When I was a child, I somehow developed the idea that there was an angel sitting on my right shoulder and a devil sitting on my left. The angel whispered sweet words of encouragement, telling me what a wonderful child I was and cheering me on to do the right thing. The devil on the other hand prompted me to do all sorts of wicked things and told me that I was pretty worthless. Somewhere along the line, I managed to temper the devil—and the angel seemed to have fallen from her perch to a fate unknown. I finally figured out the other day, that that very devil had morphed into my Inner Critic and that this devil is at her best at certain points in my writing process.
When I put my fingers to the keyboard for a brand new story, this is what I hear: You don't know what you're doing. You can't write. I don't even know why you bother. What a dumb story concept. My usual tactic is to ignore the beast. If I have enough of an idea and can type fast and furiously enough, I can drown out the criticism and move on, but that doesn't always work.
I really start to have difficulty when her generalizations fail to stop me and Inner Critic counters with the nitpicky tactic of casting aspersions on my individual sentences. What a crappy way to say that. You don't even know how to string three words together and come up with something that's grammatically correct. Don't you know anything about punctuation? It's discomforting, distracting and downright rude!
When I was a child, I developed a ritual for taking care of the slewfoot on my shoulder. I'd just curl my finger, flick her off and walk away. Having grown up with increasingly advanced technology, I've progressed to switching her off with an imaginary remote. Click! All gone. Now, where was I?
I'm working on the second book in a series, and this little maligner thinks I'll fall for remarks like Book One was just a fluke. You have no second story. All those people that read the first one and liked it are going to be really disappointed. In an attempt to get me to sit up and take notice, worse words fly into my head: Wait till your beta readers get a load of this. They'll tell you how bad it is. Inner Critic is now trying to involve other people in her wily schemes, and these are people that don't even know she exists. Click! Buh-bye.
Once the polish is on the apple, so to speak, and the manuscript has gone to a potential editor or publisher, Inner Critic really starts to warm up. Into that deafening silence of waiting, she whispers things about not hearing from anyone because it really is a worthless piece of drivel. At that point, she resorts to the generalizations again. You don't have what it takes to be a writer. You aren't capable of writing an engaging story. It's more difficult to pick up that imaginary remote then. I start to wonder what happened to the encouraging angel that used to sit on my shoulder when I was a kid.
Little Angel Lost?
Did I accidentally finger flick the wrong side one day and lose her completely? How come the devil found her way back after being clicked and flicked, but the angel was lost forever?
Or was she? Could that be her whispering in my ear as I type furiously, filled with inspiration, when I hear this is a great story idea or that's the cleverest piece of dialog you've ever written? Maybe she was never lost at all. Somehow, I've become convinced that the fiendish voice I call the Inner Critic is something separate from myself, but when I hear the Inner Enthusiast, I think it's just silly me talking to myself. Now, where's that remote? I want to tune her in and pay attention to what she's saying!
Not long ago, Writer's Digest Magazine (Your Assignment 193) posed the following situation: At a book signing for your own book, someone comes up to you and hands you a copy to sign. You're surprised to see them. Who is it and what is the conversation that follows?
The Your Assignment exercise is a jogger to get you writing. There's a 75-word limit, and the winners always have a clever twist to the question posed.
Here's my offering:
"I told you you'd never amount to anything," she said.
"And yet, here I am."
"You can't spell."
"I used spell-check."
"You can't write."
"Yet, you hold my published work in your hand."
"A fluke. You're not creative."
"And yet I'm working on a sequel."
She shoves my book at me.
"To whom shall I make this out?"
"You know who. Your inner critic."
I smile and sign: "To my Inner Critic from The Winner."
©2006 Anna Furtado — Author of The Heart's Desire
Book One of The Briarcrest Chronicles
Finalist—Golden Crown Literary Society "Goldie" Awards 2005
Distributed by: Starcrossed Productions (www.scp-inc.biz)
Web site: http://www.annafurtado.com