Saturday, January 31, 2009

Take Your Inner Critic Out to Lunch--and Stick Him with the Check

inner critic, the--a voice that repeats and repeats in the writer's ear,"You can do this better;" an interior conviction that a particular work under way is doomed because of its inanity; a self-inflicted editorial wound; setting the first-draft bar high enough to guarantee failure.

The inner critic's most powerful hold is on the ego of the writer, reminding the writer of all the truly gifted storytellers the writer must outperform in order to be noticed in the first place. The inner critic's second most severe hold is with the incessant warning that one must not proceed until all the previous work done on a project is in absolutely glowing condition, resonating access, success, and pellucid clarity of artistic intent.

Simply put, the inner critic thinks too much, is allowed too much critical leeway, and all the while insisting on his desire to make the work as perfect as possible, managing to render the work beyond completion. Whatever the work wants to be, haiku, short story, trilogy-level novels, the most effective means of heeding its call is to get it down on paper or screen as quickly and expeditiously as possible, comforted all the while with the notion that it can and will be revised. The most effective way to reach that point is through the expedient of turning off the thought process, comforted all the while with the notion that you are building your individual muscle memory for reaching as far as possible without thinking, then being called back into the creative velocity of capturing the essence of the project, from which comes subsequent drafts bringing the work into yet sharper focus, followed by a fiercely protected revision strategy, which does involve thought, creative thought.

Somewhere out on the myriad urban myths web pages is the trope of "real" writers, "natural" writers being distinguished from amateurs and wannabes by the fact of their being able to "get" a work down pat by the first draft, a few crossed-out words, perhaps, but not many. These literary elect are not plagued by inner critics because they already know the worth of their project and simply do not require inner critics, were in fact born without them.

Thus did inner-critic-less Mark Twain approach the end of his mortality with the belief that his best work was a biography of Joan of Arc; thus also did Twain frequently stop work on his most remarkable and honest work of all, Huckleberry Finn, losing several battles with his inner critic until the work was finally finished.

To get the better of the inner critic, listen to the tone of the inner voice that prompts a particular work, then carefully note that tone, whether humor, tragedy, romance, adventure or irony. The next step is to set forth with the goal of defining to yourself what that particular emotional compass means to you. In speaking of the difference between lightning and the lightning bug , Mark Twain made an effective comparison between the right word and the almost right word. Similarly, the difference between defining the intended tone of a work of your own and the close enough tone is the difference between locking out the inner critic or inviting him in with the sure knowledge that he will steal the silverware.


Kevin Kidney said...

I'm a visual artist (and a writer, too) and I find my inner critic often "thinks too much" and actually hinders my progress when I am starting a new illustration or other art piece. I think anyone who strives for originality and perfection in a creative endeavor can find themselves "losing the battle" with the inner critic. It's one of my constant challenges.

Thanks for your insight. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog!

Querulous Squirrel said...

I am surrounded by such a lovely silence when the inner critic is asleep. As far as tone goes, I've been looking back at some of my old work from previous blogs, and there is almost nothing that seems "right," but simply "close enough." I think at that time I was still writing to the Inner Critic, looking for her vindictive approval, rather than simply listening to me.

Anonymous said...

The silverware was taken long ago. Then the candlesticks. Next I'm sure it will be the heirlooms and jewelry.