Friday, September 21, 2012

Entry # 95 - "Reflections on the Inner Critic"

Photo Credit - Alex Dunn - September 2012 - Florida Sky
We talked about self criticism in my writing class this past week. It seems that often we are  harder on ourselves and our writing efforts because somewhere back in our memory, we carry the scars of a voice that told us our work wasn’t any good, or perhaps the voice said we weren’t good enough at writing to justify our desire to write.  I’m often aware of the power of the negative to shape our perceptions of who we are and what we can accomplish. 

Writers readily acknowledge that almost anything you do in writing can be improved, and most agree revision is writing and writing is revision, but the reality is that no critic can cause you so much doubt about your ability as your inner critic. And that inner critic comes from your experiences with others who judged too soon and too harshly. 

Sometimes these negative inner voices might say, "You're not a Real Writer because you: can't spell well, have poor handwriting, have not been published, don't have an MFA, don't write every day, are too old, or too young to have any thing important to say." These are some of the kinds of negative messages that float in the background for people who have aspired to write.  If you want to write, you'll learn to ignore this back ground chatter.

Often these voices came from our childhood and continue to shape our attitudes as adults, perhaps leaving the adult - as one person in a writing class I was in over the summer, described it - "feeling so incompetent and self critical it's hard to write anything more complex than a grocery list."  So this kind of thing shapes the inner critic and prevents the full growth of a mature writer, if that negative inner voice is not ignored.

Photo Credit - Jan Bowman - May 2012
Now let's be clear. I'm not suggesting that all self criticism of writing is a bad thing.  What I am suggesting is that if we would write - we need to be able to sort through those voices from the past whose criticism is based on attacking the confidence of our inner writer and ignores the truth that all writers will write better with practice, patience and persistent attempts to learn how to write. Learning how to write is an ongoing process. Writers should be open to growth and new insights and the amazing possibilities available to them every time they put words on a page.

"If you have a motto as a writer, it might be, 'In my heart I trust.'" ---Richard Goodman, The Soul of Creative Writing.  He also observed, "No critic who ever lived will cause you as much doubt or anguish about your writing as yourself."

Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:


  1. Creativity and fragility go hand in hand when it comes to one's ego. This delicate part of our soul is not often ready to hear review at any cost. The criticism can be brutal and in fact do harm to the artist's creative growth and expression.
    Often children experience such amateurish, insensitive and harsh criticism that they never want to create again. All that is waiting to come out can be locked up forever when the act of self-expression is met with cruel and subjective review. Sometimes the art just has to flow and the teacher/critic needs to create an environment that is safe to bear your soul and regard mistakes as a dynamic force that can be ongoing and not fixed, a way to move foward. I remember from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" "decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse". Keep the excitement and fun in creativity by accepting what is given and produced by another, not what you might have said or done.

  2. Yes. Indeed. Thanks for your post. I had forgotten that wonderful line from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

    "decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse..."

    I think I'll post that above my writing desk. Thanks for reading and writing.