One of the biggest issues in my writing life is time. Sometimes, I say it’s that I don’t have it, but that’s a lie. I have time to stay up late reading about the English Monarchy on Wikipedia (Best Soap Opera ever!), I have time to argue with people on the Internet and fact-check my every biting statement, I have time to watch random videos on Facebook. I have time.
Occasionally, I say that it’s not time but clear time. Time when I’m not bickering with someone in my head, when I am not reworking the household budget, when I am not mentally planning out what groceries I need to buy for what meals this week and how to strategically read my library books such that I return all the ones that I can’t renew on time. Time when the cell phone doesn’t ring with a new problem. Evidently, I don’t have the perfect writer’s life, where nothing interrupts the pure creative state.
I imagine this perfect writer’s life as being ensconced in a pristine white room, perfectly lit by ambient sunlight from large windows framed by fresh-leaved trees, overlooking the ocean. I enter and brilliance pours forth from my impeccably manicured fingers. Then I turn my head and stare prettily out the window.
The reality is that I could never keep such a room clean. The nearest water within in view are the pools of mud in my basement, and my nails are unpolished, unshaped and frequently broken. My image of a perfect writers’ life is essentially a magazine ad. I have other variants of this ad–sometimes I’m in a turret surrounded by bookshelves and there’s a thunderstorm outside–but none of these reflect my actual life. There is no turret in my house.
As reasonably intelligent people, we all know that this image of writerly perfection is not realistic. And yet, somehow this still stops us from writing. I have no time, I have time but my head isn’t clear, I cannot successfully clear my head because I am not fabulously wealthy from my critically-acclaimed bestselling novel (which was made into the Oscar-winning box office smash hit movie) that allows me to construct a perfect writer’s oasis where Life cannot bother me.
Knowing this, the conventional writer’s wisdom is to write daily, no matter what happens or how you feel about it. It’s good advice, but it’s also easy to get too perfect about that too. After all, real writers write every day, and yesterday I watched Hell’s Kitchen instead of writing, therefore I am not a real writer, I am not serious enough, and I deserve Gordon Ramsey-like wrath visited upon me because I suck.
Such perfection is not limited to process either. It’s easy to do this with our actual writing. I cannot write because I have no brilliant ideas, I had a brilliant idea but on the page it’s insipid, my metaphors make no sense, my metaphors are unoriginal, I used metaphor in the first place and Hemmingway would shame me for it, my plot is predictable and I don’t know everything about this character yet, how can I possibly write when I don’t know everything?
Welcome to your inner critic. He (mine’s male) a sneaky terrorist, sitting in your brain with a bomb, such that every move you make to sit down and actually write is immediately threatened.
Let’s look at him for a second. What’s he going to do with that bomb? Sweet fuck all. His only goal is to keep pointing out problems. When you give in to him, he gets stronger. Feeling like you’ll never be a writer because you didn’t write yesterday? That feeling will be stronger if listen to him and hate yourself for not writing today either. Every time you validate that feeling about why you will never be a writer, it becomes stronger.
It’s really easy to hate the bastard, except that’s exactly what he wants.
Who is he? He’s you. You can’t get rid of him. Thinking that if only you could write if you could shut this terrorist down for good is another way in which that bastard keeps you from writing. (I told you, he’s sneaky.)
You also need him. Some people say that he’s there to keep you striving to be a better writer. Whatever. It’s an argument that I’ve heard but don’t fully buy, since a supportive inner coach can help me strive to get better more effectively than this critical bastard who tells me that there’s no point in striving because I’ll never get better anyway. I don’t think that’s why you need him.
This inner critic, this one who tells you that you are doing it wrong and will never get it right, is a representation of your fears. An act of creativity is an act of risk. And let’s face it, as writers, we’re not jumping out of airplanes here. Our risks are largely internal. The risk you take, the fear you need to get past, is for the most part in your head.
You need him, that sneaky terrorist bastard. You need him to be those fears, so you can get past them and create something. You need to him to tell you that you can’t do this, so that you can bravely step forward and prove to yourself that you can.
But hating him and fighting with him and wishing he was gone? You’re only helping him get in your way. He’s you. You can’t rid yourself of self-hatred by hating a part of yourself.
Accept that he’s there, and his job is to get in your way. When he’s doing his job so effectively, tell him he’s worked hard enough today, and carry on. Some days, the fears will be big and the creative risks small, and some days the creative risks will be huge and wonderful. But there needs to be risk. There is no great act of creativity without it.