by Annette Lyon
Everybody has one.
Whether it's the voice of that high school English teacher (a pox on her) who said you couldn't string two sentences together or simply your own insecurities piping up, I'm sure you know what yours sounds like.
The Critic is loud. It's bossy. It's an authority. And we tend to listen to it.
That isn't always a bad thing. At times, you do need to look at your work objectively. Does this scene work? Is this dialogue cheesy? Did I start in the right place? Am I showing so much the story drags? Is this character believable? Without the critic there on your shoulder, these kinds of questions are hard to answer.
On the other hand, there is a definite time and a place for the Critic, and a large portion of the time, he ain't wanted.
For example, imagine you're in the flow of a story, living and breathing the events. You're really there with your characters. Then your Critic creeps out of hiding and whispers four little words, "This is kinda lame."
POP! The creative balloon explodes and you return to reality with a thud.
Was the scene lame? Maybe. Maybe not. There's no way to know when you're in the middle of it. You're way too close to it when it's hot off the press (or not even off it yet!). The passage you're working on could be brilliant, and you'd still think it's lame at this point.
Ignore the Critic. Shove him back into his cave and lock the door. Keep writing. And then tomorrow, unlock the Critic and let him read it with you. At that point, you'll be able to somewhat trust what he has to say, since he's had to tame himself in solitary confinement.
It's important for writers to understand the two ways your brain works and be able to compartmentalize them—to bring out the shy, scared writer child and to lock the Critic in its cave for the duration of a writing session.
And then, yes, to know when that timid artist can go take a rest and it's time to bring out the Critic to take a hard look at what you produced.
Having them both out and active simultaneously can spell trouble. The creative flow will likely be filled with painful bumps and jolts. You'll second-guess yourself, keep going back to smooth out sentences instead of moving the story forward. You'll trash entire sections in the heat of the moment because the Critic is yelling so loudly that you're forced to believe its ranting. The artist side won't have a chance to be heard or listened to.
Most writers have their own pet ways of reining in their Critics. Some do Julia Cameron's morning pages—three hand-written pages of free writing first thing every day, which force the Critic to move over.
Others give the Critic a name, say Morris or Agnes, so they can "talk" to the Critic and tell it to get lost.
Sometimes a physical form, like a stuffed animal, can be helpful so you can physically put the Critic on the desk when it's at work and into the drawer when it's not wanted or needed.
I know writers who put on music to bring out the inner Artist and quiet the Critic.
For others, simply recognizing the fact that they have those two sides warring against one another is enough to tune in to the one voice and ignore the other.
So how do you deal with your inner Critic? What works for you? How do you quiet it when it's not wanted?
How do you manage your dual sides as a writer?
What works for one writer won't necessarily work for all, but the more tricks and tips we have to work around the paralyzing nature of the Critic, the better.