Monday, July 25, 2005

Negative Voices - Part 2.

Dealing with negative voices--the critic in your head--isn't easy. But if you hope to find your true stories, you need to confront those voices.

Jane Resh Thomas, a writer and teacher who I admire, once suggested that it was necessary to cross the yellow "police" tape that we use to rope off the zone that we consider too dangerous to step into... if we hope to write out of our own emotional truths.

That zone--"the attic door that we've nailed shut" is another way she described it--is where our treasures our kept, where our stories and voices are waiting for us to release them... if only we have the courage to do so.

How can you move past the yellow "police" tape?

How can you find your way into the attic?

These may prove helpful strategies the next time you hear the critic's voice:

* Ask yourself whose voice you hear.

* Try to identify the people in your life who may have served as harsh critics--a difficult teacher, an unsupportive parent, an unsympathetic friend.

* Can you figure out why they might want to undermine your creative efforts... or why you might continue to let them?

* You can try ignoring the critic, but that rarely succeeds (except to give the critic something else to laugh about).

* Get tough. Stand your ground. Close your office door and don't let it in! (If this only brings more laughter from your critic, you may have to resort to actually sitting down with your critic and asking why he or she can't leave you alone.)

* Try discussing the issue rationally... and then ask your critic, politely, to leave.

* Or write a letter explaining why you'd prefer the critic jumped off a bridge or lay down in front of a train so that you could get on with your life!

* Complain, argue, bitch and moan for as long as you need to ... three, five seven pages or more... until the critic becomes bored and goes away, leaving you to write in peace.

If you're lucky, you may find that your critic has wandered off and won't return to disturb you for the rest of the day.

Whatever you do, you must not give into that critical voice! It's nothing more than a distraction, a destructive force, a false perspective on your real ability as a writer.

Whatever you do, you must keep writing.

It's the only way you'll find yourself swimming into new and fertile territory.

Good luck!

PS - And let others know the strategies that you've used successfully for silencing the negative voices in your head.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Peter Elbow, one of my favorite writers-on-writing, suggests engaging in a series of freewriting exercises to get past our internal critics. He writes:

"Editing, in itself, is not the problem. Editing is usually necessary if we want to end up with something satisfactory. The problem is that editing goes on at the same time as producing. The editor is, as it were, constantly looking over the shoulder of the producer and constantly fiddling with what he's doing while he's in the middle of trying to do it. No wonder the producer gets nervous, jumpy, inhibited, and finally can't be coherent. It's an unnecessary burden to try to think of words and also worry at the same time whether they're the right words" (Elbow, Writing without Teachers, 1973, p.5).

To get past this negativity problem, as Bruce calls it, Elbow (don't you love that last name?) recommends doing at least three ten-minute (or longer) freewriting exercises each week. Don't stop for anything, never look back on your writing, never cross anything out. If you get stuck, it's fine to write, "I can't think of what to say, I can't think of what to say," Elbow says.

Freewriting exercises help to quiet our internal critics, Elbow maintains, because, if practiced regularly, they get us out of the habit of editing at the same time we are trying to produce. "The habit of compulsive, premature editing doesn't just make writing hard," Elbow writes. "It also makes writing dead. Your voice is damped out by all the interruptions, changes, and hesitations between the consciousness and the page." (p.6)

If you do freewriting regularly, according to Elbow, the vast majority of your freewritings will be far inferior to what you can produce when you write with care and rewriting -- BUT the few good bits will be much better than anything else you can produce by any other method...and you will be training yourself to write in your own voice.

Elbow has lots of other good ideas in his book, too. I pick it up whenever I need a little inspiration.