with my vision, and what criticism I could basically ignore. (She once suggested we dance around a bonfire and toss a classmate’s notes into the flames…I’m still not sure how I talked her out of it.)

One day when I was getting ready to graduate, my creative writing professor told the class that soon, it’d be time for us to be on our own. That workshops are always great, but there comes a time when you have to learn to write on your own. You have to take everything you’ve learned and apply it to your own process, honestly and mercilessly. You have to listen to your voice to find it.

So for years now, it’s just been me and my inner critic. It was a little scary there in the beginning. It took a while for me to realize that being on your own doesn’t mean writing in a vacuum. Nor does it mean, don’t seek out a fresh set of eyes through critique groups or writing classes.

What it means is, I trust myself. I trust my choice in the people whose opinions matter to me—like my writer’s group, my agent, and my editor—and I trust myself to stand up for my creative vision if ever our opinions don’t align. It means that even when my inner critic is going through a complete temper tantrum, and I’m letting her drag me down with her, I trust that eventually, I’ll get us out of it.

It’s funny, though. Sometimes my inner critic is like a mother figure—tough and strict but always out of love, because it’s what’s best for the writing. Sometimes she’s downright brutal and a borderline bully, and I find I need the help of friends and loved ones to gain my confidence back.

But on the really good days, when she’s woken up on just the right side of the bed, she’s not an inner critic at all—she’s my muse. I believe they’re one and the same. I keep writing and listening to my inner critic because I know that eventually, I’ll get to see my muse.

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Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com

11 thoughts on “My Inner Critic, the Hero

  1. “my creative writing professor told the class that soon, it’d be time for us to be on our own. That workshops are always great, but there comes a time when you have to learn to write on your own”

    This is kind of the key to me. I don’t objectify my critic or my muse — I mostly concentrate on listening to my characters. What would they do, what would they say (and what do they want to say but would never say out loud — the things I need to bring out in other ways). If they’re happy, I’m probably doing okay.

    • That’s a really great way of look at it, Anthony. I wish my characters spoke to me nearly as often as my inner critic does, but most of the times it’s a struggle for me; I have to really coax my characters out of their shells!

    • You get me, Heather 😉 Sorry to keep messing with your posting plans! I always find myself agreeing with everything you say, too. Looking forward to reading about YOUR inner critic.

    • I would say they’re two sides of the same coin, but that doesn’t make sense because they definitely don’t show up at a 50/50 rate. It’s more like, 9 out of 10 times, the inner critic is there. So maybe the muse is like that one dentist on toothpaste commercials who doesn’t recommend the product?

    • Aww, that makes me happy! Yay for inner critics everywhere. (If we’re nice, they’ll be nice back, right?)

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