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Addressing the Inner Critic

I am staring at a blank screen. My heartbeat adopts the rhythm of the blinking cursor in front of me. I start to type frantically for a few minutes. I reread my ramblings, pause and then delete the entire paragraph.

This basically sums up the last few months of my life as a „writer“, which is also why calling myself a „writer“ still seems somewhat outrageous. And then again, this is mostly what I do and, to be fair, I’ve at least completed all the pieces I had to write for work and also a paper for school that I had to hand in. But when it comes to the „fun stuff“ (which equals everything without a deadline), the things I want to write just for myself, or the blog, or for whomever, I constantly come up against inner walls and hear the loud voice of my inner critic who tells me that everything I write is completely lacking, so why even try?

Meet my inner critic

This inner critic, who some also call the fraud police, is a shapeshifter and comes in forms completely unexpected. She can be one of my professors, a friend, a co-worker, an author I admire, a family member and she always knows where it hurts most. Now, I wish I could say that I face her bravely every time and continue to write, but the truth is, I usually give up. I then go ahead and delete yet another file, close my laptop and turn to reading a book or watching a series. After about four months of this, I realized that I needed to do something. Anything. This could not go on.

Finding some good company…

But where should I start? I felt completely isolated, confused and disoriented and so I did, what I usually do. I started consulting my friend google and sought out other writers who have similar problems. And it turns out, I am not the only one haunted by her own inadequacies (for some this might be obvious, but for me it was quite a relief, so please bear with me). In fact, even the writers I admire most, have their own inner critic. Maggie Nelson for example writes about her own insecurities in The Argonauts:

„At the same time, every word I write could be read as some kind of defense, or assertion of value, of whatever it is that I am, whatever viewpoint it is that I ostensibly  have to offer, whatever I’ve lived. You know so much about people from the second they open heir mouths. Right away you might know that you might want to keep them out. That’s the part of the horror of speaking, of writing. There is nowhere to hide. When you try to hide, the spectacle can grow grotesque. […]“ – Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Or just listen to this interview by David Foster Wallace in which he reflects on his own difficulties to write belletristic essays:

„But I have this problem of thinking that I haven’t made myself clear or that the argument hasn’t been sufficiently hammered home, so I will make the same argument five, six, seven times and I did the „E Unibus Pluram“ thing, which is an argumentative essay which I did six or seven years ago and I just gave up after that. Because it seems as if to make the argument truly persuasive requires five, six hundred pages and nobody wants to read that.“ – David Foster Wallace

Even Virginia Woolf reflects on the struggle of writing in Orlando: An Biography:

„Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.“ – Virgina Woolf

The rules I needed…

I could go on and on about writer’s who’ve talked about their daily struggles with their own vocation. However, at some point I realized that this knowledge wouldn’t help me unless I would start to address my behavior. That is, I actually needed to stop deleting every sentence I wrote and maybe devote some more time to fixing my habit of giving up. So I decided to make some rules:

1. Write in a notebook.

2. Don’t delete any of your work. Edit. Restructure. Revise. Never delete.

3. Write at least a sentence everyday.

4. Write for yourself and yourself only.

5. Manage your time on social media.

I can’t say that I stick to these one hundred percent of the time. What I can say is that they’ve helped. I guess this post is the best evidence.

2 Comments
  1. grass harp

    November 22, 2017 10:19 am

    I’m happy that your rules help and I hope slowly you will get where you want to get 🙂 Especially the notebook rule is key, I think, because with that you can only cross things out. They will still be there and not completely lost (unless you decide to rip out the whole page). I’m sending some good vibes to your inner critic, hopefully it helps 🙂

    • portablemagicpages

      November 23, 2017 2:10 pm

      Yeah, the notebook rule made the difference. Thanks for spreading some positivity in my little corner of the Internet. It is highly appreciated <3

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