Tame the Critic, Empower the Creator
Tame the Critic,
Empower the Creator
By Tess Galati
Writing isn’t keyboarding, or wordsmithing, or editing. It isn’t talking on the screen, blurting out whatever comes to you, or having a conversation with yourself.
Writing isn’t “telling it like it is.” It’s telling it like you’ve thought deeply about it! It’s telling it like you’ve considered your audience, their goals, your logic, their logic, their values and yours, their desired outcome and yours.
You don’t start out with a clear idea. You do end up with one.
Most of us start with a confusion of thought, like a snarled ball of kite string. Writing is, more than anything, the process of clarifying, organizing and shaping thought, putting words together in a logical, organized way to create a coherent idea structure that readers can understand and accept.
Writing is pretty mysterious, like turning lead into gold.
So let’s demystify it. One thing we know for sure. To build cogent text, you need to engage two sides of your mind: the methodical critic and the innovative creator. When the two sides, the critic and creator, do not cooperate, you can’t get off the ground. When they do cooperate, you write with intensity and without stress. You need to manage the dance the critic and creator do together.
The creator is the playful you, the inventor, the risker. It’s the creator who wants to try a new restaurant, visit a new country, take a new way home. In a meeting, it’s the creator who raises questions, who looks at the problem in a new way. The creator is, above all, curious and spontaneous. In many ways, the creator is your precious inner child. Without the creator, life would be pretty dull.
During the writing process, the creator provides the energy for innovation, seeks new solutions, tries out new ways, and progresses in the spirit of experimentation. Without the creator, the writer gets stuck, repeats ideas, states things in boring clichés, and finally gets totally bogged down. People who suffer writer’s block have killed off their creator, so they have no energy for writing.
Writing is creating, so you need to plug in the creator, but the creator alone is not enough. If you give the creator free rein to do the writing, you’ll find the text goes off on tangents, loops around and repeats ideas, lacks structure and direction. Maybe some good ideas are in there somewhere, but they’re hard to find, and the whole thing doesn’t add up to much.
You need the critic!
When you think about what you do to get a piece of writing done, you can see that you make one decision after another. You choose one direction over another, include a piece of information or not, write three short sentences or one long one, choose one word or another. This is the domain of the critic, the methodical thinker who discerns, makes decisions, and keeps the process on track. The critic is the guide.
Where did your inner critic come from? It comes from important authority figures in your life—your parents, of course, and teachers, mentors, bosses. People who had power over you, especially at an early age, made the deepest impression. Your inner critic tends to mimic the authority style of those people. If they were idealistic, analytical, and communicative, you probably built an inner critic who moves gracefully from one decision to another as you write. But the critic’s guidance is of no use unless you create something to be guided. Writing is not simply a decision-making process. It’s a process of giving birth to something that’s never existed.
The critic and creator act out their relationship in the inner dialog that goes on while you're writing. The tone of your self-talk can range from encouraging to damaging. The contributions of the critic and creator may be useful or unproductive. As you write, notice how your two sides work together, and how their relationship helps or hinders your progress.
If composing a message means you start and re-start, delete and re-delete, create and destroy each new beginning, that's a pretty sure sign the critic and creator are at war. Maybe the critic is uncooperative, so you stay stuck. Maybe the creator is rebelling or lazy, regurgitates another’s ideas, writes in circles, or goes off on tangents. The draft you’re composing is a casualty, and you end up frustrated, your time wasted.
Does your critic rigidly prescribe one way to write, criticizing every sentence you put down? Are the creator’s ideas rejected without giving those solutions respectful consideration? Do you hear shaming criticism? Does your writing process become single‑minded and uninspired? Does it result in stilted, boring text (The purpose of this report is to . . . It is the intention of this analysis to . . .)? These are all signs of an uncooperative critic.
The creator can bring baggage, too. An uncooperative creator may go off on tangents. Or the creator may become lazy, saying the same thing five different ways instead of moving ahead. The writing may end up wordy, illogical. Instead of making a point, it goes in circles. An uncooperative creator seems to use language not for useful communication, but for filling space and time. Sometimes, this is the creator’s way of rebelling against an unhelpful critic. Sometimes, the creator is taking over the work of the critic, making the sorts of decisions that a child might make. When such a creator takes over in the writing process, you may feel confused, may find it difficult to stay on track, may not know what to say next. Or you might find that you’re stopped altogether: the creator has staged a sit-down strike, and all you can do is stare at the blank screen.
When the critic cooperates with the creator, it no longer interrupts the process with arbitrary criticism. Instead, it provides encouragement and critique. When it wants the creator to change directions or revise an approach, it has clear reasons and expresses those reasons without emotion. Instead of rigidly advocating one solution, it recognizes the relative merits of various alternatives.
A creator who cooperates with the critic focuses on the task at hand—a task that has been identified in cooperation with the critic. Out of all the possible word choices and sentence structures, it generates those that move forward, carrying out a plan, solving the problem that was identified.
If the relationship between your critical and creative sides is frustrating, you can change it. The payoff, you'll find, is not only better writing produced with less effort: It is greater joy and more energy in all your creative and problem-solving tasks. All you need to do is to put techniques into practice. Check off three techniques you will use and try them out. In a few weeks, you will see a remarkable difference.
Creator Empowerment Techniques
When you’re making life decisions, even simple ones, do not choose until you’ve identified three—not two—ways to go. When you make suggestions to others, come up with three options.
Keep a journal that nobody but you will ever see. Write at least three pages a day without concern about what you’re writing.
Carry around a small notebook and jot down ideas that just come out of the blue. When you run into a phrase or motto you like, put it in your journal. When you notice a strange or interesting comparison, write it in your notebook. Throw in a haiku or a one-sentence poem.
When you’re reading, talk back to the writer by jotting your reactions in the margins.
Keep a record of your dreams.
Start a physical activity that allows your mind to drift—biking, dancing, walking, gardening, meditation, etc. Do this activity for at least fifteen minutes each day. Make a point of writing in your journal immediately afterwards.
When you have a writing assignment, start by writing an intentionally Crappy First Draft (CFD!) right away. Just let it rip!
Once you learn the tasks involved in composing, you will become an investigator of your own process. Notice when a composition goes smoothly, and when it doesn’t. Identify the variables. Notice the inner dialog between your critic and creator. Look at the list of myths and smokescreens and get to know your default writing blocks.
What runs through your head just before you reject what you’ve written? The critical naysayer’s words are usually just a cover for something missing in the foundation!