Writing Is A Funny Thing – Silencing The Inner Critic
On to the winning essay…
Writing is a funny thing. The thought of doing it brings up an onrush of doubts. Sometimes, for some people, just the idea of writing sends a doubt tsunami crashing upon their heads so strong that they let the thought of writing go and get on Facebook instead. Forever.
And yet the doubt-ridden process of writing is what in the end helps to ease the doubts. Not entirely … but enough to get you onto the page. That’s why over and over again you’ll hear the admonition to keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. The more you write, the more you will write. The more you write, the more you know what works, what is authentically you, what your passions are – and the more the deep and dark mysterious place in your innards where the stories live will start to believe that you are serious about this writing thing. The more you turn the tap on, the more it will flow, the longer you go.
Years ago I was fed up with the enormous problem I was having writing much at all beyond blog posts. I’d become captivated writing for a small blogging audience which not only complimented me on what I’d written but came back to read more. My confidence was growing. But when it came to putting my writing out there to paying markets, I felt myself jellify. It was so competitive out there. Cold. There were gatekeepers – sure, editors were people with their own lives who loved words and weren’t monsters, but they nevertheless loomed like gargoyles in my head.
My inner critic is a gatekeeper too. He is a cobbled-together mass of walls and turrets who tries to protect me against the world and against my own doubts. He tries, in the best way he can with his small and distorted view of the world, to protect me from humiliation by keeping me safe in the castle. He just has a strange way of showing it sometimes. If I step out beyond the moat and begin flittering about in the writing fields beyond, he has been known to resort to harsh criticism. And it’s worked, drawing me weeping back into the castle. I guess it’s got its own strange internal logic.
This inner critic stalked me relentlessly every time I tried to write an essay or a short story. In a quest to try to smash the block, I began art therapy. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done to help me trust in the process and ignore the thoughts that start wondering what people will think of me. Despite those thoughts, I keep going. I still sometimes roll around in tears on the couch when the latest Submittable entry has gone from “In Process” to “Declined.” But I get writing again.
It was sorta magical entering into Maggie’s room at Mount Dandenong, in Melbourne’s outer eastern hills. An adult giving me permission to play – with paint, crayons, pencils and with clay – was healing. We explored the problems I was experiencing and looked at what came from my dreams and drawings and paintings. They weren’t meant to be good art. That’s not the point of art therapy. They were meant to be good for me. And they were. Doing art therapy is like analyzing your dreams and like writing itself. Once you learn the symbolic language that comes from those deep spaces, you realize you’re telling yourself rich, helpful stuff all the time. You just got to learn to read.
Clay became my thing. I loved the feel of it, the way it’s so forgiving of your mess-ups. All you need to do is smooth it over and start again. I also discovered that clay sort of liked me back and I could see us developing a relationship together.
I made a figure of my inner critic. I named him Blob. Once I finished him, I was going to smash him with a hammer.
He’s rather hard-edged, isn’t he? Much less forgiving than the material from which he is created. Blob is still with me seven years later, unsmashed. Clay needs to be hollowed out so it doesn’t explode in the kiln. In the process of hollowing out Blob, I accidentally carved a large hole in his throat.
Karma. After all, Blob had spent an awful lot of time hindering my expression. So I decided to not smash Blob in the end. I kind of like the way I feel when I look at him, with that big hole in his throat. Quiet, Blob.
He has changed though. True, his fury can still be so strong that on bad days I consider quitting writing altogether. I have health issues that make it difficult to write consistently. When I’m not able to write regularly, or when the rejections come, Blob still sometimes gets the upper hand. But his ability to infect me for long has diminished. A lot. And he’s very good at editing.
The idea of quitting writing doesn’t last long now because the pleasure now outweighs the doubt. Writing is like an inward fire, and while the fears and doubts still yell out from the darkness, the act of writing keeps me warm.
We’ll never entirely be free of our doubts. It’s the nature of writing. Putting yourself on the page is a vulnerable act. Studies show that fear and excitement run along the same tracks in our bodies. Performers get anxious before they go on stage and then (hopefully) that anxiety translates itself into energy that makes for a good performance. The doubt that accompanies getting ready to write can be turned, once you start, into excitement that fuels your quest.
You need to believe what you’re doing is important. We live in a world that tells us that writing is not worth much. But writing can change someone’s world. We all know that from reading other people’s words. The first world it’ll change, though, is yours. Back yourself.