Introducing my Inner Critic

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.

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 who was featured on adverts a few years ago. He’s a bit of an animal. And he smells! [IC: Oi!]

peperami

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 it 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 active 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.

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.

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

6 Comments

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6 Responses to Introducing my Inner Critic

  1. Anna

    I loved this. Really fun to read – although I felt sorry for you (and for the other passengers).

    Pepperoni monster is genius and very effective.

    Anyone with a creative output has an IC. I like to think that they have a lot to offer but that sometimes they are best given allotted times to visit. (Perhaps this is what Stephen King is saying.) Otherwise they can dominate, unhelpfully.

    Also, they are best balanced with some OC – friends, colleagues and the general public… those can be worse to handle than a pepperoni monster. But lets face it if one is to be creative, and in public, we need those around us and within us to help steer the way.

  2. Marianne

    First well done on having a first draft anyway!

    My inner critic is not as wild as yours. It takes the form of a sort of mild uneasiness that can be in relation to the whole structure, to a section, or a sentence or a word. Sometimes the uneasiness is quite hard to recognise and I find I can ignore it for a while, but eventually it wins out. The positive thing is that when I react to it and change things I feel good. I hope that you feel good as a result of the pepperoni monster’s ministrations.

  3. Eileen

    Is IC female or male? Name? Can you make IC into a friend and have a proper conversation? A bit of dialogue would be really helpful perhaps.

    • Caroline

      My Inner critic is a boy of about eleven. That’s his name! And you have a good suggestion about befriending him, and engaging him in dialogue. He does respond to this. A bit tiresome is what he is really. But useful as well.

  4. Charlie Free

    I relate to every word of this – the ‘jerky legs’, the ‘sharp voice’ – the way the Animal bounces around the place! Very funny read, thank you. And great advice about being ‘forbidden’ to feel depressed about holes.

    • Caroline

      Oh dear, Charlie; too many people seem to recognise this inner critic! Hope you can get yours to be helpful.
      I try to remember why Stephen King forbad depression about holes etc – a better strategy is to fix them. Who said ‘writing is rewriting’?
      Anyt advice to share about your bouncing inner critic?

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