Writing Past the Internal Critic

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My studio window is open. It is a gorgeous day. Sun. Blue sky. Sweet warm air. My bamboo chimes are moving with the wind, sounding between the calls of robins and chickadees and songbirds I can’t identify but whose voices I love.

Perfect weather. Or maybe not. My internal writing weather, up until this moment, was all ice, frozen way below zero.

In other words, for the last two hours I have not been practising the art of creativity. I have been practising the art of procrastination, and doing it well.

As a direct result, I have renewed a studio rule for myself. First write the blog post.  Then, and only then, turn on the laptop and play in the email and the internet.

I already knew this. If I turn on my laptop before I write, I am lost. My email inbox and the internet in general are a wonderful and devious distraction. Even as I play in them, I know what I am doing—putting off the writing.

Why? I love writing. Totally true. I am not a writer who prefers having written. I am a writer who prefers being in the action of writing, being in the energy and process of creating. Having written is fun and satisfying, but being in writing is where the whole of me sings. I am in love when I am writing. Joyful. Playing. It is work, yes, my work, and it fills me when I am in the midst of it. Work that is play.

So why the two hours of mucking around on my laptop and putting off the writing?

Most of what I have been doing the last four weeks has been needed and necessary, but most of it has not been writing. I am out of practice is the simplest way of saying it. When I get out of practice, my internal critic attempts a coup to stop me ever writing (or creating) again.

She is sneaky, my internal critic. This morning she got me to turn on my laptop to do some essential research. Ha ha. There should be quotation marks around the word essential.

She is a know-it-all, opinionated and bossy. She used to be able to stop me in my tracks, keep me away from the page and from the easel. Now she only manages to occasionally slow me down for a couple of hours. My love of creating is stronger than any fears she can throw in my way.

Over the years of creating, I have found ways to distract and weaken my internal critic. Here are two that work well for me.

One:  I write before I write or draw. Yes, really. I do morning pages. They are Julia Cameron’s invention. Three pages, written by hand, before I move into my drawing or writing. Morning pages let me get the stuff out of my system. Stuff being worries, fears, whining, to-do lists, things to remember, things I’d rather forget, projects I’m working on, problems I’m solving, new ideas coming in, successes, joys, angers, sorrows. Morning pages weaken my internal critic because she relies on using my stuff against me.

Morning pages let me take my emotional and creative temperature. I see where I am right now, and from here I can move into creating. And the physical act of writing with pen, paper, and words slips me into my creative energy.

Two:  I have found a method of distracting my internal critic. I listen to audios. When I am drawing, I listen to Natalie Goldberg reading from one of her books. When I am writing, I listen to music that inspires me. The playlist changes depending on my mood. Sometimes, like today, I open my studio window and listen to the birds and the wind and my bamboo chimes. All that sound gives my internal critic something to do.

I’ll add a third internal-critic-busting method. This one comes from Natalie Goldberg’s writing practice method. If my internal critic is really noisy and interfering, I let her have her say. I get pen and paper and write down exactly what she is saying to me. The activity burns up the critic energy, and when the words are on paper in front of me, I can see how ridiculous and mean-spirited they are. They lose their power to frighten me and stop my creativity. I crumple them up and toss them away.

And now here I am, one hour later. Draft written. Internal critic nowhere to be seen or heard. My internal weather has shifted, the cold spell has thawed, and my creativity is flowing again.


In this post:

Julia Cameron and morning pages, book The Artist’s Way, Tarcher-Putman, 1992, pages 9 -18, http://juliacameronlive.com/

Natalie Goldberg and writing practice, book Writing Down The Bones, Shambhala, 2005 edition, pages 8 – 10, http://nataliegoldberg.com/



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