Writing Tip #2

December 16th, 2011

Don’t listen to the voice in your head.

I’m not talking about the one that’s telling you to “go ahead and get that mocha latte with whipped cream on it–you’ve had a rough morning and you deserve it” (although, frankly, it might be a good idea to ignore that one too), I’m talking about the one that keeps up an endlessly negative monologue when you’re trying to write.

I don’t care what age you are, how ambitious you might be, whether you’re writing an essay on How I Spent My Summer Vacation or working on the Great American Novel–odds are good you have a critical voice in your head telling you that the words you’re putting down just aren’t good enough.

I’ve written/published six novels and I still can’t silence the self-doubting monologuist who lives in my brain.  While I’m tip-tapping on my laptop keyboard, I hear a constant drone that goes pretty much like this: “That sounds lame.  Would the character really say that?  You’ve completely dropped the theme of this book.  And what happened to the plot line you were supposed to be developing here–you just ignoring that one?  Stiff, awkward, unrealistic . . .  This sucks.  This really sucks.  You should go back and start again.  Or better yet, just give up and make cookies.”

Mmm.  Cookies.

This voice is, to say the least, distracting.  Worse, it’s disruptive to the creative process.  It can bring you to a crashing halt as you sit at the desk filled with doubt and uncertainty, wondering whether to scrap everything and start over or just start slashing and burning.

The good news is, I’ve figured out to deal with it.  I don’t argue–because that voice is a much better arguer than I am (and, in all honesty, usually has a point–my writing is often sloppy).  I simply ask it to hold off for the moment.  “Just let me keep moving forward,” I say  “That’s all that matters right now.  It doesn’t have to be good yet. I just want to end the day with some pages.  Making those pages good will be my future job.”

Learning to push the criticism away is probably the main reason I’ve been able to write the number of novels I have.  My first priority is to get through a draft.  And I do, because I know I can and will go back later and fix anything I’m not happy with.

The critic inside my head will never completely leave me.  It’s always there, whether I’m writing or looking in a mirror or reviewing my mothering decisions for the day.  But it can be shoved aside and temporarily silenced with”You may have a point, but I don’t feel like listening to it now.”

And nothing matters more if you want to be a writer than actually getting words onto a page.  Nothing.

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