The inner critic can emerge at any stage of the writing process, questioning our writing’s worth, its execution, and our own artistic abilities. Unfettered judgment combines with physical discomfort to form a lethal combination that can hamper the creative process, or worse, convince us not to write at all.
Many of us are aware that in order to thrive in our writing, we have to be able to silence our sharpest judgments. We think “Why can’t I be freer, why can’t the words flow from me, I hate my inner critic!” But is that really true? Do we really think we don’t need the inner voice that calls upon our work to be better? Perhaps, one of the many reasons why the critic’s input is so hard to ignore is that we agree with it and value its input. The inner critic plays an important role in tightening and thoroughly examining how to improve our work. It is the inner critic that dichotomizes the trite idea from the original, identifies and erases repetitiveness, lifelessness, and ambiguity. Without it, we’d do ourselves a disservice by producing work that doesn’t reflect our true potential.
No one who hopes to make a life as a writer needs to kill the inner critic, and punishing oneself for this inner voice is not going to make the problem better. One instead needs to develop the skills necessary to be able to temporarily put the voice aside and invite a second internal voice — let’s call it, the inner creator. The inner creator just wants to get words on the page; to create; to play. And once the inner creator tires out, then we can welcome the inner critic to mine the work for the most valuable material. The two voices work beautifully in tandem, one adding clay to the wheel and one shaping it.
This is a difficult task; the critic will think the creator is stupid, silly, unhelpful, and wasteful (and who, in today’s world, wants to create something that doesn’t provide value.) But that is okay; it’s crucial to give yourself permission to write badly. Expecting excellence from the start and letting our inner critic dominate the conversation is a writing practice that only leads to a strained, energy-draining creative process.
Ignoring the critic for just a little while won’t suddenly destroy your capacity to critique and improve your work. Nor do we think you have to diminish your goals about how good your work can be. The critic doesn’t have to lower its standards, but it needs to know when it’s time for input and when it’s not. Plus, your inner critic will actually do a much better job working with existing material than it will editing every word as it reaches the page. How can we expect our critic to shape the totality of our work if we haven’t even allowed the creator to get all of the basic ideas onto the page? Letting our “bad writing” onto the page essentially provides us with the brain space to process the specific aspects of our ideas and opinions that desperately need communicating.
That said, it’s important to remember that the inner critic’s red pen is directed solely at the words on the page, and not our own artistic abilities. The critic can be quick to dismiss our entire artistic personhood when what’s on the page doesn’t add up to our loftiest hopes. Maybe this is because it’s easier to dismiss ourselves as artists outright than it is to imagine that what we have the ability to create to our highest potential. Dare to imagine that you have the ability to create the work you actually want seen in the world. Improvement is difficult, scary, and rarely resembles our preconceptions – but it is real.
We don’t need to try and become mythic free spirits with no opinions on the quality of what we make. Allowing space for our playful inner creator won’t make us bad writers, either. The best answer is to learn how to make the appropriate space for both. We can remember our artistic ambition without forgetting that the vulnerability of sharing our inner truths and stories is what likely attracted us to writing for the theater in the first place.