How to Stop Criticizing Yourself and Start (or Keep) Writing

Jan 24, 2018

Note: While this is post is about writing, it applies to any creative activity.

I heard from three writers this past week who are struggling to allow their voices to emerge. A reporter who wants to write personal essays, a non-fiction writer bogged down by her research and other expert’s opinions, and a writer working to recover after a long marriage where her perspective was discounted.

I read and reread their emails. I thought hard about what I could say that might help. Because certainly I get it – claiming my voice and sharing it is an on-going creative and spiritual discipline.

Here’s what I came up with:

1

Voice is rooted in you believing, “I matter, what I think and like and pay attention to counts.” It’s fundamental to the act of writing: faith in your own experience.

2

When I notice I’m questioning what or how I’m writing, I ask myself, “What thought just kicked me out of flow?” I listened in for what I was telling myself, then I ask, “What’s my source for that thought?” or “How would I know if that’s true?”

3

I remember that the inner critic jabbers when my self concept feels threatened which happens when my writing isn’t going the way I think it should i.e. I’m not writing beautiful sentences quickly and easily one right after the other (as if!) My reptilian brain mistakes my self-concept being threatened for my actual physical self being in danger and strikes up the inner critical chorus in an effort to protect me. That critical voice would have saved my life if a lion was after me; but my writing not going the way I want ? It can’t actually hurt me.  Seeing my neurobiology at work allows me to be compassionate and choose a micro practice to calm my brain and nervous system.

4

I ask myself who I am to hide when women like Aly Raisman and Tarana Burke and so many other women speak up?

5

I work to “love the gap,” the space between what I want to write and what I actually wrote. Writers who keep writing learn to tolerate the gap.

6

I listen to the work like I would a dear friend. “Tell me more.”

7

Most of all? I open my heart as wide as I can bear and dare myself to love. Love the process, the words, the story I am writing. Dare myself to be as devoted to my work as I am to my daughter, my husband, my students. When I love another I do not do it because I want to get something or achieve. I attempt to offer that same love to my gathering of shaky newborn words. This too is love.

To create anything is to say yes to life and to yourself. May you never grant anyone or anything the power to take that yes away from you, to dim it or doubt it in anyway.

Love,

Jen

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