The impulse to write is strong in some people, and not so much in others. We’ll put those folks aside for now, even though they comprise the majority. For the truth is that they don’t give much thought to writing until they have to dash off a cover letter or help a child with a science report, while those who feel the calling have no choice. Failing to write something, be it novels, newspaper articles or nursery rhymes, creates a void. Vague feelings of dissatisfaction rise. An internal voice nags and nags, “Get to work.”
Not that it’s easy. Indeed, the first thing a writer learns is humility. Think of your younger self and those harsh red marks that came back on an early essay. This is one of the moments that help push young people toward or away from writing.
Why We Write
Those who move forward know, or will soon learn, that well-armed warriors guard the road ahead. These sentries are trained in dark arts such as rejection and mockery. They know how to drain confidence and ratchet up self-doubt. You want a wall? They will build one and brand it, “Writer’s Block”. The writer’s work is solitary. He or she can pass from eager to exhausted, from delighted to dejected, and from conqueror to crushed without a word, save for those spoken between the ears.
And so why bother? It’s one of the several good questions writers think about all the time.
Is it about the long, long shot of fame and fortune?
Is it about self-expression – the shaping of words and language to share experience, stories, and ideas?
Is it to move others toward a certain point of view?
To some, it’s more about connection. Human connection’s a value shared by many. Writers honor that value by, well, writing.
And as the writing commences, a voice often appears. This particular voice does not move the story forward, add to character development, or suggest some unexpected plot twist. No, this voice belongs to the inner critic, and it’s the onset of insecurity at best, and self-loathing at worst. How intriguing that the writer can’t even wait for the work to be finished and panned by a flesh-and-blood critic. He has to dream one up while the writing’s still in progress.
But maybe it makes perfect sense. The inner critic stops the work midstream so that it never reaches the real critic. How can the writer be hurt by a book reviewer, book club or blogger if the work never leaves his laptop? Arguably, the inner critic’s playing a heroic role by protecting the writer from scorn and rejection.
Let’s Write a Scene, Shall We?
Writers who experience such “protection” need to have a conversation with their inner critic. Something like:
“F. Scott (Gremlins are less frightening if you give them names like F. Scott), let’s go in the library and have a talk.”
“Yes, you must be wary. Many dangers lie ahead.”
“Right. That’s what I want to talk about. I want to thank you for all the care and concern. But here’s the thing–”
“Yes. It’s scary out there. Some newspaper critic will get hold of this thing you’re writing and rip it to shreds. You’ll never–”
“What I’ll never do is find out whether I can do it if you keep getting in the way.”
“Look. You can stay. I’m not throwing you out, F. Scott. But if you stick around, I’m giving you a new job. You can cheer me on, offer encouragement, maybe even make a creative suggestion here and there. But no more scare tactics.”
You may have to have the conversation more than once. The writing gremlin has likely been around for awhile. He’s dug in pretty deep and will push back. Try hitting it from a few different angles. Talk it through in different places. Do it a little at a time. Ultimately you’ll prevail. Because in the end, the inner critic’s just another character, and thus subject to the will of the writer.
And that, don’t forget, is you.