Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Inner Critic

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.

Please share!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Does this stuff ever happen to anyone else????

By Julie Wright

I sent off several queries to agents for a new national book I have. This is a good thing. It's great to write books, but if those books never leave your computer and venture out in the world on their own, what good are they?

So I did the practice-what-you-preach thing and sent off my queries. That night, my website got jacked by some actress in LA. Her website is pink. I am not exactly a pink kind of human being. I respect all those who love pink and respectfully decline to join them. I threw a fit at my poor webmaster. He promised me he would get it fixed.

I awoke the next morning to an acupuncturist on my website. At least it wasn't pink. I worried about it a little, thinking about those queries I'd sent off and wondering if agents genuinely looked at the websites listed amongst the author information.

"Nah!" I told myself. Agents are busy and the chances of one actually going to my site were slimmer than the jeans I wore as a teenager.

Or not.

I got an email later that afternoon that began with, "I liked your query and went to look at your other publications. They look adorable." The heavens opened and the angels sang. As I kept reading, that singing I was hearing turned to raucous laughter. The agent had gone to my site and then got "stuck" there due to the neat-o flaws of my website's hosting servers. In this modern day of scams, spam, and viruses, and since the agent's computer shares a network with everyone in the agency, the agent felt a little apprehensive.

It seemed like an elaborate hoax to the agent and they weren't all that appreciative. And the email that began with praise ended with a scolding.

I screamed enough my voice went hoarse. I wrote the agent back the most insane email I've ever written. And I hit send. Yeah.

Seriously am I cursed? Does this sort of thing ever happen to anyone else? I totally don't blame the agent for feeling irritated. I certainly felt irritation! I wanted to weep. So I did what I always do in a crisis of literary nature. I called Josi. She laughed and helped me to see the humor. Another author to share such misery is a vital thing. While I lamented to my dear friend (whose book, Her Good Name, is simply a must read) another email popped up on my screen from the agent.

It was a very friendly, upbeat letter of understanding and commiseration over my internet woes. It was also a request for the full manuscript. And also a request for the manuscript to be sent snail mail . . . just in case. That last request struck me as really funny and made me like this agent as a human being, whether they take me into their agency or not, I will always have good things to say about them.

The moral of this story:

  • Never include anything in your query letter that you don't want your agent or editor seeing. If you include a website, your website needs to be active and professional. Granted, my situation was a result of bad timing and psychosis, but it's good to know they actually do pay attention to what information you include.
  • Agents are people too, with worries and a sense of humor.
  • Get yourself a good writer buddy. A phone call with a writer buddy is better than a pound of chocolate, cheaper than therapy, and more effective than drinking.
  • Even after four published books, *those* days still happen.

Warning: I do NOT suggest this as a way to woo agents.

Happy Writing My Friends!