Taming the Critical Voice

Reblogged from Women Write the Rockies

Here you are staring at the white screen of the computer wondering how it could be possible that the vivid, lively, and perfect book in your mind has dried up and blown away in the wind. Or why that beautiful sentence just can’t make its way down the synapses to the muscles of your fingers so you can put it down in ink or captured electrons.

Or perhaps it’s the fear of the second novel. You wrote that first one for a couple of years. OK, may more. You went to critique groups, to conferences, attended workshops. Revised and edited. Submitted to agents and editors. Finally got an offer. Revised again. Revised some more. Corrected galleys. Got books in the mail. Did a signing. Had a party. And now?

They want another book. Within a year. Sometimes six months.

Holy ______ (insert appropriate expletive).

Some writers have a whole queue of books waiting to be written, nudging each other in line, eager to see themselves on the page. These writers take a short break and then start the next one.

I’m not one of them. Yeah, I have ideas, vague notions about the next book or so, but not fully developed plots. I often reject these ideas at first, waiting for something concrete and certain to emerge. I jot down notes, make trial outlines of the inciting incident, the three big surprises, the darkest moment.

“But that’s so commercial,” my literary-trained brain says.

“Shut up,” the writer-self answers.

Sometimes my hesitation comes from my critical side, wanting this next book to be oh, so perfect.

Ages ago, Susan Griffin introduced me to a technique to use for the critical voice that often interferes with the writing process. You know the one. “Nobody will read this.” “This has all been said before.” “People will laugh.” “This is bad.” The one that makes you scratch everything out before you’ve even got a draft.

This critical voice (or literary-trained brain) can help revise a piece, can find the weak spots, or can suggest improvements to a manuscript. But it can’t create one. Only the creative self can do that. Griffin suggested letting these two sides of our psyches talk–or write.

First the creative self writes for five minutes, introducing itself. It can describe itself, tell what it likes to do on Saturday night, confess its secret desires, complain. Whatever.

Usually free writing is the best approach. Write without stopping for five minutes. Don’t stop moving your hand. Let grammar and punctuation and all mechanics fly out the door. If you run out of things to say, write ‘I’m stuck’ over and over until the next idea comes.

Then the other takes a turn. Free write for five minutes, introducing your critical self. Once I did this exercise in graduate school and as it turned out, my critical self could walk down the stacks of the library, touch the spine of any book, and know instantly what was in it. Critical voices are not always in touch with reality.

Then—horrors—they talk to each other. Sometimes they fight. But they must make a deal. Usually that deal is the creative self says, “Leave me alone for a while. I’ll show it to you before it goes public.” Your deal may be different. But this will help the perfectionists out there and those with writer’s block.

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About Theresa Crater

Award-winning author Theresa Crater brings ancient temples, lost civilizations and secret societies back to life in her visionary fiction. In The Star Family, a Gothic mansion holds a secret spiritual group and a 400-year-old ritual that must be completed to save the day. The shadow government search for ancient Atlantean weapons in the fabled Hall of Records in Under the Stone Paw and fight to control ancient crystals sunk beneath the sea in Beneath the Hallowed Hill. Her short stories explore ancient myth brought into the present day. The most recent include “The Judgment of Osiris” and “Bringing the Waters.” Theresa has also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver.
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