Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Week 2 - The Inner Critic

8 Jan - 14 Jan: Taming the Monsters

All sorts of monsters face the beginner writer (and possibly the experienced one as well).  They may be obvious fears with beady eyes and big teeth, or they may be more subtle and lurk just below the surface, waiting to strike when the budding writer is at his most vulnerable, sitting before the computer screen doubting every word he attempts to write.

One of the most sinister monsters that can stop us even before we start, is that pesky voice inside our head that is the 'inner critic'; that voice that demands perfection; that voice that applies morals; that voice that wants to conform rather than tell the truth. 

I need to remind myself often that I'm not likely to produce a masterpiece first go - who is?  And although morals are important, they must be the morals of the characters, not the writer.  And as far as conforming goes, where's the fun in that?

Here are come suggestions I've read about how to deal with the restrictions we impose on ourselves:

  • write quickly against a clock or to fill a set number of pages (e.g., for five minutes or for two pages);
  • tell yourself that no one else in the world will read this piece, then write;
  • make the conscious decision to lower your standards when beginning on a first draft.  They can be lifted again for subsequent drafts;
  • Lamott refers to the Shitty First Draft, and many famous writers advocate writing a first draft with the door closed and subsequent drafts with the door open;
  • for the outside critics with faces (parent, spouse, siblings, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, therapist), one suggestion was to take the voices from your head, put them in a jar (real or imaginary), listen to all the gripes, then put a lid on the jar, push it away and get on with writing;
  • First write, then worry.

The two exercises this week aim to: a) silence the inner and outer critics long enough to tell a story; and, b) tell a story.

Exercise Three. Write quickly for 5 minutes. Don't stop to think or edit. Start with one of the following openings: "The night...," "My father....," or "Who could have known....?"Go!

Exercise Four. Pick up the nearest newspaper, magazine or photograph. Choose a picture and apply a "what if...." scenario and write a short story. Concentrate on relating the tale rather than on grammar and spelling.

Week 3 will look at simple story ideas.


  1. Great thoughts. That shitty first draft - I've heard that quote of hers, and that's helped lighten the blow when I go back and read some of the crap I thought was so great at the time! A "what the heck was I thinking?" moment.

    For the next week, I'll do the write for five minutes exercise...and will have plenty of toilet paper ready.

    Thanks for passing along the suggestions. It's great to touch base with others who are in the same boat.

  2. You never know, the toilet paper might be useful for the tears.... (If that's the case, keep the roll for 'Honesty' in week 8.)

    If you want to work on the psych side, feel free to post any of your efforts here if you don't want them on your own site. No judgement, no comments (unless requested). Just 'I'm being brave, I'm showing the world.' I used the WD prompts for this. Back when nobody commented, it was like releasing a bird and not knowing if it was shot down or captured as a treasured cage bird. Scary but liberating.

    I love the new structure to your blog. Just my kind of thing.

  3. I thought about doing that...exploring and doing the exercises here. I use WD in the same way. Experimental. Like experimental theater. It got me into writing stuff that I never thought I'd venture into. Great to see what works, and moreso, what doesn't!

    Love the analogy to the bird...shot down or caged and treasured. Wonderful imagery. I'll be brave. But I'm not there just yet. My shitty first drafts are...well...
    REALLY shitty!

    Glad you like the new structure. Yeah, I needed that myself.