Friday, May 27, 2016

When Does Your Inner Critic Appear? Three Scenarios of Self-Sabotage and How to Renegotiate Your Contract

Scenario #1:  The new chapter draft is going pretty well.  You're writing steadily, enjoying a renewed commitment to your book.  Suddenly, from some dark place in your mind, a switch goes on.  An unrelated thought or feeling slips in.  Maybe something you forgot to do or say.  A small mistake or failure.  The thought distracts you and you slowly leave the story flow.  You begin to hate the writing--or at least, it feels less delightful. Even a little boring, unoriginal?  You're derailed.

Scenario #2:  You give a chapter draft to a friend, spouse, relative to read.   You're pleased with it.  You imagine they will be too.  Maybe even impressed.  They bring back comments.  Even if they say, "I loved it," a flood of (1) fear, (2) anger, or (3) shame hits you.  You can't bear to look at the writing, to use their suggestions.  It's all sucky anyway, and you really shouldn't waste your time.


Scenario #3:  Pick one:  You get sick, your cat gets sick, your kid gets into a fight at school, your boss goes on a rant with you as the target.  Outer life overwhelm strikes, big time.  Worry and agitation sucks up all your energy.  Less and less of that energy goes to your book.  After a week or two, you can't even remember it.  When you force yourself to sit down and open the file, you're dismayed at how flaccid it is. 

All these scenarios have something in common:  they're fostered by the IC, our personal inner critic.

The inner critic is our internal gatekeeper.  Its job is to protect us.  It has a very loooong memory, way back to our first creative efforts in childhood.  Unless we had an exceptionally supportive environment for our creativity, both at home and at school, we probably logged some embarrassing moments about "showing off" or "being unoriginal" or "did you really make that or did you copy it" or any number of other creativity slams.  When we edge up to this again, as adults trying to write a book, the IC goes on amber alert. 

It hovers and watches.  As long as we're not really making progress, it's OK--we won't get hurt.  But if we begin to do well or we expose our writing to others, however well-meaning, the IC raises the alert to red. 

It'll begin to sabotage.  However it can. 

I have experienced this so many times--I get sick or my life explodes just as my book gets going good--that I no longer believe it's coincidental.  I think we create these situations to protect ourselves, to have a damn good excuse not to write. 

Don't believe me?  Try logging it.  When do you stop writing your book?  Is it one of the scenarios above where you've (1) done well or taken a leap, (2) showed your writing to someone, or (3) let your outer life drama take over your creative energy?

You're not really victim to the IC.  You created the contract with it, you can rewrite that contract.

Writers who keep writing, despite all the scenarios above, still have an inner critic.  They've just learned to work with it.  They aren't swept away by the fear, anger, or shame that can come when they raise their skills or share their writing or get pummeled by outer life events.   

They write anyway.  And they finish their books. 

Your weekly writing exercise is to write a letter to your inner critic.  Renegotiate your contract.  Thank it for its lifelong service and ask for a little more leeway to do what you need to do. 

PS  In my week-long book-writing retreats each July on Madeline Island, I coach each writer about the IC and when it may hit.  It's predictable for many.  About midweek, sometimes sooner, a wall appears.  The wall of past limits, those memories the IC uses to keep us limited now. 

I recognize them as they begin to percolate in a writer and I coach that writer through.  It can be hard to do without support and someone who's been there. 

Best results can happen in the retreat environment:  a breakdown leads to a breakthrough.  Many writers emerge from these battles changed, the contract with their IC completely renegotiated.