Tag Archives: Psychology of writing

Shutting Up Your Inner Critic

I just came up with a nifty technique for shutting up the inner critic that I’d like to share. It’s sort of a mental combo of National Novel Writing Month‘s daily word quota assignment, Laura Resnick’s essay “The Long Haul” in Rejections, Romance, and Royalties where she compares writing to trucking, several episodes of Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, and thinking about my past experiences as a cafeteria worker.

Step 1: Choose a down-to-earth analogy for writing. It can be trucking, bricklaying, road paving, plumbing, cafeteria cooking, whatever. However, choosing an environment that will make your inner critic feel uncomfortable to be in is a definite plus.

Step 1 Example: I really liked Laura Resnick’s trucking analogy for writing a long fantasy novel, so I chose trucking. Instead of meeting daily mileage goals, I’d be meeting word quota goals. But the mindset had to be the same. I have yet to hear a story about a trucker moping at a truck stop about how his inner critic keeps  telling him his driving sucks…and so he’s stopped driving in mid-journey.

Step 2: Hone in on that inner critic voice that keeps showing up when you’re trying to write. Give it a physical persona that you can visualize in your mind–what does he or she wear? look like? what profession? etc.  (Note, if it takes on a persona that won’t be intimidated by the analogy chosen in Step 1, choose a new analogy.)

Step 2 Example: When I honed in on my inner critic voice, it morphed into an English professor guy who likes to wear tweed.

Step 3:Imagine your supervisor for your analogy to writing.

Step 3 Example: I found myself visualizing that I worked for “Flo.” She runs a small trucking company in North Carolina and loves to eat cole slaw burgers for lunch. There’s a stack of James Lee Burke and Nora Roberts paperbacks on the corner of her desk that she likes to read during breaks. Often she wears NASCAR T-shirts. She has 0% patience for whining or crap.  The trucking garage smells of diesel and there’s the rumble of engines as trucks pull up or drive off.

Step 4: The next time the inner critic voice shows up during a writing session, tell it “Go away. I’ve got a quota for this first draft I’ve got to meet.”  If the critic refuses to go away, make him or her go visit your supervisor to complain.

Step 4 Example: When Dr. Inner Critic showed up and wouldn’t shut up during the first draft work I was doing, I imagined sending him off to Flo to whine at her instead about the quality of my writing. Writers, by training, have very vivid imaginations. My imagination gave me a whole short scene of Inner Critic beginning his whine about my writing, and losing steam as Flo glared at him. Then she asked him, “Are you going to do L.M.’s work?” which made him hunch up as he replied, “No.” Then she ripped into him verbally with insults about his stupidity and laziness until he slunk off. I got back to work since there was a quota to meet. Inner Critic left me alone since showing up again would mean  another yellfest from Flo.

These days, whenever an inner critic voice pops up during the writing of a first draft, I do the steps above, and it shuts that voice up darn quick. I hope it does likewise for you all. Good luck!

A Blog Post to Give Comfort in Rough Times, and a Few More Links

I also found out about a website that has various posts by pro writers (such as David Morrell) about the publishing industry.  It’s called Backspace – The Writer’s Place.

Another great resource is the NINC blog. Members of NINC have to be multi-published in order to join, so I find the information and blogs professional in tone and attitude.

Also, there’s Bob Mayer’s blog. He has 20 years of experience as a fiction writer in traditional publishing, and 2 years of experience doing indie publishing, so I find his posts have a lot of depth to them.

Thoughts on How Instant Feedback Can Impact the Voice of Some Writers

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I turned comments off on my blog back in November 2010 due to severe time constraints:

I didn’t know what impact it would have, but one of the surprising results was that now my blog thoughts sometimes dig deeper into things.  The time I used have to waste wading through spam in the queue instead gets spent thinking and writing the post instead.

Since writing those words, I’ve been mulling things in my mind, and I’ve come to realize that there’s more to this than having more time to think now that I’m no longer babysitting a blog comments queue.  (I do, however, still have comments flipped on in Facebook and a Contact Me page so people can talk to me direct when they need to.)

