Lynda Barry said to me once, imagine you’re sitting at a bar, writing something new, and this guy comes up to you, looks over your shoulder, and says, “Ugh, that sentence sucks.” He takes a drink, watches you write some more, and then says, “Your dialogue is really flat, too. You know, you shouldn’t bother finishing this story – your whole idea is no good.”
Would you listen to him? No way! You’d think, Who is this jerk? And yet, when you criticize your own writing before you even have a chance to write it, you’re being that jerk to yourself.
How are you supposed to finish a first draft when you have a loud, pushy, unhelpful inner critic breathing down your neck?
Here’s something that will help you get rid of that jerk. Lisa Pijuan-Nomura had me do this several years ago, when I was in a particularly crusty and stuck place with my own inner critic. It WORKS.
How to Get Rid of Your Inner Creep
- On a piece of paper, write down all of the things that your critical voice tells you about your work. Write down the things you fear the most. It’s okay to get into the dark stuff here. Jot it all down.
- Now imagine the physical embodiment of that voice. Imagine the character who says these things to you. It could be human – like that guy at the bar – or it could be a monster. Just picture it.
- On a separate page, draw a simple picture of this character, this creep who tells you those things when you’re trying to write. Draw the figure itself – draw the eyes, hands, mouth, teeth, hair, etc. Just use a pen or a pencil. Get the outline down, and whatever details you see.
- Give the monster/creep a name. Write its name above its picture.
- Now write down some of the worst things on your list from Step 1. Write those things directly on the drawing, all around the figure, so you can see it “saying” those things to you.
- Take the page out of your notebook and keep it with you when you write, so you can recognize this weird-looking creature the next time it starts talking to you.
The reason this works: you’ve now taken those critical thoughts outside yourself. You can see that it’s not YOU anymore – it’s that freak you drew on the page. It looks ridiculous! And you can see that the things it says to you are ridiculous.
My Inner Creep is called “PointyCold.” He’s ludicrous. I drew him in a navy blue pencil crayon – he has a V for a nose and seven fingers on each hand (they all look like Vs too). His eyes are two little beady joyless dots. When I see his picture, I can’t take him seriously. He’s laughable.
This seems like a simple, childish exercise – but it’s actually very effective. It won’t work unless you do it, though. Like all of my exercises, it’s meant for doing, not reading about. Please do it. It will only take you about 30 minutes or less.
When you draw your inner creep, do me a favour and take a picture of it. Instagram or tweet your picture – use the hashtag #innercreep. Let’s get rid of these jerks.