Meeting the Critic
Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs – Christopher Hampton
For most of my life, my writing consisted of technical reports and proposals. In a world of engineers and engineering managers with marginal writing skills, I was like a Shakespeare, not exactly above criticism but confident enough to brush it off. It wasn’t until I began classes in Fiction Writing and joined several critique groups that I experienced real criticism … and discovered how my own Inner Critic would sit quietly ignoring praise then join in with the Bad Guys. The criticism was hardest to take when it was something I already knew or suspected because, like most of us, my Inner Critic loved to be right. Think about that statement … like most of us. My Inner Critic is part of me, yet he felt like an entirely separate entity looking over my shoulder. Except, as Marelisa Fabrega says in a post titled Four Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic, The inner critic is always lurking in the shadows of your mind, ready to make an unwelcome appearance whenever you get the urge to create. It knows just how to push your buttons, too. Of course, it has an unfair advantage, since it’s privy to your innermost thoughts. Yes, indeed.
Years ago, my sister spent some time in an ashram, learning to teach Yoga. She came home with the ugliest cloth doll I had ever seen. She told me it represented her dark side and that in the interests of being an integrated person, she was supposed to keep it nearby until she learned to embrace her own dark side. That’s a good metaphor for dealing with my Inner Critic. He is part of me, for Pete’s sake … why should he be happy when someone else is right about the flaws of my work? I think the answer is habit. In our society, we are not taught to be integrated people. We are taught that we have a Conscience that tells our Baser Instincts what’s right and wrong. We are taught science and religion but never the twain shall meet. We absorb criticism of parents and teachers and institutions, making it out own, giving our Inner Critic the power to be the boss.
I don’t believe it’s in my power … or even my best interests … to silence my Inner Critic. If I am to be a writer, I need the old SOB, dammit. I just need him stop being an SOB and be part of Team Older Eyes My Inner Critic needs to be re-educated. First, he needs to be MY Inner Critic, not he voice of my Mother, my church or mean old Miss Montgomery who gave my short story a C in 8th grade. That takes some digging around in the past, the sort of digging that Julia Cameron suggests in the first three chapters of The Artist’s Way. Establishing a new relationship with a part of myself that’s used to being the boss is much easier if he doesn’t think he’s my Dad. It sounds a bit schizophrenic, but I need to teach my Inner Critic that, while his input is valued, he can’t beat me over the head with it. That’s not his job. It helps to establish Critic Free Zones where I can write without the “help” of my critic … he needs to get used to it and so do I. That’s why I’m such a fan of Morning Pages and journalling. Over the three years of frequent posting here, my Inner Critic has learned to be a mostly silent partner. Right now I’m working on a first draft of Something. I seem to be having more success getting the Inner Critic to let the words flow freely, though he’s always worrying in the background – Can you really do this without me? The answer is, of course, Absolutely not. But this is not the time or place. For now, he’s happy being needed and willing to wait. We’ll see how long that lasts.
How do you deal with your Inner Critic?