Outrunning Your Inner Critic in Writing and also in Life

I am teaching an online class for Story Circle Network right now called, “Crafting Flash Writing.” One of the key components of the class is to encourage my students to outrun their inner critic by writing as fast as they can. I tell them to set a timer and let those fingers fly. No need to worry about paragraphing or misspelled words or even if the story is in the right order. Those are all concerns once whatever they’re writing – a story, an essay, a poem, a memoir piece, or a non-fiction piece – is on the page. As Ray Bradbury famously said, “Throw up in your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”

You may also find that inner critic busy in your regular life. You know who I mean. That voice that tells you that you’re too old to consider whatever plan you were hatching or that you are just not smart enough to take a course that could help your career or that doing something crazy like going on an extended trip with your spouse to discover the parts of the U.S. you’ve always wanted to see is pure foolishness. After all, who do you think you are to be thinking things like this?

That question reveals the motivation of your inner critic. Don’t take chances. Don’t step out of your comfort zone. For God’s sake, don’t do something that falls into the dream category. After all, what if you fail? What if you get hurt? What if that dream lets you down?

Your critic is not trying to thwart your progress but rather is doing his/her best to protect you from perceived harm. Your critic whispers, “Best not to try at all than to find out that you really are too old or not smart enough or just too ordinary to reach those goals you’ve set for yourself. Better to aim low so you won’t be let down in the end.”

Once you understand that your critic is only trying to protect you from hurt and disappointment, then you can approach that voice in a way to calm the fear. I do that by saying, “It’s okay. Don’t be so worried. I’m strong enough to handle it if things don’t turn out exactly as I hoped. I can at least say I tried and did my best.” I have found that these words quell the fears of my inner critic, especially if I add, “Let me try. I will be okay, I promise.”

I can almost feel my critic’s shoulders relax and hear her deep breath as she scurries back into her cozy spot in my head where she rests until my next “scary” idea.

But those conversations come after I have my words on the page or after I have started whatever “crazy” plan I might have that includes risks. In order to overcome inertia, I have to run, run, run, as fast as I can, knowing my critic is hot on my heels with her reprimand.

Try it. You’ll see that it works. And your life will open up in ways you could have never expected as new people, experiences, and opportunities appear along the way.

After all, it’s on the journey where you have all the fun. The destination may even change before it’s over.

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