There it is again. That voice in your head that tells you your art work is crap, or your writing is appalling or it’s not worth bothering. The inner critic is the same voice that tells you your creative ambitions are too scary and it is best if you stay in your safe little box.
It is the voice that will make you delete the first draft of some writing rather than just getting it down and fixing it later.
It is the voice that makes you scribble over a drawing rather than learning how you could improve it.
It is the voice that tells you that you are not good enough and you never will be.
The inner critic can cripple you
The inner critic can stop you from getting started in your work and it can make you feel wretched even after you have put in lots of effort.
Its job is to protect you from creative risks so that you never get hurt. The problem with that is that creativity is a risky business. You never know how your work will turn out or how it will be received. But that is not a reason not to do it.
Unfortunately, over time the inner critic can hurt you far more than any creative risk gone wrong.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron refers to the inner critic’s role as the censor:
The Censor is part of our leftover survival brain. It was the part in charge of deciding whether it was safe for us to leave the forest and go out into the meadow. Our Censor scans our creative meadow for any dangerous beasties. Any original thought can look pretty dangerous to our Censor.
The only sentences/painting/sculptures/photographs it likes are ones that it has seen many times before. Safe sentences. Not exploratory blurts, squiggles or jottings. Listen to your Censor and it will tell you that everything original is wrong/dangerous/rotten.
Who wouldn’t be blocked if every time you tiptoed into the open somebody (your Censor) made fun of you?
Three ways to defeat the inner critic
1) Develop a good work ethic
The best way to defeat the inner critic is to develop a good work ethic with your creative projects. Creativity is like physical exercise. You have to do it regularly and it is best if you keep to a schedule even on the days you don’t feel like it. Like physical exercise, you’ll always feel better after you have done it and over time you will get stronger and better.
If you were at the gym and someone said that you weren’t running fast enough to make it to the Olympics you would probably find that a bit strange and just carry on. How is this different to the inner critic whispering to you that your writing will never win a Pulitzer prize?
Both are ridiculous statements. Why as a regular gym goer should you be good enough for the Olympics? And why with your writing this morning should it be prize winning material? Isn’t it enough just to be writing or keeping fit?
In the gym analogy such a statement might motivate you to up your pace and see if you can improve. In your creative work, having a routine that you do in spite of the inner critic is one of the best ways to beat it.
I like to write in the mornings. As soon as I get up I do a page of journaling then sit at my computer for between 30 and 45 minutes and either write something new or edit something that I have already written. I do this whether I feel like it or not. Sometimes what I produce is amazing and other times it is utter crap. But either way, I start the day by being true to myself and knowing that today, I have been creative. The inner critic doesn’t feature. What matters is that I create.
2) Keep good feedback
In the past you must have produced something you have been happy with. Maybe you have sold a painting or one of your friends wrote you a lovely note about how much they liked one of your songs.
Sometimes I get emails from people telling me how much they have enjoyed my writing and saying how useful it has been to them.
Keep these snippets of praise and look at them when you are having a bad day. They can prove your inner critic wrong.
3) Give your inner critic a name
Give your inner critic a name. Then when it rears its head you can say something like “oh there goes Desmond again, worrying about failing” or “Oh, it’s just Emmaline worrying about the small pernickety details.”
Julia Cameron calls her inner critic Nigel. In The Artist’s Way At Work she says of him:
He has an upper-crust British accent, and he looks down on the rest of me. Nothing is ever good enough for Nigel.
By naming the inner critic you are acknowledging it is there but you minimise its effect.
You aren’t the only person who is cursed with an inner critic. Everybody has one. The people whose creative work you admire have learned how to create despite their inner critic. So must you.
The world needs you to keep creating. We need to hear, see and experience what you have to say. Don’t let the inner critic rob you and us of this.
Now I’d love to hear from you
What are your tips for dealing with the inner critic? How do you tell it to f**k off and create anyway? Please be brave and leave a comment. You never know, what you say might be just the exact right thing that someone else needs to read.
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Every month I also share the ups and downs of my own creative journey – but only email subscribers get that insider view.