Sunday, March 30, 2014

Silencing the internal critic

I read somewhere that it's important to listen to the creative muse rather than the internal critic when you are writing stories from your life. Makes sense, doesn't it?

The internal critic sounds very much like the critical parent who reminds you that you are childish instead of childlike, that you're messy when you color outside the lines instead of wildly creative, that you need to tone it down instead of loudly laughing from your belly and shouting from the rooftop.

Yes, we all have strong internal critics who tell us that we have no stories that are worth hearing. That our lives are commonplace. But isn't that often the very reason for sharing them? After all, "American Graffiti" (1973) grossed over $200 million with the coming of age story that my generation shares, no matter what part of the nation we're from. I often wonder where young people gather nowadays. They don't seem to be hanging out at the Dairy Queen or driving in droves up and down Main Street. Someone told me they find a vacant, fallow field in the country and circle their cars and trucks with lights shining on the center where the beer is iced down. I have no idea if this is true or just something they tell curious old women. Guess I'll have to wait until they share their coming of age stories on down the line.

It's important to keep that internal critic from shutting you down and silencing your ability to tell your life story. If your critic is very vocal and very intimidating, you might draw a picture of him or her. I've done that for myself and I've had students do it as well. We spend an hour drawing the critic. Sometimes the result is a picture of two very large eyes watching and criticizing our pen's every move. Sometimes the result is a stern red-haired devil woman ready to smack us for revealing family secrets. Sometimes the result is enormous newspaper headlines to tell the world we're imposters--nobodies trying to be somebodies instead of staying in the shadows where we belong. Just so you know: all of these critics are LIARS. By drawing them, they "come to life" rather than being that unnamed negative force in our heads. We take the time to give them form, and then we turn them to the wall while we write. It's a ritual that seems to work for many of us.

What does your internal critic look like?