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.
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.
|What happened?||What’s the Critic saying to you? |
What is it trying to make you think or believe?
|Your feelings as the Critic talks||Looking at the Critic’s assertions more carefully and disputing them||Checking in to see how you feel.|
|Received a rejection slip||I 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, worthless||What 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...|
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!
Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD writes fantasy, scifi, and nonfiction. She loves helping writers "get their psych right" in their stories, and her book on the same topic, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior is now available for pre-order. Learn more about the book at the WGTP website or ask your own psychology and fiction question here.