Everyone faces the Inner Critic, no matter how experienced they are. Professional writers, even those who have published widely and won awards, even give it names. Sue Grafton calls hers "the ego," the part that's always concerned with "how are we doing?" Some Inner Critics are funny, joking with you inside your head about taking it all so seriously. Most are discouraging, even menacing.
But rarely is this inner voice truthful--its job is to sabotage our efforts to make art, to do our writing.
Some writers tame the voice with alcohol or drugs or other medicating behaviors. You've read about all those famous writers who couldn't write--or even function in their lives--otherwise. But it's not the only way.
For instance, when you explore and plan your book, the Inner Critic might tell you that you don’t have a good enough idea. It will rumble in the background, causing doubt that your ideas are serious enough or good enough.
It really rears its head as you try to sell your book. In full battle mode, the Inner Critic can keep you awake at night with nightmares about rejection letters and the award your writing friend just won--and how you don't have a chance.
So, first get to know it. Then you can begin to look past its irritating qualities into what it's really there to do--for you.
I was writing a chapter about my business bankruptcy which happened during the 1980s recession. It was a terrible time in my life, and yet I knew I wanted to include it in my book, since I'd learned so much from it.
As I wrote, the Inner Critic began flooding me with feelings of shame about the failure I still felt. I noticed I was writing more slowly, even reluctantly, as the voice inside my head got louder. “Why bring up this all over again?” it argued. “Totally in the past, not helpful to anyone else. Let it be.”
I asked it kindly to step aside, to let me write this chapter. I explained why I needed to write it, reassured the Critic that this story didn’t have to end up in the final book. I just needed to get it on paper. When the letter was finished, I closed my notebook and went back to my desk. The chapter flowed out better than I could’ve imagined and the Inner Critic was noticeably calmer the rest of that writing session. My Inner Critic only wanted to protect me from the shame of fame: people looking at me in a different way because I told about a business failure many years before. By collaborating with this gate-keeping voice, instead of rejecting its help, I was able to proceed.