The Inner Critic is a constant companion to most writers. Exaggerating faults, making you feel like you shouldn't hold a pen at all. Nagging with each word you write in the back of your mind, giving you doubts. While sometimes, the inner critic can be a help during the second or third drafts of your novel, or even during the editing stage, the inner critic is always a massive detriment to writers when they just need to get the story out of their soul onto paper. So today, we're going to talk about the Inner Critic, and why you need to learn how to work with it properly today.
Why You Need to Eliminate Your Inner Critic on Your First Draft:
1. You will be able to write the story properly. You might be thinking, how will getting rid of my inner critic actually help me write the story better? Well, let's do a run-down on first drafts. The biggest and most important point to stress here is they are not about polish and perfection. First drafts are all about getting the idea from your heart and mind onto the page, about letting your story just flow naturally. The goal is to capture the story. Its essence, the main plot, and the bones of the book. It's definitely not going to be some award-winning manuscript after the first draft--that's why we have the revision and editing stages. But if you allow your inner critic to jump in during the beginning stages of your book, you're going to find your book will barely crawl along and you will lose a lot of the rawness the first draft needs. You'll be able to write a better draft of your book without the inner critic's presence, simply because your words and ideas will be able to get out there without being hampered by critiques and editing. The first stages are all about the story, not the style.
2. It will help you stay motivated to finish the first draft. Have you ever tried writing something with someone looking over your shoulder constantly-- trying to correct you, point out where you're going wrong, or change things? That's what it's like writing with an inner critic. Before long helpful editing changes you might think were great turn into you beating yourself up because you're not "good enough". You can get swamped in all the stuff you have to fix that the details overshadow the story and you start feeling like you'll never get there. When this happens, steam usually runs out and a writer will find themselves looking at a partially finished novel with a lot of overwhelm and very little enthusiasm. Don't let your first wild, exciting idea leave your side as you write, and tell your inner critic there's no room for their kind of negativity right now.
3. In the long run, the book will turn out better. If you write the first draft without an inner critic, let it sit for a week or two (or more) and then return to it with your handy-dandy red pen and your inner critic ready to evaluate fairly. You're going to be able to look at your novel without the brain-fog of attempted perfection hanging over you. It will already be acknowledged this is a flawed draft, and so you will be able to embrace the messiness as you go forward and polish it up. With such an open perspective, you'll be able to catch mistakes much easier. Not only that, but you'll be able to see all the good points of your book much better too! This provides for a more even, fair evaluation of your book, better revising and editing, and so, therefore...a better story. Balance is always key, and there is a place even for the inner critic. So if you do everything in order, you'll find you have a book that is polished and well-written but also grasps the raw magic of the first idea.
That's all wonderful, but perhaps you're wondering now how to do this inner critic elimination? Look no further: Here are five tips to get your inner critic to work with you instead of against you.
1. Recognize that fear, doubts, and critical thoughts are just part of the game. You know what? Everybody deals with this. You're not the first creative who has been hard on themselves, and you won't be the last. So don't be discouraged. Instead, acknowledge these are thoughts and feelings that are going to come up, and then tell yourself they don't dictate how you write. Tell them to take the back seat, and every time you feel self-doubt or something similar start to creep in, remind yourself that even though you feel it, it doesn't make it true, and it's time to keep the focus on your book. Don't be afraid of your inner critic-- just remember you are the one who gets to say when it does and doesn't come forward.
2. Freewrite. If you follow this blog, you've heard us promote freewriting before, but we're going to do it again. If you find you're really struggling to sit down and write without your inner critic getting in the way, then set a timer, pick a prompt, and just do a word dump. It can be incredibly freeing and such exercises always allow your imagination to start flowing better while also silencing your inner critic. This may be partially because of jump-starting yourself into what we like to call "the flow", but I also believe when you consciously permit imperfections as just part of the process, you're banishing your inner critic-- because how can you critique something meant to be messy and flawed on purpose? There are several ways to do the freewriting exercise, and we cover all in this in-depth post!
