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.
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.