Updated: Jul 23, 2021
Although my inner critic isn't as brazen as she once was, at times she still seeps through the cracks of my consciousness, giving me a wallop when I least expect it. She's a cross between Lord Valdemort (you know, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or The Dark Lord from Harry Potter ) and a 19th century nun who missed her calling as an artist and tightrope walker. At times she seems almost thoughtful, plucky, that is until she tars and feathers me with criticism.
She tells me I'm not working hard enough, writing long enough, haven't yet penned a New York Times Best Seller. She criticizes me for not writing fast enough, and for not publishing more.
When she makes an appearance, shame and humiliation set in and I begin to put my work habits and output under a microscope. Instead of experiencing the moment while I'm creating, I go into the negative voice and analyze myself in a way that's not helpful to my growth as a human.
What it all comes down to is that I'm not perfect enough for her.
Years ago, before I was even aware of my inner critic, her voice or voices were in the background of my life, and so I acted on them instinctively, censoring myself unawares. Of course these voices had been with me since I was a little girl, maybe even over several lifetimes so they were firmly ingrained in my sense of who I was. I would instinctively add to the voices by telling myself there was no point trying because nobody reads books anymore, or writing doesn’t pay the bills or I'm not a good enough writer. Yet, all the while every cell of my being was crying out to create—to express my sense of the world, of my being, through words. It got to the point where, as my own voice grew louder and stronger demanding that I write, I also started to recognize the negative voices for what they were: My fears and anxieties about not running the show, and to giving into my own creative discovery.
If you think back to the last time you began a love relationship. Maybe when you first started dating that person, you thought he/she was perfect. You didn’t see any of the person’s flaws because you were so bedazzled by their attributes—and of course by their physical magnetism. You more than likely presented your best self too, and bathed for a time in the perfection and mutual adoration of your love. Yet, before long you began to notice things that bothered you about the other person. And that person probably noticed things about you as well.
Many relationships end when we're faced with the other person’s so-called flaws, yet what we may not realize is that our loved one mirrors us. We can’t accept the other person because we don’t fully accept ourselves.
When we begin to unfold in a way that reveals our true selves, our inner critic can have a field day pointing out to us all the reasons we shouldn't do our life's work.
Just like we see in our love relationships, the creative process brings out the inner critic big time, and we're forced to acknowledge the things we haven't fully accepted.
Expressing our true nature through the words we write, through the paint we apply to a canvas or the photograph we take, allows us to experience many incredible moments, yet also to encounter the dark places, the parts of us that we don’t always wish to see. Perfection kills creativity and so when we strive for it at all cost, our work suffers and we come up short. True growth comes from being open even though it might hurt like hell, even if it takes us to some undesirable places. We often push our inner critic out of the way because she reveals our perceived imperfections, yet through creative work we discover that she's an integral part of who we are. To that end, embracing her as part of the creative process is one of the most loving things we can do for ourselves.
When your inner critic comes to call, instead of pushing her away or judging yourself for not being perfect, simply acknowledge her and feel what you are feeling. Go into it and have a cry if you need to. Allowing yourself to sense your restlessness, hear the negativity, your anger or fear, will—in time—cause it to subside.
When you’re writing or involved in any creative act you can use these uncomfortable feelings to propel you forward.
If you’re sensing a craving to do something else because you feel you're coming up short, don’t act on it, yet rather be with this feeling, keep writing, and eventually it will shift. There's a certain amount of risk you take when you venture into a creative zone of your own making. Humans hate risk most of all; it’s built into our DNA. Yet studies show that if you don’t risk, if you don’t trust others, or more importantly, if you don’t trust yourself then the gain is much less in the end. In other words, if you don’t risk you will never know the answer to the question what if?
There's a difference between striving for better in your work and some unattainable fantasy version of perfect. In fact there's no such thing as perfect when it comes to writing or any other art form for that matter. There's only walking through the open door.
The other day I looked up the origin of the word perfect and it means to complete something, to make or do. So lately I've been focusing on the making, completing, and doing, and less on trying to quantify or judge what I'm doing.
Getting back to one of the original meanings of the word 'perfect' is allowing me to walk through the open door and just get on with it!
HERE ARE SOME WAYS TO STOP BEING PERFECT WITH YOUR WRITING (AND OTHER CREATIVE WORK)
Focus on what you accomplished that morning, day or week; what turns of phrase, what luscious prose.... It sounds super simple, but it's really not.
Pay attention to what you love about the act of writing (i.e., painting, sculpting, photographing, dancing...), and your little niggly criticisms about yourself and your output will gradually carry less weight.
Let your ideas fly and land where they may. When you allow your ideas to spread their wings eventually you'll reach a place of creative confidence.
Listen to the wise voice in your head, because we all have one. The more you listen to her the louder she'll become, so that before you know it the other one will stop pestering you.
Imagine that you're that already-evolved self. You know, the one you aspire to be that practices loving-kindness and is compassionate to others and self. The evolved self that doesn't worry much about tomorrow, just the here and now. It's you as you are now, yes, but a more evolved version of you in terms of where you put your focus. Call to her when you need her; she's there for you!
The projects that matter most, the really BIG ones where you're pursuing a seemingly zany idea, will take the time they take to develop into something. No amount of rushing or setting deadlines will help you think them through or finish them any faster. This is the reality of a writer (i.e., artist, entrepreneur, inventor...) on a quest for undiscovered treasures. So be patient! You know the saying, good things come to those who wait, well, there's some truth to that.