For the first time ever, I’m reaching my daily NaNoWriMo word count goal. People, I might actually hit 50,000 this year! I’m generating forward momentum on a long-term fiction project. And I’m overcoming the excuse I’ve used for years to justify my artistic laziness. Namely, “You can’t do this right now. You don’t have time. It’s better to just wait until life settles down.” Yeah, it’s all super groovy.
So why don’t I feel better about my progress?
Instead of celebrating, I spend an inordinate amount of time telling myself that I’m doing a crappy job, that I’m not living up to my potential, and that I’m “not a real writer.” Part of this cruel self-talk comes from my hyper-critical Type A personality. And part of it may be gendered. (Read this article, “The Confidence Gap,” for some further thoughts on that score.) But part of it, I think, is also just par for the course of being a struggling creative person.
Once again, Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) offers some insight that I find painfully familiar. She writes, “There is a recognizable ebb and flow to the process of recovering our creative selves. As we gain strength, so will some of the attacks of self-doubt.” Um, yes. Unfortunately, that’s it exactly.
Here’s a little sample of how my mental dialogue has run for the past 21 days:
Kate: Wow! I’ve gone from never writing to working consistently every day. That’s a huge win!
Inner Critic (snorts derisively): Huge? A huge pile of crap, maybe. Can you really call it “working” if you’re not actually producing anything worth reading?
Kate: Hey, quality comes later. For now, I’m just happy to be keeping pace with the NaNoWriMo word count challenge. I’m probably going to write 50,000 words this year.
Inner Critic: That’s because you’re cheating. You’ve got multiple projects going simultaneously and you’re also counting some of that brain puke you have no intention of ever trying to publish. You shouldn’t count worthless words! And remember, all of your words are worthless! So not only are you a bad writer, but you’re also a fundamentally dishonest person.
Kate: That’s not fair. I have tons of integrity! There’s nothing wrong with making headway on several pieces. And that “brain puke” is an integral part of my process, so it counts.
Inner Critic: No it doesn’t. Also, you don’t count. Nobody wants to hear what you have to say. You should just stop. Stop now.
Kate: I can’t stop. I’ve got four chapters done on the first draft of my novel. And I actually know where I’m going next with it!
Inner Critic: Who cares? This is not the novel you planned to write.
Kate: So what? I’m writing.
Inner Critic: Yeah, but this novel is just a fluff piece. The work you’re doing is totally pointless, and in such politically charged times you should really be investing your abilities in a more altruistic project. Be an activist, why don’t you?
Kate: Good idea! Maybe I’ll tackle something like that next!
Inner Critic: No, no, no. You can’t. You’re not qualified to have a political opinion, and whatever you produce will be horrible.
Kate: But what if it’s not? What if it’s actually good?
Inner Critic: If it is good, it doesn’t matter. Nobody will read it anyway.
(And so on, ad infinitum…)
* * * * *
Does this sound familiar to anyone else? For your sake, I hope not! But for my sake, I hope I’m not revealing some special brand of individual insanity here.
The thing that makes my inner critic so tough is that she’s always evolving. So it’s no surprise that I’m still learning how to deal with her. In the past, I’ve just desperately tried to ignore her… and in doing so, I’ve given that self-doubting voice way more power than it deserves. Now that I’m listening, and I’m noticing a pattern. My inner critic wants to shut me up. Why? She will say anything to stop me. Why is this sour, vocal part of me so afraid?
Suddenly, this all got a whole lot more interesting.
Clearly, I’ve got a lot to think about. And while navel-gazing my inner critic to death is so tempting, I can’t indulge right now. I’ve got words to write, no matter how crappy they may be. Yes, that’s what I’m going to do this November, and that’s how I’m going to win: I will write no matter what, and I will reach 50,000.
Pep talk me, fellow NaNos. How do you deal with your inner critic?