How to Get Your Inner Critic to Zip It

Hush!I write during my lunch hour, so when I sit down to write, I’m also often sitting down to eat. At the same time, my inner critic is tucking into a hearty meal of all my hopes and dreams.

That’s how it feels, anyway. Pasta for me, and a nice big helping of total evisceration of my self-confidence for my friend, here.

You might think that having a book coming out next year would give me comfort of some kind. You might be wrong. (I don’t want to ruin your own confidence by saying so, but, yeah, you totally are.) Getting ready to share the book I’ve been working on for five years? There are a million new ways in which my inner critic is getting her grub on.

But if my inner critic has been beefing up, then at least she can stand to take a few direct hits to the gut. Here’s how to get your inner critic to shut up already.

Admit that she might have a point and write anyway, Hemingway. You have an inner critic for a reason—you have good taste. You know what you like, and you’re trying to find more of it in the words you’re typing. Embrace the idea that, fine, this sentence I’m writing here probably does suck. So what? I’ll come back to it later and cut it off at the knees if I need to. Have you ever cranked and cranked on your word count one day, totally uninspired, only to re-read the day’s work later and—hey, not bad. Not bad at all. Writing doesn’t always feel like rainbows are shooting out of your fingers. Just keep typing.

Give up typing and get out your pink sparkly gel pens, Picasso. OK, maybe the typing isn’t going so well, and everybody at the table knows it. Fine. Put the computer away and take out your notebook. (You carry a notebook, right? Carry a frigging notebook. And a pen or five.) There’s something about having your hand on paper, dragging your chicken scrawl across it, that seems a little closer to the words and a little removed from whatever is happening in that growing Word file you’ve got going on. Does your notebook have lines? Ignore them. I buy the quadrille notebooks, the ones that are filled with what looks like graphing paper. Graphing paper means precision, right? Nope, those are just more lines to ignore. Draw pictures, draw parallels between ideas, doodle, play the what-if game, whatever works. When you’re ready to rock and roll, go back to where you write best.

Read a book once in a while, Einstein. Mystery/thriller writer Hank Phillippi Ryan once quipped that to get everything done that she does, first she gave up sleeping, and then she gave up eating. She meant cooking; she still eats. But the first thing to go for me and a lot of writers I know isn’t sleep—it’s reading. The very thing that led us into the writing business in the first place, and we’re letting it fall by the wayside. All those spare moments we used to use for the paperback in our purse are now dog-earred for idea generation, jotting down notes, or maybe getting through that scene we’ve been working on this week. We don’t waste those moments. We can’t. But reading isn’t a waste of time, ever. It’s a pleasure, and a great reminder of how a book can work on us and for us. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t be trying to write one. Give yourself permission to keep up in your genre or to grab something off the shelf that has nothing to do with your current project. Remind yourself, even if your inner critic won’t, that stories are worth the trouble they take. Getting the words down, in fact, is worth handing the entire breadbasket over to your inner critic and telling her to shove it.

What do you do to shush your inner critic?

Author: Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

11 Replies to “How to Get Your Inner Critic to Zip It”

  1. I LOVE a good gel pen and the more colors the better. Great suggestions and those I live by religiously. I like your point about reading. I don’t understand why writers give it up. It isn’t just books we love for the sake of stories, it’s keeping up with what is selling in our genre and others, and, most importantly, it’s a tool to understanding how craft works which helps us expand our own. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned simply by reading. I still cram it in every single night before bed, even if it’s 15 minutes and my eyes are drooping. Great post!

  2. “Writing doesn’t always feel like rainbows are shooting out of your fingers. Just keep typing.”

    Absolutely true. And sometimes it feels exactly like that and it’s not really that great after all. When you’re standing close enough to the canvas to paint on it, you can’t be sure what it will look like from across the room.

    Oh, and I agree about pens and paper. It is a much more pleasurable experience for the fingers than tap-tap-tap on the keyboard.

  3. I agree with Susan…I love your sense of humor, Lori.

    Like you, I find my inner critic is more likely to keep quiet when I’m writing by hand. I don’t know why that is, but just last night I was working on the rough draft of a short story by hand. I think because I know that when I do transcribe it from a journal to the computer, I’ll edit anyways, so that gives me permission to get a really, really rough draft down.

    1. That’s a good point, Natalia. I think I am freer on paper than I am on the computer sometimes, at least at the beginning of my writing time, or if I’m out of practice. Once I’m back into the story, though, I write much faster on the computer, and that’s where I loosen up. Weird, right?

  4. This is great, Lori! I wish I could get my inner critic to zip it. Wine certainly helps shut down my inner critic, but I don’t want to be going too far down THAT track. Hello again, Hemingway.

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