Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 16 September 2012

Let’s get rid of self-doubt and learn to ignore our inner critic

Jenny Harper’s blog on procrastination and the reasons writers find for putting off the task of writing got me thinking about the other things which stop us committing our words to the page. One of those – perhaps the greatest of them all – is listening to that most hideous of creatures – our inner critic. You know the one who whispers: “Surely you don’t expect anyone to read this rubbish?”
I was recently at Catriona McPherson’s book launch of Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses, the latest of her crime novels featuring upper-crust sleuth Dandy Gilver. Despite this being the eighth in a hugely successful series, Catriona admitted she never believes the book she is working on is any good. She actually cries, convinced it is truly awful and unpublishable. But, she doesn’t give up on it.
I think maybe some of us are inclined to give up rather than push on with our writing through the bad bits and the boring bits because we have not found the way to ignore our inner critic (until we actually need her when we finally have to tackle the editing of the complete first draft). Or, we listen too closely to the whispering in our ear and start editing before we’ve finished until we have beautifully polished first chapters but have advanced no further. I think it’s why I never enter short story competitions. I listen to the inner critic and never actually finish anything before the deadline.
There must be something in the air about this issue of self doubt and the search for perfection in our writing as a few blogs I’ve read recently have addressed the issue including one on Indies Unlimited. And successful Indie author Lexi Revellian, who has sold well over 50,000 copies of her eBooks, posted some advice on her blog (lexirevellian.blogspot.com) which she copies into her notebook for each WIP. The advice comes in the form of a set of rules from Jerry Cleaver and I am going to try to remember them whenever I think I’m writing rubbish.
  • Creating isn't normal reality. 
  • You will make a mess. 
  • You must write badly first. 
  • Mistakes lead to discovery. 
  • Letting yourself be bad is the best way to become good. 
  • Everything can be fixed. 
  • The less you care, the better you write. 
  • Everything that happens is OK. 
  • Progress is never even. 
  • It will get good again—always. 
  • Keep writing no matter how awful it feels. 

12 comments:

  1. Thanks Mary, I really need that advice. With the chaos of getting older son back off to uni I haven't done any 'proper' writing for a while and I start to think, well, I'm not that good, why bother trying...

    I'll try to remember these rules!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you appreciate the advice, Gill. Maybe you should just sit down and do some 'improper' writing. I mean just write rubbish - as opposed to 50 shades type improper!
      I think I'll print out a giant size copy of the rules and stick them on the wall where I can't fail to see them!

      Delete
  2. I am sure self-doubt must be common to almost all writers. I wish it never plagued me, but do I envy those without that inner critic whicpering? No, at least I don't think so, but I would like to cut my own whisperer down in size. HE's a pest. Thanks Mary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Gwen, we do need an inner critic but not when we are writing the first draft. After that, we certainly do need to have critical help with the editing. Interesting your inner critic is a HE while mine is most definitely a SHE!

      Delete
    2. Ah but it is during my first draft - especially the middle muddle - that my self doubt is worst.

      Delete
    3. Yes, it's during the first draft we have to learn to ignore the nasty whispering in our ear and tell ourselves it doesn't matter if we're writing rubbish because we can fix it later. Keep the Jerry Cleaver rules in front of us.

      Delete
  3. I am not a writer and never could be, I admire your hard work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, LindyLou. I've just had a look at your blog and spent far too long enjoying your superb photography and reading about your life in Italy when I should have been writing.
      And blogging is writing so you are a writer!

      Delete
  4. I love the list, Mary! I'm certainly someone who doubts her own worth. Thankfully, I have a wonderful support group of writers who urge me on. without them (and they definitely include YOU!), I would have given up a long time ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jenny. I wonder if there is the same degree of self doubt in other creative professions - visual artists, sculptors, dancers? I suspect there is and we somehow expect it - but we wouldn't expect it amongst, say, dentists.
      Glad you like the list and hope it proves useful.
      We will not give up! We will write rubbish then we'll turn it into pure gold!

      Delete
  5. Writing a very short piece - like a really bad haiku unworthy of the name, really helped me to understand my writing process. I know that I'll go through huge amounts of angst no matter how long or short the piece so I'm more prepared for it when it happens. Doesn't make it easier, but I'm prepared!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting, Chris. I guess maybe writers just have to grit their teeth and get on with it, dealing with the angst as best they can. I am warming to the idea of allowing myself to write rubbish which can be edited later and improved. Then I can tell the inner critic I KNOW it's rubbish so leave me to get on with it.

      Delete