How to Punch Your Inner Critic in the Face When You Write
“You call yourself a writer? You just spent 20 minutes writing a trash heap!”
“Like anybody’s going to read this.”
“You need to stop imagining you’re J.K. Rowling and admit that your writing career doesn’t even exist.”
Maybe your inner critic isn’t quite this harsh when you try to write. But I’d bet money it comes pretty darn close. Yet, producing a manuscript that has value and heart requires you to shut off your inner critic and let the words — whatever they might be — flow. If you’re struggling to do that, try these tricks.
Turn off your editing assistants
Tools like spellcheck and Grammarly can be lifesavers. They offer a quick check that can eliminate basic errors in your draft. But seeing all those underlines and suggestions also can make you doubt the foundation of your skill: If you can’t catch even the basic mistakes, how could you possibly create a draft that’s sellable or enjoyable to read? The tools also can interrupt your flow. They catch your attention and pull you backward as you try to get sentences out. Get the core of your draft done first. Then go back and turn on the tools so you can focus on editorial polishing with that intent, rather than getting distracted by the alerts as you go.
Limit your scope
Sometimes, if you think of the entire writing job to be done, it can be too overwhelming. Before you start your writing session, look at the time you have. Then identify a realistic goal that fits into that time. That might be hitting a certain word count, correcting a specific problem in a single paragraph, or even reading through a website for research. Focus on this small goal and reward yourself when you meet it.
Identify tactics to address weaknesses
Most writers are well aware of their quirks when it comes to the craft. (I know I tend to be verbose and that I overuse dashes.) You’ll likely feel better about getting into a manuscript to work if you have specific ways set up to keep those quirks from running the show. For instance, I might set a word limit on my paragraphs. Alternatively, I might adopt a process where, at the end of drafting, I always go through and see how many dashes I can replace with other punctuation. It builds your confidence if you can say, “The problem is there, but I know I can fix it.”
It’s common for writers to be hesitant to show their drafts to others. They know feedback can help improve the draft. It’s still a bit of an ouch, even so, to get a reality check about the fact they’re not the perfect creators they want to be. But don’t forget that readers will see the gems in your writing, too. The more you share your drafts, the more you’ll start to understand the strengths you have as a writer. When your inner critic starts yapping, you’ll have an arsenal of positive comments to lean on.
Remember you’re part of a team
Writing is often seen as a solitary endeavor. But writing does not have to rest solely on your shoulders. You can use beta readers, as suggested above. You also can get professionals to do different types of editing to whip the draft into shape. Knowing that you will be able to take advantage of their skill and expertise doesn’t remove the accountability you have to give your draft your best shot. But your inner critic likely will have a harder time attacking a whole team than it will attacking only you. It can take some of the pressure off so that you can relax, and typically, relaxed writing is better writing.
As a writer, you face a host of criticism from the outside world. That criticism is loud and hurtful enough without adding your own harsh inner monologue. So give yourself a break. The kinder you are to yourself as you put words to the page, the easier it will be to express yourself exactly as you need to.