3. Try some writing challenges. It can be overwhelming once you start reading too many articles or how-to's, but some writing blogs have excellent tips to strengthen your writing with writing exercises to go along with them. One of my favorite websites for this kind of thing is The Write Practice. A recent blog post of theirs with a great writing challenge is all about 5 writing style tips to make your writing stronger. While it is about style, the writing challenge itself is really great to get your words flowing.
4. Use a distraction-free writing app. Sometimes what you need to do is just sit down and write without letting yourself go back and edit anything. If you're a perfectionist, though, you know this can seem almost impossible to do! Say hello to apps specifically designed for this problem. Here are a few we've tried and found useful!
Write or Die: There is a premium (paid) version of this with lots of different settings you can tinker with, but I'm going to focus on the free version. You can adjust by time or word count, then pick out of three different types of "Modes". Stimulus mode plays nice background ambience as you type, but if you stop, the page gradually darkens from white to red and the ambience ends--prompting you to get back to writing. This mode is a gentle way to keep you typing. Consequence mode is similar, only you don't have the background ambience, and when your screen turns red, an alarm goes off until you start typing again. Kamikaze mode is the one with the most at stake--when you stop typing not only does the screen turn red but slowly letters start disappearing from what you've already typed--and continue to disappear until you start typing again. This is one you don't want to stop on because you'll never retrieve those deleted letters.
Freewriter: This website is a great help for people trying to get their words written. Once you set up a free account, you can set a daily word count goal, and then you are taken to your dashboard. There are several modes you can choose from: Stealth writer fades your words so you can't see what you're writing as you type, Chromotherapy is great when you're stuck (it changes the colors of your page to stimulate your brain), Audio feedback mode plays ambiance music as you type, and then there's a mode that locks your backspace key so you can't delete anything but have to keep going. The great thing about Freewriter is you can find what works for you, or even jump between modes as you go. It's a great way to start a habit of a daily word count. They also provide motivational quotes for whenever you need them built into your dashboard, as well as the ability to go full screen.
Draft: This is actually a place where you can save documents as you work on them, and even edit, but for the purpose of this post, we're going to focus on their Hemingway mode in the drafting process. This one is definitely not as intense as the Write or Die modes, so if that stresses you out, you might like Draft. The caveat with this app is once you start writing in the Hemingway mode the delete key is no longer functional until you finish. While this is a lot like one of the modes on Freewriter, Draft is nice because you can choose your draft type (Document, transcription, or presentation), you can import documents if need be, there are stats and analytics you can track of your writing, you can create folders of various projects, and Draft works incredibly well for collaborations. It's also really good for comparing different versions of your drafts over time, and it can be a great tool not only for getting the early drafting stages done but also for editing stages.
Highland 2: If you're a screenwriter, then this one is for you. While it does have in-app purchases, this is an amazing program for getting the words written, screenwriter style. If you've written scripts before, you know how easy it is to get hung up on the formatting-- and this cuts out all of that so you can focus on the story itself.
5. Learn To Embrace the Process: If there's one thing the inner critic does, it's that it likes to steal the joy of the process. The truth is, every part of writing is amazing-- from the messy rough drafts down to the book launch. Your inner critic likes to join you along the whole way, prompting dissatisfaction and disillusion. Don't let that happen. The imperfect first drafts are beautiful, the editing stages are incredible. Think about it: You're creating entire worlds and characters and thoughts out of thin air. You're spinning words into pictures and then polishing it like a fine gemstone. Your inner critic has no place to be telling you that you're failing or you're not good enough, because guess what? It's all a learning process, and if you're willing to grow in your craft and enjoy every moment, then each stage is perfect just the way it is. Embracing the process is essentially telling your inner critic that its voice has no sway on what you do.
So there you have it!
Tell me: what do you do when your inner critic tries to take control?