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working writer wending her way through the labyrinth that is self-publishing

Saturday, July 19, 2014

the inner critic and what to do about it

We all have an inner critic who whispers in our ear from time to time. But how much criticism do we need to listen to? What is too much and what is not enough?

When I'm writing I try to let go of the critic, at least while I'm working on new material. It's not helpful to the creative process to be constantly second guessing and going over every little detail the moment the words are down on the paper. This stymies and clogs our progress more than anything else.

Think of an idea as a tiny seedling that needs to be nurtured to have it sprout. To yank it out of the ground before it has even formed a diploid is just plain cruel! At least give it water and sunlight and let it grow. See what it turns into. It may be a weed but then again it may be an unexpected exotic flower. Give it the time it needs.

If you have trouble with this watch for these little destructive sentences that form in your mind--this sucks, I can't write, I'll never be able to write, why did I start this? who am I to think someone would like what I write? Why am I sitting here wasting my time? No one will ever read this, ____ can really write, why can't I write like him?...and so on and so on...

For one thing the writing isn't about others, it's about you. Unless we're writing formula we can't know that anyone will like what we've chosen to write about. First and foremost you have to please yourself. Write what you love to write about. Forget the adage to write what you know--to me that's boring. I would much rather explore a topic that I'm interested in even if I know nothing about it. The research is half the fun! Tell your inner critic to take a hike while you're writing. Light a candle and call on your muse.

Save the inner critic for the editing part of the process. Once you've got the words down and you feel like the story has progressed to the point where you can go back and take a look at it without crumpling it up and throwing it away, that's the moment to redo a sentence here and there, to add more clarity or to expand on a topic. If you do it too soon you'll block that seedling from growing, cutting off the supply of water and sun it needs to blossom.

And do not under any circumstances give your work to someone to read before you know where you're going! That is unless you trust this person with your life! We are all our own worst critics. Once the work has grown sufficiently you can cut it back, take branches off, weed it, shaping it into your own creation.

Once the pruning is done you can you hand it off to a reader or an editor and be able to take in what they have to say. But even then you have to keep hold of your original intention. No one else has the right to hack away branches that you think add to the beauty of the plant.

Listen to what others say and take their advice or not. The main thing with editing is to make sure the narrative reads smoothly and isn't confusing and that the grammar and spelling errors have been corrected. How you want the plant to look is ultimately up to you and you alone.

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