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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Defeating Your Inner Critic Part II - Put the Critic on the Stand

A Note from Carolyn (Archetype): Today's article is a continuation from yesterday.  It teaches you to use top secret therapy techniques to defeat the Inner Critic, that nasty little voice that tells us our writing is no good and we'll never get published.  Be sure to visit Part I!

All of us have an inner Critic; unfortunately, its voice tends to be particularly strident when we sit down to write. “You’re no good at this,” it says. “Your ideas are stupid. Why would anyone want to read what you wrote anyhow?” Or maybe it waits until you’re actually pounding away at the keys. “That’s not the right word,” it announces. "You’re doing a terrible job of getting what’s in your head on the page. How can you call yourself a writer?”

Yesterday we talked about how the inner Critic undermines our writing, and how to start identifying when it's talking to us.  Today we're going to talk about how to really fight back.
Exercise 2: D-E

After you’ve filled up your A, B, and C columns (see Part I), you’re going to add the D and E columns.
D stands for Dispute.
In the D column, you're going to pull apart the Critic's assertions and dispute them.
The D takes some effort, but it’s worth it; if you’re able to practice, this will become second nature.
Questions to ask yourself as you dispute the Critic’s claims:
What evidence do I have that [what you wrote in the B column] is true?  (Be sure to tackle one Belief at a time, not all of them at once!)
What evidence do I have that [what you wrote in the B column] isn’t true?
Is there another explanation?
What would I tell a friend if she said these things to me?
What would that mean about me if this were true?
What effects are these thoughts (the Critic’s words) having on me?
Is it reasonable for me to be so hard on myself for this?
What would happen if I changed the way I was thinking?
If it’s really a problem, what can I do to make it better? (Should I take a class? Join a writing group? )
Pretend you’ve got your Critic on the stand in a court. How are you going to convince a jury that it’s a liar?

E stands for Evaluate Effects.

In the E column, you're going to check in to see how you feel.

Activating event
Evaluate Effects
What happened?What’s the Critic saying to you?

What is it trying to make you think or believe?
Your feelings as the Critic talksLooking at the Critic’s assertions more carefully and disputing them Checking in to see how you feel.
Example:Example:Example:Example:See below
Received a rejection slipI don’t know why I even bother sending out queries, I always get rejection letters. Obviously I don’t have any talent and I just look stupid to everyone who sees my work. I should just give up and admit I’m no good.Hopeless, depressed, hurt, angry, worthlessWhat evidence do I have that I'm a failure? well, all these rejection letters.

What evidence do I have that I'm not? Well, my friends say they like my stories, and I did win that award back in college...

What if I never got published? Would it kill me? No, but I'd feel bad. I guess I have to focus on how much I enjoy writing...
Well, I bother because I really care about my writing and would like to get published. But I write for myself first, because I enjoy it. As much as I want to get published, it's a process and I'm going through the same thing most writers do--even the ones I admire the most! I just have to keep working to get better. Maybe I could go to that writing conference I heard about...

Secondary Gain

One of the toughest things about Disputation is that it’s much easier (and in a backwards kind of way, a lot more fun) to wallow in self-pity. I genuinely believe that sometimes we need to wallow a little, but put a limit on it. If you take more than a day or two, you're just avoiding the problem.

Also be careful not to take your frustration out on a partner or friend. Wallowing for a little while is fine. Torturing someone else with your wallowing isn’t.


After you’ve put together your Disputation, re-evaluate how you feel. I like clients to take an extra step and re-write the original critical statement into something more balanced and positive. For example, if your original statement was something like “I’m a miserable failure as a writer,” after your disputation you might realize places that’s not true (or that it’s not as bad as you're telling yourself), so you rewrite the thought as “If I never get published, I’ll feel sad, but lots of famous writers got hundreds of rejection slips; what made them special was that they never gave up in spite of that. Even though they sometimes feel personal, they’re not rejections of me or even necessarily true rejections of my work--they’re just telling me that my work isn’t right for that publication right now, not that it’s terrible. I need to keep looking to find my work the right home.”

Whittling the Critic Down to Size

Remember, the Critic has spent a long time teaching you to believe a lot of bad things about yourself and your writing, and it will take time and practice for you to learn new thinking patterns. When you think something over and over, your brain actually aligns molecules in such a way that it’s easier for that thought to occur. The only way you’re going to disconnect that chain of molecules is to refuse to go over and over and over that thought. Instead, you create a new chain that says something more realistic.

You may want to practice these new statements a few times a day. Stick them on the bathroom mirror or over your writing desk. Say them out loud. Tell the Critic.

Remember those old cartoons where a big scary shadow would appear on the wall and the hero would cower in terror, only to have a teeny little mouse come around the corner? That’s what the Critic is like. It casts a big scary shadow, but if you shine some light on it and confront your fears, you’ll find that the Critic itself is just a little pipsqueak.

And now you have the skills you need to handle that pipsqueak!


Anonymous said...

As always, this post is full of great techniques to quiet that nag inside. Thanks Carolyn. You've done it again!!! Great post.

Angela Ackerman said...

Good post.

The best way to defeat negativity is to change the reactive thinking that occurs when something defeating occurs. Instead of seeing a rejection or facing a setback and asking, "Why do I even do this? I'm no good!" change the question to a positive one: "What is good about this?"

There are many good things about a rejection, believe it or not. It shows you had the guts to send out your work. It shows you believed enough in the writing to get it published. It shows you researched to learn the basic steps needed to gain the attention of an editor or agent. You followed through with the query process--that's a big deal. It shows your comitted to the process and to your work.

Another question you can ask yourself is, "If I'm honest with myself, what can I do better next time?" Can you look at your query and know you did your best to polish, target and hook the reader effectively? Are the sample pages you sent as strong as they can be? Was there any point in time when you drafted the query and writing sample and thought, "Oh, it's good enough! I'll just send it out." when really you were just tired of how to make it stronger?

Maybe it can be strengthened further, and this rejection is an opportunity to do so. Maybe you can research a bit more to find the right fit or personalize the letter so the recipient feels a connection with you because you know something about them.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Another thing to remember, especially with writing, is that there is no way to please everybody all the time. My mom doesn't love my writing like I want her to. But I've gotten over that. She at least respects me as a good writer.

This is a great post. I love the end where you talk about the critic being like a small little mouse. Because it really is. No matter what we are facing, we truly can be our own worst enemy.

I love Step D - it is great to challenge and question our own beliefs. We can then reaffirm where we stand and what is truly important and worth fighting over. Lying around in self-pity and giving up on things is a sure-fire way to fail every time.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Wow, what great comments! I always enjoy reading them. :-)

Angela, you're a natural at the Dispute stage! Thanks for the great suggestions.

And Lady G, you make great points about the attitude we need to have when we face the critic!

Suzette Saxton said...

Carolyn, your article is wonderful - not only for writing, but for the ways it applies to everyday life. I know I will refer to it often. Thank you!

Annie said...

Thanks for the articles! I'm making my chart right now. I've been reading a book on depression and repetitive/negative thinking, so I know about the basic steps, but keeping track of the criticisms and how to disarm them will be really helpful!