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  • Writer's pictureBritt Leigh

Imposter Syndrome in Writing: How to Silence Your Inner Critic

I recently watched an interview with Greta Gerwig, the woman who wrote Barbie and Lady Bird, where she opened up, with brutal honesty, about the realities of being a writer. The main thing she mentions is the pain that comes with writing: that writing is, inherently, a painful process.

Writing in a journal
Photo Credit: Marcos Paulo Prado

But it’s the reasons she gives for this pain that struck me most. As writers, we live not just our lives, but the lives of our characters and story ideas, all alone in our head. And living right alongside those stories we can’t wait to share with the world are the voices telling us that we aren’t good enough. Often, these voices are the loudest when we are quiet, living inside our minds as we attempt to tell our stories. These voices often get even louder when the words start flowing and they aren’t as good as we imagined, or perhaps they don’t fully capture what we are trying to express from our minds.

In Greta Gerwig’s interview, she talks about the effort that goes into telling those voices to quiet down or outright telling them they are wrong so she can keep writing. This is the mindset every writer needs—the mindset that hears all the negativity and doubt and decides to keep going anyway.

Inner Critic & Imposter Syndrome

The Inner Critic often appears as the loudest and most critical voice we hear as we write. You’ve likely been subject to your Inner Critic if you’re familiar with any of these thoughts:

  • You can’t do this.

  • Why are you trying to finish this?

  • Who are you to actually write this book/story?

  • No one will read what you write.

  • If they do, no one will like it.

Frustrated woman while writing
Photo Cred: Elisa Ventur

What makes the Inner Critic even worse is that it’s the birthplace of Imposter Syndrome. So that when we do succeed, we still find ourselves doubting our talents and abilities. Instead of success being proof that we are capable, we see it as a fluke in the system, making it easy for our minds to find excuses for success instead of identifying how our talents and abilities made us successful.

These thoughts can be so pervasive that they become difficult to ignore, and many people fall victim to internal criticisms, giving up before they ever really get going. Luckily, there are ways to push past this negative self-talk and create a mindset that enables us to recognize our success for what it is.

How to Silence Your Inner Critic and Get Rid of Imposter Syndrome

One tool you can use is to find ways to work with your Inner Critic. This is a standard tool used in the coaching world that I’ve adapted slightly for my writing clients.

Step 1: Write Your Thoughts & Emotions

On a blank piece of paper, write down the ticker tape of negative thoughts going through your head when your Inner Critic is at its loudest. What is your Inner Critic saying? What emotions do these thoughts evoke?

Step 2: Describe Your Inner Critic

Picture your Inner Critic in your head. It might look like a small character or cartoon. It can take any shape that feels relevant to its brand of messaging. If you are up for it, draw a picture of what it might look like. If drawing isn’t your thing, describe your Inner Critic on paper.

Step 3: Name your Inner Critic.

You can give it any name you like, but it should be fun and sticky. You’ll want to remember this Inner Critic character and know exactly how to address it the next time it arrives. You’re a writer—get creative here.

My Inner Critic's Name is Meg because she looks just like Meg from Hercules. Read more about my relationship with Meg here.

Step 4: Write a Scene

Now that you have your supporting character’s description and name, you will write them into a scene. In this scene, you (the main character) and your Inner Critic (the supporting role) will engage in dialogue. Think of it like a meeting between a manager (you) and an employee (the Inner Critic). In this dialogue, make sure you ask your Inner Critic these questions:

  • What is your message?

  • What are you trying to protect me from?

  • What do you see as your primary role?

These don’t need to be the only questions you ask, but at some point in this scene, your Inner Critic should answer these questions.

Writing in a notebook
Photo Cred: Jessica Mangano

Step 5: Thank Your Inner Critic

Like all good storytelling, there should be a heartfelt moment in this scene where you thank your Inner Critic for their service. You tell them you appreciate what they’ve tried to do for you, but then explain that it’s no longer working for you. This scene allows you to open up and be vulnerable with your Inner Critic about how they’ve made you feel.

Step 6: Set Boundaries with Your Inner Critic

Before you end the scene, set some expectations and boundaries for your Inner Critic. Inform them that they must show up differently if they still want a place in your life. As you write this scene, provide them with their new responsibilities and job description.

Step 7: Analyze Your Scene

Once you’ve completed the scene, it’s time for reflection. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How does it feel to have a dialogue with your Inner Critic?

  • How do you think the conversation went?

  • What does it feel like to remind your Inner Critic that you are in charge?

  • Is there anything you left unsaid? If so, what is it, and how will it help your relationship with your Inner Critic moving forward?

  • How do you want to maintain this relationship with your Inner Critic moving forward?

Connecting with this internal line of thinking will enable you to better understand where it comes from. This exercise can help you develop and maintain a mindset that enables you to reevaluate your relationship with your inner self-talk, dismissing the negative and using the constructive pieces to help you achieve your goals.

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