Writer’s Block: 5 Tips to Silence Your Inner Critic
Inside each of us is an untold number of mini versions of ourselves, each with their own purpose. Unfortunately for us, one of those versions is the Inner Critic.
While their job is technically to protect us from looking foolish, they can sometimes sound judgmental and harsh. It’s not that they don’t believe in us. Still, they don’t want to see us crying into a tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream after learning that our short story wasn’t selected for a writing contest simply because we refused to put it through another round of edits. Or something like that.
Regardless, researchers have found that blocked writers are often unhappy writers, and that unhappiness often stems from self-doubt. While this comes in many forms, such as inward criticism or outward comparison, it’s typically the inner critic’s commentary that causes us to doubt ourselves.
The good news here is that the way to work past your writer’s block isn’t overly complicated. You’re not out of ideas. You’re not unmotivated or lazy. And you certainly aren’t lacking in talent. If you’re genuinely trying to put words on a page, but nothing’s coming up – it’s not you – it’s your Inner Critic.
5 Tips to Bounce Back
1 – Give yourself permission to suck. Terry Pratchett once said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Let your Inner Critic know that the first draft doesn’t have to be an NYT bestseller. That comes after numerous drafts. It just needs to be something. My first draft of this article started as a bullet-point list. This final draft only came after four rounds of edits, and even then, there are still things I’ll want to edit tomorrow. Write for you first, and don’t worry about perfection.
2 – Keep writing. While I chose to write this tip second, it rivals #1 for importance. If you’re not feeling particularly creative, that’s fine, write something else. Write down ideas for upcoming stories, write about something that moved you today, or read a few articles and write up a strong summary to help move your story along. Hell, write about how you think your characters are feeling while they wait for you to get over this block. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you’re writing.
3 – Don’t feel overly committed to linear writing. A lot of first-time writers feel wed to writing their stories in order of sequence. Their Inner Critic starts to pipe up when they realize they don’t have an opening scene, but they know where they want their character to go later in the chapter. Write what you know first. You don’t have to have the whole book, or chapter, or even scene figured out from the first draft. Just write what you want to write, and you’ll find a way to fit it in later. Or you won’t. Either way, the story will be better for it.
4 – Trial and error are essential. I cut thousands of words – and entire chapters – from my first novel. I added new chapters, rearranged the chapter order twice, took out a few characters, and then added new ones. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Was it frustrating as hell? Yes. Is my novel better for it? Hell yes.
5 – Get funky. Pretend an imaginary friend is sitting next to you. It could be your friend, Droopy, from your childhood, a character in your novel, or George Frikin’ Washington. Doesn’t matter. Focus on them, their needs, their struggles, and help them through whatever is on their mind. Then write about the experience. If that doesn’t float your boat, here are a few other out of the box ways to bust through the block:
Dream Diaries: Keep a journal next to your nightstand. When you wake up in the morning, write down as much as you can remember from your dreams. Our brains are already full of story ideas waiting to be told.
Outline Writing: When I’m stuck, I start by writing what I think I want to say. For example, when I started writing my novel, I knew I wanted my main character to die, but I didn’t know exactly how. So, I wrote: “Instead of dying from a rare disease like she always assumed, Grace dies doing something ironic. When she comes to on the ‘other side,’ she looks down at herself, disappointed that it wasn’t more of an exciting death.” From there, an entire first chapter was born.
Writing Prompts: When all else fails, try writing prompts. There are thousands on Google, but I find that the most productive ones often link to something more meaningful. I highly recommend the blog/podcast, Writing Excuses, for their quick episodes and creative prompts.
If you’re struggling with writer’s block and need a hand working through it, I’m happy to help! With a number of customizable coaching packages, we can bring your story to life.