I’m gearing up to undertake the National November Novel Writing (NaNoWriMo) challenge. That has me thinking of the specter I will deal with as I churn out my 1500-2000 words/day—the Inner Critic.
There’s an abundance of articles out there written about dealing with the Inner Critic. Too many to read, but I’m sure all full of good general advice.
For me, I am convinced self-compassion is key to silencing this intrusive presence. We need to learn to care for ourselves, because believe it or not, the Inner Critic doesn’t believe we’re up to the task. It sees itself as the guardian of our well-being, the protector of our self-interests, especially when we undertake something it deems crazy or unconventional that pushes against the boundaries of our comfort zone, like nurturing our creativity and believing in ourselves.
The Inner Critic wants us to be perfect so others will approve of us. It instills in us a fear of the consequences of our creative endeavors, never mentioning the rewards feeding our creativity holds for us. It’s too risky, and the Inner Critic assures us we’re just not built to take risks. Yet we take a greater risk with our overall health when we deny who we are, dismiss our dreams and stay mired in situations only meant to be stepping stones on the journey toward our souls’ calling.
Allowing ourselves to grow and experience the pain of that growth is part of self-compassion. I always think of the caterpillar as it encloses itself into its cocoon. It has no other choice but to answer the call to enter this secret and solitary place. This is where its old self will dissolve before solidifying again into the winged beauty that was always its destiny. The lucky creature has no Inner Critic insisting it was always meant to crawl around as a caterpillar and never flutter among the summer flowers as a butterfly.
Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. Erich Fromm
Our Inner Critic, our protector?
The Inner Critic wants to spare us the pain of this metamorphosis. It doesn’t believe we have the chutzpah to undergo any radical life changes, the strength to embrace what we were born to be or the endurance to pursue our true calling. It demands we appreciate its duty to protect us from the “danger” of our destiny.
I have an uneasy truce with my Inner Critic. I’ve tried to run from it, but wherever I ran, there it was waiting, wagging its finger and reciting the list of my shortcomings as proof I will never be where I want to be or what I aspire to become—a storyteller. Now I accept its presence, acknowledge it, then I write anyway. I let it drone on as I write through it, around it, over it, under it, determined not to stop for it. The more I press on with the creative process, the deeper into the creative zone I can get, the more its voice takes on the adult garble of a Charlie Brown cartoon.
Don’t wait for perfection
An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. Edwin Land
I also get a lot of satisfaction thumbing my nose at it by doing the opposite of whatever it advises. For example, I like to take pictures. When I am hiking my eyes are always roving over the landscape for unusual rock formations, color and light patterns. I’ll snap a picture of whatever snags my interest. Many times this means ignoring The Voice that loves to sigh and sniff, “Really, you think that’s a good picture, hon? Who on earth but you would think that?” That’s my cue to snap, snap, snap. It’s led to some interesting photos I would have lost if I had listened to the Inner Critic and kept my cellphone in my pocket. In indulging my photography interest, I’ve learned the Inner Critic considers no time as the right time to do anything creative.
Don’t wait for the perfect moment or the perfect story. Just begin. The Inner Critic applauds when we procrastinate. The more we put things off, the more things stay the same and the less likely we are to undertake the creative project that once energized us with possibility. We’re also more apt to become a believer in the narrative we can’t do it because we were never meant do it. “Those sort of accomplishments are intended for other people anyway,” our Inner Critic assures us.
Ignore its advice and start your creative journey!
And don’t forget our creative ally
The Inner Critic is persistent. Show it the door, and it will crawl back through a window to continue its desperate backtalk. Remember, our self-confidence is a threat to its existence.
However, I have an ally. We all do. It’s called the Inner Guide, the positive side of the creative force. Some may refer to it as creative intuition. If we listen to this objective and wise voice, we can counteract the damage of the Inner Critic’s negative narrative. The Inner Guide will step in and fact check the propaganda being hurled at us by the Inner Critic. It is ready to offer us the truth of who we are now and who we can be if we believe in ourselves. It supports us.
The Inner Guide’s other job is to keep us centered and on our life’s path. If we wander or become distracted, this is the voice that will serve as the focal point to finding our way back to our life’s purpose. It will grab the compass from the Inner Critic and toss it back to us. Sometimes its calm guidance gets drowned out by the Inner Critic’s loud whining, but it’s always there if we learn to listen to what’s beyond the negativity. The more we listen to it, the more recognizable and stronger it becomes.
Right now the Inner Guide is telling me a caterpillar can’t ignore its destiny and neither can I.
Sue MacRae is a writer of eclectic fiction, a genealogy researcher, lover of Scottish Gaelic and the Hebrides.