Re-Introducing My Inner Critic

It was four years ago that I exposed readers of my blog to my inner critic. The feisty critter is still doing his thing, but I have to admit that I quite enjoy the antics, and naming them. I love my inner critic more now, because I have learned to trust that judgement.

I still haven’t finished revising my novel. Perhaps very soon …? I offer this slightly revised version of a post first published on Bookword in March 2013.

My Inner Critic appears on a train

I retrieved the first draft of my novel from the drawer after two months and prepared to revise and redraft. First, I engaged in some pencil sharpening-type activities such as printing out good copies of several chapters, buying a dark green ring folder, punching holes, placing all 22 chapters in it and lining up the pages to achieve an impressive manuscript.

I had decided to read it on a train journey. I frequently read drafts of writing by my students’ and coachees’ on train journeys – three hours to Totnes and three hours back to London Paddington. (My grandson believes I live in Londonpaddington. I think I live on the train.) So, I had a three-hour journey to read the first draft of my own novel.

He’s a bit of an animal

I began, reasonably enough, with Chapter One. At this point, my Inner Critic flopped down in the adjoining seat. You’ll need me! he announced. My Inner Critic always turns up and demands attention when I am reading my own drafts. He looks a little like that spicy peperami sausage with threadlike arms and jerky legs and a sharp voice featured on adverts a few years ago. He’s a bit of an animal. And he smells! [IC: Oi!]

I read Chapter Two. I had decided to read the novel all through to get an overall sense of it, before considering the more detailed revisions and redrafting. My Inner Critic kicked his spiky legs back and forth and took in a few sharp breaths. If I had succumbed and looked at him I am sure I would have seen him wincing in a stagey look-at-me-wincing kind of way.

Chapter Three. You started your novel in the wrong place, announced IC. I tried to ignore him and made a note on the third page of the chapter (‘start here’). The barracking continued. Too much summary! Get on with it! I squiggle a line in the margin and made a note on the manuscript. (‘Replace with action?’)

By the end of Chapter Four IC was jumping up and down in the seat like an over-excited schoolboy. He managed to tip up the folder and it fell onto the floor. Some of the pages were creased and others smeared with a little mud. IC jumped to his feet and ran down the aisle whooping loudly. It was the quiet carriage and I am usually on active duty in the Quiet Coach Vigilante Squad so I was a little embarrassed. IC stood at the very end of the carriage, the place where the train manager, as she calls herself, has a little office with a PA system and quite possibly an easy chair or two. IC had his bottom on the door and was bending over with laughter. I reclaimed the folder, and tried to return to my work. But I couldn’t even start Chapter Five because my Inner Critic was stamping down the aisle and when he came to our seats he stopped and held his sides like a comedy clown, jerking with laughter.

A writer, he gasped, pointing at me. Call yourself a writer when you produce chapters like those! And off he ran again, bouncing on the empty seats and jumping up to swing on the luggage racks.

I smoothed down the pages and then stared out of the window. IC approached. Hope I haven’t offended you, he said, possibly noticing my inability to continue reading. On a post-it note I wrote ‘start chapters with dates’. He peered at what I had written. That wont fix it! he announced.

No, I say, it won’t fix it. But it’s a start. Now sit down, be quiet and behave like a grown-up Inner Critic. Huh! he snorted. But he did.

Living with your Inner Critic

Stephen King suggests that reading your draft after a break will be ‘a strange and often exhilaration experience’ (in On Writing, p253). He offers some valuable possibilities: being able to see glaring holes in plot or character development; asking questions about coherence, the work of the recurring elements; finding the resonance in the novel. While he does say ‘if you spot a few of these big holes, you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself’ he gives no advice I could apply to my Inner Critic. [IC: Stephen King doesn’t need an inner critic, whereas you …]

But in Jurgen Wolff’s Your Writing Coach I have found a chapter called Tame the Wild Inner (and Outer) Critic. And there’s a seven-step programme for dealing with this harshest of all critics. [IC: tremble, tremble, NOT!] Actually, there is no trembling required because I already know that my Inner Critic has some really useful ways of helping me. I just hate it when he goes wild.

And since then?

And since I first posted this in March 2013 I have a second grandson, but no students or coaches, I’ve moved down to the West Country and I’ve co-written and published two more books (not novels). I have also learned to quieten the worst excesses of my Inner Critic, even to put him in a drawer [IC: Oi Again!]. But I have also learned to take account of what my Inner Critic is saying, and to improve my writing through this.

Over to you

Has anyone got any more advice about calming and enjoying my inner critic? What does your inner critic do?

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4 Comments

Filed under My novel, Writing

4 Responses to Re-Introducing My Inner Critic

  1. Helen Ashley

    I never thought of my inner critic as a separate being! That comment from Stephen King, about reading your draft after a break, is the sort of thing poets are told: put the first draft away for a couple of weeks. Then all your glaring (and not so glaring) errors will stand out. But that might not be so easy with a novel. You’d have to do it by chapter, or even smaller chunks, and that could delay completion interminably.
    I think my IC – if I decide to acknowledge her – must be only 2-dimensional. She slips between the pages of my notebook in those couple of weeks when (if) I put the draft away, and leaves me to look through her invisible corrections.
    She worked overtime once – or went on holiday and sent her inexperienced cousin – and made me rework a draft which had been semi-commissioned. The reworking was less acceptable than the original.
    Now I’m not sure whether to go on with the unobtrusive relationship I have with my IC, or give her the respect due and open up the relationship. But that might make her hyperactive and voluble like yours, and I don’t think I could cope with that!

    • Caroline

      Thank you Helen for offering a good explanation about why my novel never gets redrafted! I shall use it.
      I love the idea of you quieter inner critic. I shall be interested in whether you decide to take more account of her.
      Caroline

  2. What a lovely fun post, Caroline, and it’s interesting that your IC has gender and it’s male. But what to do about him, other than sending him off on a different train?
    I’m not sure about reading through to see what you’ve got before redrafting. It seems eminently sensible but it does risk exposing yourself to a lot of wrongness. I really don’t know what happened with my other novels but with my current WIP I keep meaning to read the most recent draft but instead launch into editing and rewriting. Whether or not that’s effective, I couldn’t say.

    • Caroline

      Oh thank you Anne. I never thought of sending him off on another train. I’d enjoy waving to his hysterical gesticulations as the trains passed.
      And an interesting comment on rereading the whole thing as a starting point of revision. Perhaps I should just do the bits that present themselves until there aren’t any more. And save a big full read through to that point.
      Looking forward to your 2nd novel. I hope I haven’t missed the publication date.
      Caroline

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