There’s the issue of a writer’s voice, or what I’ve nicknamed the “Aw, crap” factor–as in, “Aw, crap, if I write about that, I’ll have to deal with too many comments. I want to spend that time writing instead.”

So instead of writing the post that might stir things up, I’d write something bland that would have no risk of being interesting enough to trigger responses from people.

Writers who have the extra time to referee a comments section don’t have this “Aw, crap” problem. But it’s become clear to me that I do.  And I suspect there are other writers out there as well who are subconsciously making their posts bland because they also have time crunch issues.

A few months after I turned off comments, I finally felt comfortable enough to do livelier blog posts, and my web traffic jumped. I also started writing things that would unexpectedly catch the eye of other, more established, bloggers. It’s too soon for me to tell what the permanent increase in web traffic will be since the spikes in traffic happened so recently. I’ve seen spikes as high as 10x the November traffic.  Maybe 2x – 3x? I’m guessing at this point.

So if you’ve got a severe time squeeze, you might want to give flipping comments off on blog posts for a few months a try to see if the “Aw, crap” factor has been in play.

Also, the same “Aw, crap” factor can come into play if a writer posts fiction online with comments flipped on. I’m never going to post fiction with comments turned on, since I’ve already learned I’m too likely to self-censor myself to avoid comments.

I can easily imagine myself thinking, “Aw, crap, I don’t want to write that story idea because it will piss off too many people and I’ll have to deal with too many comments and fights between readers who either love it or hate it. I don’t have the time for that. Let me write something soothing instead.”

And so I’d end up writing something so boring it would put everyone to sleep. I’d stifle my voice as a writer for fear of having to deal with too many comments.

Hmm, I think this happens quite a bit to writers even outside the world of posting fiction online. It’s so much easier to write stories that are bland and soothing and make everyone go “Zzzzz…” so that one can tiptoe away before they wake up. Stories that are lively stir everyone up like bees so that they break into camps and start fighting about the story (some love it, some hate it).

Of course, some writers thrive on controversy and fistfights and instant feedback.  Their writing gets better, instead of worse. So it’s important to experiment and see what works best since each writer is different.

Good luck testing all of this. May you find the path that suits you best.

Sooner or Later Someone Will Try to Put You Down as a Writer

Most of you have probably already heard about the Nobel Laureate in Literature who felt it necessary in an interview to put down all women–past and present–who are writers by claiming he writes better than all of them combined. I decided I wouldn’t mention his name here, and I debated whether to even provide a link, but here’s a link to the interview if you must read more.

To be honest, I found the arrogance of this writer rather amusing.  Why?  Because when I studied physics for my undergraduate degree, I noticed how the physics and engineering professors sneered at the English professors.  In their eyes, a Nobel Prize in Physics was to a Nobel Prize in Literature like college was  to kindergarten.  Yup, those physicists were that snobby.

So the Nobel Laureate in Literature, who thinks he’s better than all the women writers who ever existed or exist, will find himself put down in certain physics and chemistry circles as not having a “real” Nobel Prize.

It all comes down to human nature. Certain people have an innate need to put down others in order to feel better about themselves. I’m sure you’ve noticed the pecking order games that go on in any field by those that feel insecure. The male writer who puts down women writers in an interview. The literary writer who puts down the science fiction genre in an essay. The fantasy writer who puts down literary writing at a convention.

And have you ever noticed how insecure writers in various genres will all put down romance and erotica writers?

No matter your speciality of writing, gender, religion, politics, sexual orientation, race, age, etc. etc. etc., sooner or later you will be put down as a writer. Someone is going to try to hurt you and is going to say anything, no matter how crazy, to do so.

Even a male heterosexual Protestant Caucasian who writes literary fiction is going to get put down. The frequency may be less, and he may get more respect from the standard-bearers in his society, but he will get trashed by various people. I guarantee it.

