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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Flashwrite #4: So Long, Inner Critic

The three books I hiiiiiiighly recommend are The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve blogged about Bird By Bird before, and I’ve also guest posted on how Eckhart Tolle has changed my life over on my friend Nova’s blog (“The Laughter of Sanity.”) Also, props to my dear Maggie for lending me her copy of The War of Art (though I will eventually buy my own, because that book is SO worth owning.)

I didn’t suggest an exercise for this episode, but I like the idea of transcribing everything your inner critic is saying on a loose sheet of paper, then crumpling it up and taking a match to it. Symbolic actions are more powerful than we realize. Try it and see how you feel afterward.

…Then tell me about it! This is a popular and vitally important topic, so if you have any comments or questions I’d really love to hear them. Heck, I’ll send an autographed copy of my second novel to the first person who documents the burning of their negative tape!

I want to talk about silencing your inner critic. Now I know in the beginning stages this may seem like an insurmountable task, and obviously it’s something that you’re going to keep dealing with on a daily basis every time you sit down and face the blank page. We’ve all felt it. Anyone who says that they haven’t heard you’re useless, you cannot write, what do you think you’re doing?, anyone who says they haven’t heard that garbage running on an endless loop in their heads–anyone who says they haven’t heard that, ever, has to be lying. They must be. I have felt it, and I have pretty successfully dealt with it–but I’ve also been writing seriously for twelve years and professionally for six. So trust me, this is something that if you work on it diligently every day, the voice will eventually go away. I can promise you this because I do not hear it anymore (thank God!), I don’t hear it anymore. So I want to give you some strategies for dealing with that voice, so that hopefully you can get to this point where it’s not messing you up, it’s not crippling your efforts.

The first thing I want to ask you is, do you like yourself? Do you appreciate yourself? Do you feel that you have something unique to contribute to the world? Now I know this may sound kind of feel-goody, but I think it will help to look at the problem holistically, and to work on your own sense of self love and self worth. I think ultimately this is a self esteem issue, and so everything that you can do on a daily basis to improve your self esteem–basically just doing whatever brings you joy, whatever makes you happy, whatever gives you a sense of purpose, do it! For instance, I did a yoga video before I sat down to record, because I knew that it would make me feel really good, and it worked. (Obviously I’m not going to sit down here feeling not that great about myself and try to help you feel better about yourself. Obviously that doesn’t make any sense.) So that was something that I did today to improve my self esteem and to love and appreciate myself. So I think that’s the first thing you need to do: recognize that you have a unique contribution to make, and that you owe it to the rest of us to make it. That’s a really lovely notion that I got from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. I highly recommend that book. It is super inspiring. I cannot recommend it highly enough. So that’s number one–your self esteem. Work on it, however it brings you joy. Just do it, whatever you need to do to feel better about yourself.

The second thing is, I think it will help to surround yourself with people who are really positive and loving. We all have a tendency to gloss over the positive (when someone is saying good things to you, you’re kind of like ‘yeah, yeah, okay’), but when someone is being critical, you internalize it, you take it to heart, and it’s those voices that start to comprise that negative loop in your head. Another book I highly recommend on dealing with that negative self talk, the tape, the endless loop, is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I highly, highly recommend that book. It will completely change your outlook on life–or at least it did for me. It really helped with the negative self talk for me. So I highly recommend that. But I think that it’s important to find people in your life who will love and support you, and who think it’s great that you’re writing–and who aren’t going to sort of have those subtle, insidious little criticisms. Root that out, dig it out. You might end up losing friends over it, but if you have true friendships, these true friends will be completely supportive of you in your work, your purpose, your mission. So I think it’s really, really, really important to surround yourself with people who love you and will support and encourage you.

The third tip that I have is to recognize that your early efforts will not be any good. It takes a load of pressure off yourself to say, “you know what? I’m going to sit down and write a page of nonsense, and I’m totally fine with that.” My early efforts were nothing that I would show to anyone–maybe now, to show you how far I’ve come. But we all have to make a beginning, as I said at the beginning. We all have to start somewhere. So if you can kind of beat your inner critic to the punch by saying, “you know what? I’m totally fine with writing a page of garbage,” your inner critic is going to be [shocked and taken aback]. Like, what do I say now? I have another book to recommend, which I happen to have with me right now: Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. I’ve already bookmarked the chapter on “Shitty First Drafts.” I highly, highly, highly recommend this book, especially the chapter on shitty first drafts. You will take the pressure off yourself, you will kick your inner critic to the curb by beating him to the punch (or her).

The last thing I have for you is patience–patience and perseverance. This is a process. It’s not going to happen overnight where one day all of this negative self talk, and you wake up in the morning and it’s gone. Obviously this is going to take awhile, and the more chill you can be while you’re dealing with that voice, the quicker it will go away. And as I said, I don’t hear it anymore, thanks to Eckhart Tolle especially. But even before that, about my work–that’s not to say that I don’t hear the “inner editor,” but there’s a world of difference between the inner critic and the inner editor. Because I can read what I’ve written and objectively, impassively say to myself, I think I can do better than this. It’s a completely different voice. It’s very calm, matter of fact, it’s not trying to get a rise out of you or provoke a negative reaction in you. Again, this is something you can work through by reading The Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle has a lot of great things to say about the ego and how it feeds off of our negativity. You get yourself caught in this endless loop of misery, basically, and life is short. Don’t be miserable. Do whatever you need to do to be happy and to feel joy and to get out of your own way, and sit down and do it.

So I hope that these tips have been helpful. If you have any kind of reaction, any suggestions, any questions–maybe there’s something more specific you’d like me to talk about with regard to the inner critic–please feel free to leave me a comment or an email. Thank you very much for watching!

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(All Flashwrite episodes here.)

2 Comments to Flashwrite #4: So Long, Inner Critic

  1. ait.mzm's Gravatar ait.mzm
    October 30, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I just got caught up with my blogs and lo and behold, I find that you are now vlogging! Yippee!!!
    More and more people will experience the wisdom you so generously share with us. Good luck with this and am looking forward to the next episodes!
    Hope you and your family were safe during the hurricane!

  2. crazyliberalkate's Gravatar crazyliberalkate
    November 5, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    These suggestion seem to apply not only to moving past your inner critic, but also to getting past procrastination. I always find the latter to me be my downfall. I don’t want to start because if it can’t be perfect, then I don’t want to try at all or it just seems so overwhelming. Do you have any additional suggestions for dealing with procrastination?

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.