From the Archives: Muzzling the Inner Critic
Back in the bad old days of the Middle Ages, a device known as the branks, or scold's bridle, was used to torture women deemed to be too loud, too bitchy, or too inclined to cruel gossip. Locked into this hideous, metal gag, the unhappy female couldn't speak without injuring her tongue against the spikes. I'm appalled, of course, but part of me says, "Heeeey, I've got a use for that. Finally, something to shut up the hellborne shrew sometimes known as the inner critic!" You know her. She's the voice that mocks that daring new idea you just had, the one who sneers and rolls her eyes at your last paragraph, the bitch who whispers into you ear the cruelest lines of every rejection, nasty comment, bad review, or taunt you've heard since second grade. Is is any wonder you can't write, with this harpy from hell leaning in over your shoulder? So you have to find some way to silence her to allow you to create. Some writers have tried blunting her sharp tongue with drugs or alcohol. Others whine incessantly. Countless more have given up their dreams (which allows her to sit back in smug satisfaction). But let's discount each of these self-destructive stop-gap measures. One thing that's worked for me is to give the shrew her space - within limits. Every morning, before I get to work, I edit. During this time, I listen to her commentary and winnow out the wisdom (and it's there) from the patently-ridiculous. But the deal is that after that she has to keep her mouth shut when I'm writing. My evening sessions, especially, I consider experimental, a form of brainstorming on paper. And in brainstorming you save all ideas, no matter how bad you suspect they might be. My internal editor might raise an eyebrow now and then, but she's mostly content to bide her time, waiting for the morning, when she will get her due. Once in a while, though, she gets out of control, so I whip out of piece of paper -- this has to be in longhand, since the computer's for "real writing" -- and try to make a list called "Ten Reasons I Can't Do This." Once I've written down each dollop of nastiness, I read the list -- and usually start laughing. On paper, the scold's "reasons" look so stupid, so self-pitying, that its easy to wad up the paper or tear it into confetti and toss it in the trash where it belongs. These are just a couple of my methods. You can find more in two of my favorite writers' resources, The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, and (especially) The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. These may be the most important writing books I own. Certainly, they're the two that I reach for most often -- because self-doubt never really goes away. It is only temporarily muzzled by the writer's act of will. So does anyone else have a great method for silencing the inner critic? It's an arms race here in the trenches, and I'm always looking for new weapons... Or maybe someone has a spare scold's bridle she could lend me.