Monday, April 16, 2012

Bypassing the Inner Critic

By Susan Garver

I have a long background with left brain activities which means as a writer I am more comfortable editing and rewriting than creating. I have plenty of ideas, but my inner perfectionist tends to revise soon after if not before I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. This inner critic stymies word flow seeking the best and most efficient way to parlay the thoughts in my mind to written prose. I long to type like no one is looking, but I often find other things to do rather than face my all-seeing critic.

I decided to approach this issue from a new angle. If I keep my inner critic busy left-braining my current book, I can secretly work behind her back creating a new masterpiece. I made no mention of a new work to anyone and began scribbling on a blank page in the notebook for my current memoir. With no expectations for the clandestine project, I could let words stream from my brain to the page without anything hindering the flow. Since the project doesn’t officially exist as a item on my agenda, the inner critic has no reason to interfere.

For this project–that doesn’t exist–I set several parameters to aid my success in keeping the inner judge at bay. The first and possibly most important criteria requires I pen the story by hand in a notebook with no side page margins. Once I write something, the only available whitespace is in the forward direction. No room for the critic to cross out and reword or insert changes.

Each day I continue the narrative. A sentence, a paragraph, or several pages–the amount doesn’t matter as long as I increase the total word count. I reread a bit of what I wrote the previous day to keep the story somewhat on a track, but I don’t rewrite or edit anything. I promised myself I would not read what I wrote or transcribe it to electronic format until I finish the book. It’s too easy for my critic to edit and rewrite with a computer; she’s a quick typist.

I don’t recall on which day I started, because keeping track might rouse my censor as she would say I should have written more by this time. For the same reason I eschewed creating an outline. I need to be writing and not thinking. Too much thinking sends an alert to the critic. I have to keep her in the dark. In addition, an outline could function as a measuring stick for progress or lack thereof.

Since this project does not exist, my inner critic reworks the third major draft of the tale of my first nine months living based from my car. I have to keep her busy with something or she might find my secret notebook. My memoir has been my top burner project for nearly two years although it’s not been cooking that entire time. My inner critic decided it should sit for months at a stretch as she plotted and schemed on how each rewrite should be approached. Outer critics also contributed to the idea of rework but my inner critic is such an exacting taskmaster that she sometimes scares me into inaction, more so than an outside critic.

As the number of handwritten pages increases so does my confidence that the more I write in this non-judgmental manner, the easier it will become for me to do so in the future. I hope to reach the point I can ease my hand cramps by bypassing the initial handwritten draft and typing the first pass at lightening speed. Until then I continue to write in stealth mode on my imaginary project. With each page (I’m not counting so don’t ask me how many I have) I claim success in writing like my inner critic is not looking.

A bit about Susan:

After success in two different career fields Susan stopped for a break in North Idaho where she stumbled upon the Idaho Writer’s League and discovered her interest in writing. Gaining award recognition in IWL contests two years in a row spurred her to accept the challenge of writing a novel. In an effort to find her writing groove in this endeavor she chose an unconventional route to meet the goal. What began as a stopgap measure to jumpstart her life in a new direction became the next passage of her existence. Since September 2008 she has lived based from her oversized suitcase known as her automobile as she travels the country photographing and writing She completed the novel and is currently writing a book about her first nine months on the road–a birthing of sorts. She also works daily at her covert mission of completing a second novel. She shares recent photographs of her travels at and on Facebook.

Susan is currently enjoying the sunshine and warm temps of north Florida after having spent 2.5 months in New York and Pennsylvania.


Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Hi Susan! So great to see your face again on Writing North Idaho. And thank you for your interesting post about your inner critic. Self-judging our writing as we go can be difficult to avoid. I have difficulty continuously moving forward without turning back to question something. Let us hear from you again after you stealthily fill your notebooks and let us know how things are going. Best of luck on your travels and writing!

Susan Garver said...

Thanks, Nancy. I will keep you posted. :)

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Thank you, Susan. Wise words for us all. I envy you that Florida sunshine!

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

"Each day I continue the narrative, add a sentence to a paragraph , or several pages - the amount doesn't matter as long as I increase the word count " . Thank for this , Susan. The thought you share helps me with my own attitude about writing.