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How do you muzzle your inner critic? You know, the big sister of the internal editor that sits on your shoulder when you write?

The one who tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, deserving enough to achieve your dream. She tells you what you write is worthless, wonders why you’re wasting your time, prods you to eat cookie dough instead.

My Tuesday post about jettisoning negative people in your life brought about a discussion of our own negative internal voice and how to overcome it.

According to time-management guru Brian Tracy in his book Eat that Frog!, “Fully 95 percent of your emotions, positive or negative, are determined by how you talk to yourself on a minute-to-minute basis.”

So, maybe we should figure out how to talk to ourselves in a way that is supportive, huh?

It’s harder than it sounds. Thoughts enter our heads constantly, and half of the time we’re hardly aware of them. But we feel the results. We can be our self-esteem’s worst enemy, far tougher than anyone around us would be.

One of my blog readers named her internal critic Myrtle. I like that because once you’ve separated her from yourself, you can kick her ass.

For me, the first step is to pay attention to what I think. The second step is to rephrase harmful thoughts. Instead of, “this sucks,” I might say, “I’m sure this could be better, but I can fix it later.”

Then I keep writing.

Another method I like is based on neurolinguistic programming (NLP), something Tony Robbins is fond of in his seminars. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott recommends you take all the voices that scream at you and shove those “people” into a jar. Close the lid.

Add a volume control to the jar. Turn it up so you can hear the yells and mockery, then turn it all the way down. Get back to writing.

When distracting thoughts or images—say my latest agent rejection, or worry over my latest plotline—won’t leave me alone, I imagine them on a chalkboard in my mind, then I visualize wiping the board clean.

Other variations on this are giving the voice a funny pitch so it can no longer be taken seriously, balling up the thought and tossing it away, or dimming the image’s color and shrinking it before moving it to a far away corner of our mind.

I think part of the success of these strategies is that they give us a sense of control over the voice of doubt.

David Morrell, in his book The Successful Novelist, talks about asking his students why they want to write, and digging deeper and deeper until they get beyond the superficial reasons like money, fame, and the “writer’s lifestyle”.

When your inner critic is certain you should quit wasting your time on the worthless trash you call a manuscript, ask yourself how you would feel if you quit writing.

Would you be okay with it?

Would you be devastated?

Think about why you started writing, and why you still torture yourself with it. If you can’t imagine your life without writing, tell that hateful beeyotch to sit back and shut up.

And finally, know that no matter how much you think your writing sucks now, it doesn’t matter. Anne Lamott proposes “shitty first drafts”. If you know the first attempt is going to be bad, then you can just go with it and let the words flow without fear, because, hey, it’s supposed to be crap, right?

Instead of focusing on quality, which you have limited control over, focus on quantity. Set word count and time goals. The more goals you complete, the higher your self-esteem, and the better you’ll feel about your writing. The beauty will happen in the revisions.

Like Nora Roberts once said, “You can fix a bad page; you can’t fix a blank one.”

Take that, Myrtle!

How do you silence your inner critic?

Photo credit: SURPRISED © Yanik Chauvin |

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  1. Curtis


    Well, give me just a minute. Norma and I picked up some of those Hershey’s miniatures earlier and now I have chocolate all over the space bar. Let me fix that first.

  2. Reply

    Wow, did you hear my inner critic this morning? She was all over me. I don’t know how I’m shutting her up, but I do. Occasionally.

    My biggest issue is the fear that I just can’t keep all the balls in the air. The family, the day job, the writing…it’s all right there and the inner critic is just waiting for me to screw it up. Maybe I should call her the inner cynic?

    Great post.

    • Reply

      Oh no, Jeannie. Tell her to back off!

      I know how stressful it is to deal with all of your competing priorities. Sometimes one of them has to slide, and it’s usually my writing. Except during NaNo when I tell the kids they won’t see me until December. 😉

      Have you ever tried scheduling everything on a calendar? It sounds ridiculous to pencil in your time with kids, writing time, work outs, etc… But it might help you see where you have a bit of time to fit things in.

      I once worked in a semiconductor plant with a guy who was writing a SciFi trilogy. He took his laptop everywhere and worked on that story every spare minute. Lunch breaks, downtime behind the huge machines he maintained, the ten minutes before he had to report to the floor…

      At the time I thought he was nuts. Now looking back, I can relate. Good luck getting it figured out Jeannie, and thanks for stopping by!

  3. Reply

    Great post! We’ve all been there. One of my writing teachers used to say, You have to get your mother off your shoulder. I think of that often, particularly when I’m writing sex scenes and I hear my mom scolding from some dark interior place in my brain.

    I’ve always loved Anne Lamott’s take on the whole thing, including the concept of KFKD radio screaming in your head.

    I’ve gotten a lot of (great) feedback the last couple of weeks, all of which I know will make my first two books better, but I do find it makes writing the third harder because my inner critic is active and awake.

    • Reply

      Thanks, serenabellbooks! My second year of writing–after I’d read all the craft books I could get my hands on, taken online classes, attended chapter meetings, found a CP, and entered a few contests–I hardly produced anything. I was paralyzed by everything I had learned, determined to do it right from the beginning. It was only recently that I’ve been able to push that worry aside and focus on getting the first draft down.

