One thing I love to do is to catch up with other writers and chat with them about their process, any hurdles and how they see their way forward. Recently I caught up with a friend who has taken on a mammoth job of writing his memoir. It’s a tough task as there can be loads of emotional baggage in there, as well as the invisible but powerful critical voice.
He’d just returned from a trip away to a place of major significance for his story and I wanted to know where he was up to. During our chat, I could see there were two huge things standing out: a strong internalised critical voice hanging over him, and a lack of deadlines. It was great to be able to pass on tips that I have picked up from other wonderful writers and I could see him visibly sit up taller and feel more confident with the task ahead.
We all have them. They lurk in the shadows waiting for our most vulnerable moment, then they sneak up behind us and whisper something like, Are you sure you want to say that? Is that the best thing to write? Are you qualified to write this? Then the real kicker, Why are you writing this?
Ouch. It hurts every time, and it can stop you from creating something beautiful. Rationally you know that these comments may or may not actually be said, but it is like an old sound bite that is stuck in your head, and it can be very strong—and not useful when in the middle of creative work. Sometimes it means that you pare back your writing to be something with less feeling, less colour, less life. Other times it can completely paralyse your writing.
So how can you deal with this pesky and paralysing voice?
The best advice I have been given, and now give to others, is to write as though no one is ever going to read your work. This sounds easy, but can be hard to put in practice.
One way of doing this is to ask the critical voice to leave the room, that they are welcome when you are at the editing stage. I know a writer who has given the negative and encouraging voices names, let’s say Tom (negative) and Nina (positive). When Tom is yapping away being critical when she is trying to write, she tells Tom to leave and then she only has Nina to encourage her.
Another is to think about that famous quote (that I have no idea where it originated) of ‘Dance like nobody is watching’ and change it to ‘Write like nobody is reading’. Free yourself up to write whatever it is that you need to. Turn your editing voice off, turn the critical voice off, and allow your praising voice to encourage you. This is particularly important with first draft words. Those critical editing voices are very useful when you are at the next stage. Invite them back in once that first draft is done.
How do you deal with that pesky critical voice? Do you make the most of it when you need to? I’d love to hear from you about what techniques you use.