The inner critic stops us creating. We criticise ourselves as others criticised us even if those others are long gone from our lives. In addition, often because society seems to prefer that we look like X and talk like Y and write like Z, we harangue ourselves on behalf of a hostile culture. We police ourselves. We say: No, no, you can’t. You better not. You’re too much. You’re not enough. We carry inside us what my wonderful mate Jane Bradley calls a cop in the head. Why? To protect ourselves. To keep ourselves safe from shame and rejection we experienced when young. The inner critic is trying to protect us, yes, but what a debilitating way to go about it. Listening to the inner critic might keep you safe but it will keep you small. It will keep you scared. It will keep you handcuffed to others’ preferences and expectations and to a past that’s been and gone.
Fear is what drives the inner critic. As Elizabeth Gilbert writes:
For over 25 years now, my fear has been shouting “STOP!” to me, every single time I sit down to write. Fear never has a more interesting insight to offer. Never. Just that one word, repeated and repeated with increasing hysteria: “STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!!!!!”
My fear wants me to stop, because my fear wants me to be safe, and my fear perceives all motion, all inspiration, all work, all activity, all passion whatsoever as potentially life-threatening. My fear wants me to live a smaller life. The smallest imaginable life, ideally. My fear would prefer that I never got out of bed.Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Fear is Boring
The bad news is that fear never goes away but the good news is that you can turn that inner critic right down to a squeak. How do we do this? Rebel. Rebel right now. Fight the cop in the head. Write. Fly kites. Quilt. Play. Do what the little-you inside you has always wanted to do. Remember creativity is therapeutic. Writing and all other forms of creativity help ease stress and anxiety. Yes, you might say, I know all of this Kerry, but I’m just too busy with kids/ work/ relatives/living in a global pandemic etc. All valid reasons but ask yourself if, underneath, you’re really just scared. Because we’re all scared. All the time. When fear rises—and it will—ask yourself if you’re in actual physical danger. No? Then crack on. Write (or quilt or fly kites or crochet) despite what the inner critic squawks at you. Think of it as exposure therapy. Write for the sheer joy of getting words on the page, the joy of radical noticing, the joy of being present. The sky won’t fall on your head, you’ll learn to value your creativity and the voice of your inner critic will lose credibility. Guaranteed.
- Write whatever comes to mind and publish it on Anti-diary (remember you can be anonymous!) Don’t edit, just post! Show your inner critic that you’ll survive! Do it again tomorrow. A great practice for reducing fear is just doing it. Again and again.
- Write about how Fridays make you feel. Write whatever comes into your head and hit submit
- Write a letter to your fear. Start with Dear Fear and write down everything that comes up. Don’t edit. Hit submit.
- Set a reminder in your calendar to do an Anti-diary post for a few minutes every day. Do it no matter what your inner critic squawks about how tired/stupid/stressed you’re feeling. Writing daily is self care and this seemingly small act will reap real rewards.
I’ve loved my anti-diary takeover and I’m looking forward to seeing all of your diary entries over the coming weeks. Keep fighting that inner critic. Every damn day. Happy writing!
Kerry is the founder of Write like a Grrrl which offers creative writing courses for women & NB in partnership with For Book’s Sake in the UK. Kerry’s Write like a Grrrl courses are now taught all over the world and Kerry has facilitated workshops across the UK, in Ireland and Russia. Her writing has been featured in various publications including Steer, The Manchester Review, the Kenyon Review and Spilling Ink. Her play Trust was recently performed at the Gulbenkian Theatre.