However, if you don’t fit the norm in your society for who a “true” writer is supposed to be, you’ll have to deal with more put downs than other writers.

A new writer (female) once asked me why she should even try to keep writing and become published since she would always be looked down upon by certain male writers and male English professors.  She felt her work would never be treated as seriously as it would have been if she were male.

I told her that it was worth doing the writing anyway, for a couple of reasons: 1) if she gave up writing, she’d be doing exactly what those scared sexist jackasses wanted her to do–quit, 2) she would only learn what she was capable of as a writer if she gave it her all, 3) there are readers that will give her respect and money in this era despite discrimination, and 4) we can hope that future generations will  judge her work on its merits, not her gender. For her to give up would be to kill that future off before it had a chance to happen.

So no matter who you are as a writer, I hope that you will continue writing no matter how many put downs you may encounter. Some of you will get sneered at more than others. But may you all have the courage to continue onwards no matter what.

The Craving for Validation Can Really Screw Things Up

Writers–especially new writers–crave validation the way a cat craves catnip. I’ve seen the craving result in a few writers doing some incredibly destructive things from a business perspective. I myself did quite a few stupid things business-wise due to the validation crapola in my head until I learned from much more experienced writers that the crapola was there and that I needed to get rid of it.

Validation is NOT asking “Is this piece of writing any good?”  Validation is all about saying stuff like:

When thus-and-so happens, then will I be a REAL writer.

It’s the part about “then I will be a real writer” that messes writers up in the head. Badly.

Several wise old pros told me, “a real writer is someone who writes, day in and day out,” and I used to be inexperienced and stupid enough to scoff at that saying.  Surely there had to be more to being a “real” writer.

I don’t scoff anymore, because I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a core seed of truth to what those writers said.

A writer writes.

A painter paints.

A singer sings.

A coder codes.

Whenever someone quits doing the action (code, sing, write, etc.) that is the core of their dream, everything grinds to halt in a matter of time. Writers who stop writing will eventually become the topic of “What ever happened to so and so?” among readers.

Also, validation is NOT about setting goals.  It’s fine to have goals.

What I’m talking about here is having a mindset where a writer is totally dependent on a particular thing happening to feel like a “real” writer. This dependency results in neediness that can be manipulated by scammers, and a frantic urgency that results in bad business decisions that can postpone (or even wreck) the ability to make a living as a writer.

For quite a number of writers, “thus-and-so” is “published with a NYC publishing house.” The problem is the “When I am published by a NYC publishing house, then I will be real writer” mindset leads to a neediness that makes it hard for a writer to do the negotiating that needs to be done to get a decent contract.

Here’s something to think about.  These NYC publishing contracts are between a writer and a corporation.  We aren’t talking about two individuals working out a joint partnership here. Those people you meet from the corporation can be really really nice, but at the end of the day it’s the corporation the writer signs with. Editors and CEOs can be fired.

The craving for validation from corporations based in NYC can be used against a writer in contract negotiations. It’s just the nature of business–the writer’s book is a profit-and-loss statement for the corporation. If a writer wants to play doormat, that’s the writer’s problem as far as the corporate entity is concerned. Sometimes an editor will warn a writer if the writer acts too much like a pathetic wuss in negotiations, but for the most part the writer is on his or her own.

The other nasty part of this “NYC publishing house” requirement for being a “real” writer is that all the great middle-sized publishing companies get ignored because one is chasing after a narrow definition of being “real.”  There are some terrific small and middle-sized publishing houses out there, ones that are going to be big publishing houses 15 years from now.

Lastly, the whole mindset of  “when thus-and-so happens, then I’ll be a real writer” also makes it harder to keep morale up. Several old pros have pointed out to me that writing is disheartening enough as it is due to the rejection process; there’s no need to pile more anguish on by setting absurd goals for what is “real” as a writer.

A real writer writes, day in and day out.

Everything else is just a goal to aim for.