The Inner Critic Strikes Back


As I've mentioned here before, I regularly do battle with my inner critic. The foul-mouthed, ego-eviscerating harpy won't stay vanquished but simply chews through the scold's bridle I use to silence her for a time and shrieks a chorus of "you-sucks" in my ear.

Well, she's back, clearly sensing a weak moment, with the uncertainty of a new release just around the corner and the painful, full-body slam I've just done against the wall of my latest work in progress. (Invariably, I do this at the 3/4 mark, with a deadline on the horizon. Oddly, the fact that I think every single book is an irredeemable pile of crap at this point in the writing process can't save me from sleepless nights with that damned harpy shrieking in my ear.)

Am I alone in this? I doubt it. I know a lot of authors, count many of them among my best friends, and I can't tell you how many have confided that they fight fear and self-flagellation from time to time. Comes with the territory, I'm afraid. We recognize that in each other and work to pull our buddies through the tough times, just as they do us. (Every writer needs writer buddies for expressly this purpose. Because your family and non-writing friends won't get it. Not really.)

I realize that for unpublished writers, it's a little hard to believe that an experienced novelist has this to deal with. Surely, most believe, the accomplishment of publication is enough to shut down the self-doubt. And what the other externals, positive reviews and contest victories, what about fan e-mails and good sales when they happen?

These serve as temporary balms, but in the end, the doubt is part of you, and in a weird way, it is healthy. For the tamed harpy can be the writer's ally, picking up on a project's flaws, forcing you to look at other possibilities. Unbridled, she'll tear you to shreds, but without her, you risk turning into an inflated ego float in the Parade of Publishing.

So this morning, I'm telling myself to seek the wisdom whispering through the nastiness and blow off all the other b.s. If your harpy's taunts sound stupid if you say them out loud and you suspect that even your staunchest writing allies would roll their eyes and give you the "let's not act like an orphan in the storm" look (thanks, Joni!), you know what you have to do.

Take out that scold's bridle and keep on with your work.

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