It’s the Ides of March, and I’m excited to welcome NATALIE CHARLES – this is her debut post for Romance University!
For years, I didn’t write. Oh, I wanted to. There were lots of stories in my head and in a little writing journal I kept by my bed. It’s just that I could never manage to make those stories perfect. Nothing was ever as clever or compelling as the stuff other people were writing. The dialogue wasn’t witty, the stories were flawed, alternating between being too predictable and too bizarre. Time and again I caught the spark of an idea and rushed to write it all down, only to conclude that what I thought was wonderful was actually complete garbage.
In short, I had an overactive critical voice.
Let me tell introduce you to my old critical voice: he was a nasty, lying bastard who had nothing nice to say, ever. My inner critic had a beer gut and hadn’t showered in three days. He smelled to high heaven but if you suggested he grab some soap and hit the shower, he’d tell you that you’re fat. And you couldn’t tell him to leave, either. He was perfectly comfortable sprawled out on the couch.
It took me years to figure out that my inner critic wasn’t telling me the truth about my writing, or my waistline, or whatever else. See, the thing I realized was that once I gave him an audience, this guy wouldn’t stop talking. If I was excited about a story, he’d tell me how awful it would be if everyone hated that story, and shouldn’t I be doing laundry instead? It was frustrating and ultimately paralyzing, and it continued for years.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you have your own inner critic who tells you that you’re not good enough or you’re never going to reach your potential. Rubbish! I promise you that you have something good, and genuine, and necessary to offer to the world, and if something is driving you to write, then you must write. But how do you deal with that inner critic?
During the years that I was blocked, I read a lot of advice. I tried starting each writing session by recording all the ridiculous things my critic was saying—“Your writing is stupid, you’re stupid,” etc. That may work for some, but it didn’t work for me. I tried writing quickly and not editing while writing. Again, not sustainable for me, personally. I was finally able to see a real change in my critical voice when I changed my state of mind not only in regard to my writing, but in regard to my life.
I practiced compassion.
We are taught to be critical thinkers, and with the Internet, everyone can be a critic on any topic. I humbly submit that this critical muscle is unbalanced in most of us these days and we need compassion to balance us out. Critical thinking is a great thing, but being critical is not.
Why? Because when we are overly critical, we look at something good and wonder why it isn’t perfect—as if perfect exists! When we approach life critically, always seeing the flaws, we forget to look at what is genuinely good. And did you know that there is a part of your brain that does not perceive any difference between yourself and others? When we turn our anger or critical words on others, we literally turn it on ourselves. The flip of this is that when we show others kindness, we experience the benefits of that kindness, too.
And so I’ve consciously changed my attitude towards others. It used to be that I would read something and tear it apart, wondering if I measured up and evaluating technique. Now when I pick up a book to read, I approach it with an expectation of joy rather than a critical eye. I look for the good in what I’m reading and think of the author as a human being, like myself, who struggled with self-doubt as she tried to relay the story in her mind. I like to read books without having expectations so that I know I am reading the story for what it is, and not what I would want it to be. And I don’t formally review books any more. If I love a book, I tell my friends about it or write a glowing recommendation on my Facebook page, but I am personally not able to be both a writer and a critic of books.
This extends to other areas of my life, too. I don’t engage in gossip. I try not to get offended by every little slight. When someone is not being their best self, I remember that I’m often not my best self, either, and aren’t I lucky that my kids and husband still love me on my worst days?
It sounds simple, but I’m telling you that changing my attitude has worked wonders for my writing. If you consistently practice compassion towards others, you get pretty good at being compassionate. Now when I write, I often have the feeling that the story isn’t quite right, but I don’t tell myself that it’s because I’m a lousy writer. I know I’m human and I’ll figure it out eventually. Compassion becomes the default.
Besides, there is something magical about creating mental images with shapes on a page. The act of writing is something that we should celebrate, not dread!
So my inner critic? He’s still there, but he’s cleaned up his act. He gets really active when I have a book release, but he’s not invited to my writing time, and he respects that now. You see, he’s a part of me, too, and I’ve come to understand that he operates from fear. Being compassionate—and therefore less fearful—calms his impulse to signal a red alert every time I approach my laptop. But he knows that he’s going to be my first call when it’s time to edit.
And you know? He’s actually pretty good at edits.
Do you have an over-active inner critic? What techniques have helped you to overcome it?
Mary Jane Morgan joins us on Friday, March 17
Lettie Osbourne has lived her whole life by the book. Sweet, predictable, and certainly not living life on the edge, she’s always been content to make a living as a kindergarten teacher who writes adorable children’s books on the side. After her fiancé leaves her, Lettie decides she is perfectly content to accept her fate as mother to her beloved dog Odin and favorite auntie to her niece and nephew.
But then everything changes.
When Lettie’s publisher decides to sell only erotica, her editor convinces her to turn up the heat and throw some spice into her vanilla life. Lettie sets out to find the perfect man to inspire her writing…and finds him in her school’s vice principal, Eric Clayman. As Lettie and Eric grow closer and her writing gets steamier, she’s left wondering: is Eric Mr. Wrong? Or Mr. Right?