Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kicking My Inner Critic to the Curb

The inner critic is an unwanted house guest in any writer’s mind. He was never formally invited, he leaves a mess in every room, and he’s a real asshole too.

But even though we wish he would take a hint and leave, he’s always there. I’ve heard as much from accomplished writers of novels, screenplays, and TV series. He never leaves – you just learn to ignore him and his asshole ways.

My inner critic began an extended stay last month. As he kicked over tables and spilled red wine on the carpet, I wrote a TV pilot. I did most of my work at The Writer’s Junction, commiserating with my colleagues about how hard writing can be and how annoyed we are when non-writers knowingly or un-knowingly belittle what we do. “Just make those changes – how hard could it be?” or “I’m not a writer, but I’m telling you exactly what’s wrong with it, so I’m practically writing it for you.”

We laughed about how much we hate those people because they don’t understand how hard this is for us. Writing is hard. Experience makes it flow faster and with less pain, but it’s always hard. And I took pride in that. In the fact that I was struggling with the rest of them.

Meanwhile, I wrote and agonized and procrastinated and crammed. I finished revisions, going into notes sessions thinking, “This is terrible writing. Who am I kidding? I don’t know how to do this.” I was drowning and I didn’t even know it.

Then my friends came to the rescue. With a vengeance.

One friend was pointing out elements she liked in a TV script by an award-winning writer, and I said miserably, “There’s a reason she’s Oscar-nominated and I’m not.”

“That has nothing to do with it,” she replied instantly. “You’re just as talented.”

I was telling another friend about how much I hated the first draft I delivered to the studios because I was not a good writer, and he practically yelled at me.

“You are a good writer! Get those other words out of your vocabulary right now!”

That’s when I realized that I’d (foolishly) been listening to my inner critic. Listening, believing, and internalizing. Crap.

Because yes, all writers are bonded by this sense of struggle over the frequent dissatisfaction with our work, but we also share an undaunted spirit to keep pushing forward – keep the pen moving because a better paragraph is just around the corner. And those other writers at The Writer’s Junction – they don’t believe their inner critic’s bullshit. They know they’re good and they keep writing. It might bring them down for a moment, but that’s it.

Me? I had given my inner critic the master bedroom, made him a roast chicken, and was feeding it to him as he fed me a heap of lies – all before I could realize what was happening.

So I’m kicking him out of my mental house. Again. Knowing this won’t be the last time I have to deal with his shenanigans.

Because I am a good writer. And more importantly, every word I write makes me an even better writer. I’m struggling with the gap between my creative taste and my skill, but as Ira Glass wisely advocates, I’m going to keep pushing through.

Sorry, inner critic. There’s a lovely Marriott right around the corner. This is my house.

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