The death of an idea. We’ve all felt it. The initial excitement and endless possibilities that decline into something closer to panic. You’re overwhelmed, full of doubt, and it chips away at this perfect little gem. Sometimes ideas never make it from imagination to page. They stall out, getting stuck somewhere in the endless channels of the mind. Why?
What is your inner critic?
Some say it’s the ego, the part of ourselves that is determined to keep us from succeeding. Maybe it’s the byproduct of years of teachers and bosses whose voices have lingered in our memories and are regurgitated as the critic. She could also be the voice of insecurity and fear. Everyone has a different theory about their critic and maybe everyone’s critic comes from a different place.
Wherever the inner critic comes from, her main purpose is to criticize you. For creative people, the critic is worse. You’re braving a new frontier and that’s scary business. You’re not given a set of instructions the day you decide to write a novel. Endless possibilities come with an endless array of questions and fears. This is why most of us have such a love/hate relationship with our writing.
How do we shut the critic up?
In some ways, the critic is nothing more than a bully. Being a part of you makes this worse. Why would you do that to yourself? Someday there may be an actual critic reviewing your work and they may not be friendly.
Tell your inner critic to go away and leave you alone. You don’t need that and you don’t deserve it. Creating is often a painful, exciting, scary, wonderful experience so give yourself a break. Just showing up and trying is worth a lot more than you think. There’s a delay between when you get an idea and when the critic speaks up. It’s this space that you need to inhabit the entire time you’re creating.
If you’ve read any of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, you’ll know what I’m about to tell you. She recommends putting a face to your critic. Find a picture or draw one that embodies the voice in your head. Then you can draw a big X through it. Keep it close when you’re working. Name it. A disembodied voice, floating through your head is terrifying. You can’t fight what you cannot see. Give it a face and a name and you have something to ignore or tell to go away. You may use stronger language if you so choose. Some critics are more persistent than others.
Do this enough and you’ll be able to keep your critic at bay for longer stretches of time.
What is the difference between an editor and a critic?
An inner critic judges work without trying to fix it. An inner editor offers constructive criticism to improve your work.
Your inner editor will be whatever motivates you the most. She will help you discern the difference between what works and what doesn’t. Think of the editor as instinct and you can and should always trust your instincts, even if they point you in a direction opposite the one everyone else is trying to send you.
So how do we keep from killing an idea?
When ideas are being born, we don’t have any use for either editor or critic. These two stifle the creative process. Remember when you had ideas as a kid? Did you ever once stop and think that it was stupid or worry about whether or not anyone would like it? No. Occasionally, this probably got you into trouble. More often than not though, you would create an entire world and fill it with people and life and customs and never once doubted yourself.
That’s what you need to try to do even as an adult. It’s scary. By now you’ve gotten used to having to think shit through. You need to unlearn that.
There’s no right or wrong when you’re coming up with ideas. Spit out every single thing that pops into your head and don’t dismiss anything. What may seem stupid at first might later be the thing that ties it all together. Right now, you’re just brain storming. This is the fun part. The work will come when you try to take all your brilliant ideas and shape them into a novel.
What If an Idea Just Doesn’t Work?
If you’ve written it all down and it’s still not working, leave it. Keep it in your notebook and maybe someday it will come together.
Now come up with a new idea and another. Keep writing them all down and playing with them. Eventually you’ll come up with one that you can’t put down. You’ll need to find the answers to all your questions so badly that you won’t care if you’re inner critic is trying to get your attention. You won’t care that the answers are hard to find. You’ll keep looking.