Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Living with your inner critic

You know that voice inside you? The one that says, "This is no good. You're never going to get it right. You may as well give up." Mine is strong and mean and persistent. It beats me up, and it also uses logic ("Does the world really NEED another book? You know who needs you? Your kids!"). And it doesn't just bug me while I write. As I've been training for this marathon, it's started in while I'm running. "You're never going to make it. You may as well stop. You're probably about to injure yourself. C'mon, slow down."

I hate it. I used to try to ignore it, or to get rid of it. But lately I've stopped.

I went for a run in LA with the amazing Sara Lewis Holmes, and we got to talking about the voice, both in running and in writing. Here's what we realized: it never goes away. You can win 15 National Book Awards and a Pulitzer, you can run 95 ultramarathons, you can be the most accomplished anything in the world. But the voice will still be there. Every time it gets hard, it will be there, feeding on your insecurity and trying to convince you to quit.

And then Sara said the wisest thing. She said maybe you have to learn to live with it, to say, "Oh, hello. I recognize you," and then to go on.

Earlier this week, I went running with Tink. She rides her bike alongside me and it's usually great. But this run, she was cranky. She started whining at the farthest away point and she screamed and kvetched at me for two miles. She was making me CRAZY. But the more I talked calmly back and kept running, the more ridiculous she got ("I am going to DIIIIIIIE!"). I could laugh at her. And of course, we made it. Now, when I am running and the voice starts in, I just pretend it's Tink kvetching. And I go on.

I am about to start a new book, and I know soon thereafter the voice will start. But I'm not going to ignore it. I'm going to say, "Oh, hello. I recognize you." Because I am less nice than Sara, I will probably add "You stupid voice."

And then I will go back to writing.


cath c said...

good for you!

and yes, it is always there. i like to think in some way it spurs we writers to always make it just a wee bit better.

and then i tell it to shut up.

Anne M Leone said...

This is a really wise post, Jacqui. Not hoping the voice will go away, but actually learning how to cope with it.

I once took a meditation class where our instructor told us that distraction is like a bus. It will come, it will drive right up, but you don't have to get on.

I tend to think about that now, both about the negative voice and distraction. The bus will come, but I don't have to get on.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing this.

I'm going to recognize my inner voice and then tell it if it's not going to help me, then hit the road, LOL.

J. Thorp said...

Wise, yes, and timely. Thanks, Coach. I came to a parallel realization while reading Madeliene L'Engle's Walking on Water last week: awhile back, my bride realized I've switched jobs roughly every 3 years on the dot (except my current one), and lately I've been increasingly fed up with it! Then something dawned on me ... when the time comes for a transition -- whether forced or otherwise -- I don't like uncertainty -- the WAITING -- and tend to drive hard toward resolution. (I do this when writing, too, as I noted via FB.) I make my job seem as bad as possible -- dwell on the negative -- until I can move on with no regrets...

But I walked away from the L'Engle book thinking that a) finishing this book, and editing it, and being rejected, and writing more -- all of these things are bound to suck bilge-water at some point...

...and b) I need to realize that i've been given a gift and quit dwelling on the bad and trying to find the next big thing...just do the work in front of me and trust that it's gonna (eventually) be Good Work.

I've been writing (more) happily ever since.

debbie said...

Love this post, Jacqui. I think you are right, that the voice never goes away - it just keeps finding new things to bug us about.

You and Sara have the perfect response!

Lilfix said...

Thank you for posting this...I've had those voices for sooo long and I always let them win over...after reading your post...I've decided that I'm not going to let my inner voice speaker louder than me...Thanks...hugs...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post on quietening you inner critic. I find it uninhibited at night when I dream, too. Any suggestions on how to manage the inner critic when we are in a subconscious state?

Jacqui said...

Anne, I thought of meditation too; running serves the same purpose for me and I think it's a good metaphor.

cath, yours must be more encouraging than mine! Mine spurs me to donuts.

Susanne, Lilfix, and debbie, thanks, and good luck living with the meanie.

Thorp, the dwelling on the negative is huge for me too. I am working on changing my thoughts to realizing failure won't be if it stinks; it will be if I ever write it.

SimpleCityLife, sadly, no. My subconscious tortures me terribly at night sometimes. I have never been one of those people who can meditate on a writing problem and then dream a solution.

C.R. Evers said...

Well, if it helps, I was at my local library, all the way in Cary, NC, and they had your book The New Girl and Me on the top shelf display. You're top billing girl. Even states away.

No discouragement allowed!

Jacqui said...

Christy, it does help. You are like my own personal mean voice antidote.

Bradmouth said...

I enjoy fighting with that voice. Kind of like a soap opera.

Or schizophrenia.


Angela said...

Great idea!

What about the two voices?

The one that says "you have to cut all this"

and the other one -usually the next day- that says "what?! You need to add that back in again!"

Glad tink surived!

Jacqui said...

theBrad: arguing aloud, I hope.

Angela, my two voices like that are: one voice of reason demanding cuts and another one desperately clinging to darlings that are funny or well-penned but that have no place in the book.