      My new mantra: I can fix it later.

      I have little stickers on my laptop: Write messy. Write like no one will read it. Life is short…write the book!

      I hope you can figure out how to get your inner critic to sleep while you write!

  4. Curtis



    Norma and I ate that whole bag of chocolate.

    My inner critic is somewhat schizophrenic. Sometimes, well no a lot of the time, it is the voice of procrastination.

    At other times it is a voice of practicality gone sour. The dialogue goes something like this.
    ” So, where are you going to publish this?
    ” I don’t know.”
    ” So, why write it?”

    The critic falls silent the second I write anything any old way. I can start with any kind of a line. ” This is going to be a no good very bad day. But, Frank thought otherwise. He with hands the size of hams grabbed a log and planned it, plained it or, heck who cares, write and look ti up later. I forget “right” and just write.

    By then my imagination is pointed in a productive direction

    My inner critic is transformed into my productive self when I actually engage the work.

    • Reply

      I was wondering if you got distracted by the chocolate, Curtis. 😉 I think your advice fits nicely with my own findings. When I just get to writing without worrying about perfection, I can keep the critic at bay. Either that or I’m too busy to notice her harping!

      • Curtis


        Excellent guest post today also. I really enjoy how your voice, and pace match the subject matter of your material. The inner critic and nay-sayer material had the sound, feel and sentence structure and therefore the tone of that kind of shadow material.

        Your guest post was “spoken” in your bright and breezy voice with the sentence structure that matches fun upbeat material. Think of how, without “voice” your guest post could have wound up sounding like a report.

        I’m going to take a wild guess. This can’t be taught. And, I’m thinking it should really serve you well with your fiction.

        That guest post is worthy of a submission to Writers Digest, The Writer, etc. Think about it.

        You know me. I’m a charter member of the ” roses while they live club.” When something works for someone I feel compelled to tell them. We live pounded on enough as it is. Occasionally, we get it right and need to know it.

        • Reply

          Thanks so much, Curtis. You always know how to make my day. 🙂

          I love that “roses while they live”. I used to tell my bosses when they did a good job because I figured the folks in charge rarely get good feedback. Maybe this is some good karma catching up with me.

          • Curtis


            While I’m thinking about it, I’m working through Laura Griffin’s Untraceable. Is that your genre?

            So far she has taught me that writers like to write parts of a book and don’t like to write others. She really doesn’t care for exposition. 🙂

  5. Reply

    Curtis: Laura Griffin does write in my subgenre (romantic suspense), though she tends to focus more on serial killer/stalker type villains and law enforcement/procedural investigations than I do.

    So far in my books, even if the hero (or heroine) has a law enforcement or military background he’s been acting as a civilian.

    Anyway, we’re often taught to limit exposition to avoid information dump and keep the story questions going. Also, to speed the pacing. I’d have to go back and reread UNTRACEABLE to see what you mean though.

    And for full disclosure, I enjoy Laura’s books and consider her a friend. We even went jogging in NYC during the National conference. 😉 But I’ll be curious to get your take on RS. Would love to have you read Suzanne Brockmann or Cindy Gerard to get a better feel for what I’m shooting for…

  6. Curtis


    I started to abstract my statement. But, decided it would sound so bizarre that I took the risk of being missunderstood.

    Lord knows this is hard enough for folks without having some goofball ” throwing off”, ( that’s a southern phrase I have learned since moving to GA.) on the nice lady. And, besides, She is the one cashing the checks while I’m the student. 🙂

    I’m thinking the trap with exposition, since it can be written from the head minus real story energy is that it can end up sounding / feeling like a report more than a story. I think that’s one reason why exposition can seem so flat and one dimensional.

    On the other hand, if you have Untraceable handy flip to page 63.
    ( I’ve got the pocket book edition) Ms Griffin has the coolest way of saying, ” O.K reader you’re about to get some back story straight fact right now.

    Here is how I think she did it.
    She finishes with some snappy dialogue between the H and H.
    Then with a commentary of only two words, she begins the transition into Alex’s back-story.

    ” More interesting than what she ( Alex ) said, was all the stuff she left out. ( Is that not cool? Do you think the reader might want to know what she left out?) Nathan had looked into her background– not that he’d ever tell her that. ——- (wonder what comes next?)

    At that point Ms Griffin starts nailing the facts up one after the other. Ms Griffin uses , “she’s”, “she” or ” “she’d” to introduce every single fact. Result. The passage moves like a high speed train on a rail.

    The transition out of the back story was cool too. But, I don’t want to over stay my welcome here. 🙂

    Norma and I will run by the bookstore tomorrow and check on some Suzanne Brockmann and Cindy Gerard material.

    Y’all have a good weekend.

    • Reply

      Okay, we were out of town overnight, but I took a look. I think she does a nice job injecting the facts there without going on too long. That’s a great example.

      And even if you have a negative criticism, I don’t mind if you share it here. I always learn from you and enjoy the things you share. I just wanted you to know what you were getting into. 😉

      • Curtis


        Norma’s Mom got sick. We didn’t make it to the bookstore. Nothing serious. But, at 81 we didn’t plan on her freelancing her own medication. She is so funny though. The second she started feeling better she asked Norma if two or three chocolate chip cookies would hurt her.

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