Starving the critic
Catching up on some of the blogs I haven’t read since the knee surgery, I’ve just come across Kris Rusch’s April 17 post on silencing the critical voice. That’s a topic of perennial interest to me, because I’ve spent a lot of energy wrestling with the critical voice in my own head – as, I suspect, have most of us. Oops, I don’t mean you guys are wrestling with my personal critical voice, I mean most of us have that embedded critic and have to deal with our own voices. Sorry. I’m still taking occasional pain medications, to the detriment of clarity in thought and writing.
Kris talks about envisioning the Critic as that annoying person at a party, the one you walk away from as soon as you recognize that you’ve bumped up against one of those unhappy souls whose mission in life is to suck the joy and passion out of everything and everyone. I’d never thought of imagining my Critic as a real person; it’s an interesting idea. I may try that some time.
However, I’ve never been very good at simply silencing the Critic. I’ve found that a slightly different approach works better for me.
If I try to silence her, she shrieks louder. If I get drawn into argument, my attempts at rebuttal only give her energy. I used to waste a ton of perfectly good blank notebook pages by scrawling out attempts to rebut the Critic, and the more I argued, the worse I felt. She could out-debate me any time.
Lately, I don’t try to silence her. Instead, I let her say whatever she feels like. I even write it down. I just don’t give her any new material.
C: “This opening chapter sucks.”
Me (scribbling): “Ok.”
C: “You don’t have anything to say, that’s the problem.”
C: “Real literature has a Message. A bunch of people getting into trouble and out again isn’t a story, it’s just words on paper.”
C: “Furthermore, the protagonist is an idiot, her problem is trivial, and the whole concept of the book is deeply flawed.”
C: “You have a lot of nerve, calling yourself a writer! You should… you should…”
Me: “Ah, would there be anything else?”
I can’t always do this; it’s way too easy to get sucked into debating the Critic. And even when I remember just to write down her statements, I can’t always walk away from them without a debate starting in my head. But when it does work, it’s surprising how quickly the unopposed Critic runs out of things to say. It turns a miserable interaction into a gratifying one, and usually gives me the energy for a prolonged writing session. And it almost always works better than sticking my fingers in my ears and chanting, “La la la, I can’t hear you.”
How are the rest of you dealing with the Critic these days? Any favorite tips, tricks, techniques?