On Wednesday, I arrived home from work with determination in my heart. I connected to my email account and a reminder pinged into my inbox. I expected it, I’d thought about it during the day, I wondered if this might be the right Wednesday. I opened up the email and I froze at the sight of five prompt words.
I told myself to keep it simple – pick one word or write a short poem, make it silly so when it’s bad it won’t matter. I can learn from writing badly, I can’t learn from not writing. Other voices intrude with ‘If you can’t include ALL the prompts you’re not a real writer’, ‘why bother when you can’t craft an award winning novella overnight?’ and ‘all your ideas are utter trite’. I tried thinking over the top of it and mentally plugged my fingers into my ears to trill ‘lalalalalalala’.
My determination waned. ‘Maybe next Wednesday…’
This attempt got me thinking again about this link my friend Sinéad sent me last week. It references the work of Anne Lamott (I’m sorry that I don’t have the primary source), and she speaks of how she turns down the volume on her evil inner critic. Anne’s critical voices are certainly familiar to me and while I could identify with the words the imagery she applied to them was her own. My inner critics have different personalities and different faces.
Different faces. Up until reading Anne’s comments, my inner critics were faceless and I’ve always dealt with them by avoidance. They’re like the playground bully surrounded by its minions sitting on my favourite swing or waiting for me at the school gate. I’d walk the long way. I’d give up using the swing. Anything to avoid the confrontation. I’ve never looked my evil inner critics in the eye.
Maybe confrontation is in order. I need to stand beside them and notice they’re shorter than I remember. I need to hear all the rude, awful and insulting things they have to say so I can laugh with indifference. Maybe it’s high time I metaphorically kicked them in the shins.
My antagonists are as follows:
GuilteDum and QuittleDee
The twins. They play off each other, one making you feel guilty about not writing, the other reinforcing why you shouldn’t. They are heavy set, eight foot tall and carry baseball bats to claim taxes on the words you haven’t written. GuilteDum says, ‘You’re not writing, you’re not writing, you’re not writing’. QuittleDee choruses, ‘You’re not writing because you’re incapable’, ‘Give up, leave it! You don’t have it in you to write, so why waste your time?’, ‘Why write today, when you can write tomorrow?’
Vampiresque figure, lanky with his hands clutched at his chest. He favours the shadows and speaks in hushed rasping tones. He creates doubt in the cruellest places of your heart. ‘You know they’re lying, don’t you?’, ‘They don’t mean it, your writing is actually awful and they’re just saying those other things to spare you from the truth’.
The shonky builder, dark angry eyes, ill-fitting jeans and unruly hair (Why this? *shrugs* No idea). He undermines all past successes – ‘That thing you wrote yesterday? Complete fluke’, ‘There is no chance you could do that again’, ‘Those certificates you have, obtained by chance’, ‘Give up, you’ve peaked already!’.
Thin, stern looking woman carrying a ruler to wack you over the knuckles if you put a word wrong. Often she’s just plain insulting, ‘Stupid idea! Ridiculous! You have no hope of ever writing with ideas like that’, but occasionally she speaks a useful and helpful truth, ‘Urgh! Well that sentence isn’t working’. It’s just a shame she has to be so patronising.
What do your evil inner critics look like? Ask yourself – is your inner critic constructive or destructive? And if they’re destructive, shrink them like Alice in Wonderland and put them in a jar. They are good for nothing.