Silencing the Inner Critic

Katherine Longshore 1 Thursday, March 03, 2011
She is the Nemesis of the keyboard.  The one who makes me a card-carrying member of the First-Draft Haters Club (when I used to be a revision hater).  Call her the Inner Editor.  The Inner Critic.  She needs to be silenced.  Turn down the volume.  Apply duct tape.  And listen to me.

I give you permission to write a terrible first draft.  Unbearable.  Abominable.  Nauseating. 

But here is the caveat:  You have to write it.  You have to write it.  The first draft.  The rough draft.  That original, vomitous outpouring of words.  And you have to write the entire thing.

I’m not saying you have to write it terribly.  Do your best, obviously.  But don’t belabor it.  Don’t agonize over the sentence that doesn’t sit right.  The word that doesn’t come right away.  The character who is wooden. The plot full of holes and loose threads.  You can agonize over all of that later.  During revisions. 

What I’m saying is this:  Don’t let the seemingly execrable quality of the draft paralyze you.  Write it anyway.  The good, the bad and the truly hideous.  Write the plot that you think is going somewhere but reads like it’s going nowhere.  Write the prose that your pet ferret could write better.  Write the dialogue that reads like a B-grade Japanese monster flick.  Badly dubbed.  You can fix it.  Later.

Because that is one of the truly wonderful things about writing.  In so much of life, if you make a chain of terrible errors, you could end up with a major cluster on your hands.  But when you’re writing fiction?  You can fix it.  And you will. 

That character you killed off in chapter two but needs to be in chapter seven?  Resurrect him!  (In the next draft).  The setting that sounds like the two-tone color printing of a Dick and Jane book?  Enrich it.  (In revision). The character arc that’s more of a character slump?  Bring out the flying buttresses.  (Later).

As you write your first draft, remember your revision tools.  But not in order to apply them.  The inner editor has to be turned off in round one.  Remember your tools only to remind yourself that you have them.  That you’ve used them before.  That they will be available when you need them. 

Why am I telling you this?  Why am I reminding you of all the cringe-worthy possibilities a first draft presents?  Because I have committed every single one of these crimes in the past few weeks.  And every day I need to tell myself (or sometimes have someone else tell me) that I’ve been here before.  That the book I sold last year was once a heaping pile, too.  But with time and effort, with revision and continuing creativity, I was able to find the jewels hidden in the muck.  

They are there.  Those jewels.  You know they are.  The one-line zinger your protagonist came out with yesterday.  The delicious description of the love-interest that popped onto the page two weeks ago.  The true kernel of character arc that seeded itself in the first five pages and will continue to carry you through.  Whether you’re an outliner or a pantser.  The seed is there.  It’s why you’re writing.

So follow Donna’s chain.  Draw the skull and crossbones on the calendar like V.  (But please, don’t forget the smiley-faces, because seeing them is more help to you than my permission).  Just turn off the inner critic.  Silence it.  And get on with the writing.  As Talia says, “Don’t be afraid to suck.”

Just send me a message reminding me of this in a couple of weeks.  I’ll probably need it again by then.


That inner critic is a killer.It has kept me from progressive before. But man, that critic is so loud and hard to ignore.

Great advice, though. Writing is hard. We need all the motivation we can get!

Post a Comment

Grid_spot theme adapted by Lia Keyes. Powered by Blogger.


discover what the Muses get up to when they're not Musing

an ever-growing resource for writers

Popular Musings

Your Responses

Fellow Musers