This week my therapist reminded me of an amazing technique I have used in the past when dealing with anxiety. Anxiety and the Inner Critic are the same, or at least they come from the same place of fear. She suggested I use it to overcome my current writing blockages.
Here’s how to works.
First, realize that voice that pops into your head that makes you feel anxious or keeps you from writing is coming from a place of concern. It’s easy to think of it as an adversary because it does get in the way of doing what you love. But making you miserable is not its motivation. It actually thinks it’s doing you a solid, crazy as that sounds.
The problem is that it is operating under flawed logic. It thinks if it can keep you from doing certain activities that have the possibility of unpleasantness, no matter how insignificant, and regardless of the gains, it is keeping you safe. For example, when you feel social anxiety as you’re getting ready to enjoy a night with friends it panics and thinks of all the negative, embarrassing things that could happen if you step out of your door. It throws all these negative thoughts at you to keep you safe at home. The same is true for writing. When you sit down to write, and your brain spins out a hundred reasons you shouldn’t be writing (you don’t have enough experience or a good enough idea, you need a better pen, or you need to alphabetize your pantry first) it’s trying to keep you from going down what it perceives as an uncomfortable path. There’s the possibility it won’t turn out the way you want it to or that someone might not like it. And while these are disappointing prospects, they aren’t the worst things that could happen, and the rewards far outweigh the risks.
Instead of fighting your Inner Critic, kill it with kindness. When those messages appear in your head, take a moment to acknowledge that voice. Say, “Hey, Inner Critic (or whatever name you assign it). I appreciate your input because I know you care about me and want to keep me safe, but I promise I’ll be okay. I really love writing, and it makes me happy, so I’m willing to give this a try despite the risks. If I need you, I’ll call you back, but in the meantime, I’ve got this under control. So you can sit back, have a cookie and a warm blanket, and enjoy the ride with me.”
It works so well because rather than having to spend precious energy fighting you can take the path of least resistance and accept the messages for what they are - misguided attempts at keeping you safe.
Maybe some of you enjoy the adrenaline rush of kicking your Inner Critic’s butt. And some days that pumps me up for writing but most days it just gets me down. I fight so many negative messages that have been put into my head over the years it’s just such a relief to have a safe place where I don’t have to fight. And why not make writing that safe place? Writing is hard, but it’s also thrilling. Why else do we do it? If writing was 100% unpleasant drudgery than no one would ever do it. Writing is fun. There are plenty of aspects about writing that isn’t as much fun, but that first draft should be nothing but fun. Terry Pratchett says, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Isn’t that a wonderful approach? Negative self-talk only puts a damper on what should be an enjoyable experience.
Use whatever method that works best for you to bring your Inner Critic to heel. Whether you treat it with kid-gloves or send it away to another room like an unruly toddler. Writing is your time to do what you love so why not make it as easy for yourself as you can.
Good luck, Writers!