One of my 17-year-old daughters sometimes slaps the side of her own head and says, “stupid, stupid.” I don’t think anyone — particularly not one of my kids — should ever call themselves stupid. But I see writers doing it all the time.
As a writer, you’re probably your own harshest critic. By your standards, your writing is never interesting enough. Or persuasive enough. Or well organized enough. In fact, while you’re in the middle of the act of writing a voice inside your head is often saying things like: “My boss is going to go crazy when she sees this press release.” Or, “why would anyone want to read this piece of dreck?” Or, “my clients are going to be so pissed off when they find out which quotes I’ve used.”
Don’t you think it’s time to tell you inner critic to shut up? Here are five tips for quietening that supremely unhelpful voice:
1) Stop thinking about HOW your work is going to turn out and focus instead on WHAT you are writing. Your job as a writer is to write. When you write, write. When you edit, edit. Don’t ever mix up these two entirely separate tasks or you are dooming yourself to remain a slow, pained writer.
2) If, like many people, you have a hard time stopping yourself from editing while you write, resolve to make writing-without-editing your next project. Try turning off your monitor or making the type so small (I suggest 3-point) so you can’t see what you’re writing. Here’s another trick: use a hashtag # whenever you spot something you want to check or fix later. For example: you might put a # right after the name of a source if you need to check the spelling of his name, or her job title. (Feel free to add: “check sp” or “check title” after the #.) I call this type of hashtag a promissory note. By making this promise to your inner critic you should be able to persuade him or her to become silent.
3) Write with a loud timer clicking in the background. This advice initially seemed counterintuitive to me and I always did my pomodoros with a silent digital timer tracking the minutes. Then, I discovered the joy of what a friend of mine likes to call “the wall of sound.” Something about the ticking — it sounds as though a bomb is about to go off — not only serves to remind me that I need to be writing (this keeps me off email and the internet) but it also serves to distract part of my brain so that I simply don’t have the mental RAM for self-criticism. You can find “noisy” timers on the internet or get one from a dollar store.
4) Use Write or Die. This terrific website will force you to write without editing. Really! Simply enter your desired word count, and your self-imposed time limit into the free software and when you stop writing for more than 10 seconds you’ll be “punished” with a screen that changes color and, following that, by a loud, unpleasant noise. This turns writing into a game, which is a great way of silencing your inner critic. (Critics abhor games.)
5) Put an elastic band on your wrist and snap it every time a self-critical thought goes through your head. For a split second you will have left behind worries about your writing and shifted them to the (mild) pain on your wrist. This creates the space for you to refocus on your writing.
Remember, your inner critic will have plenty of time to comment when you begin to edit. And at that point those comments may even be useful. But when you are writing, you inner critic should shut the heck up.
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