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Interview Your Inner Critic

Creativity coach Anne Carley provides top tips on the creative life.

Eric Maisel
Creativity Coaches on Creativity
Source: Eric Maisel

Creatives tend to pester themselves mercilessly. They will remember one failure more than a score of successes, doubt their abilities even after they’ve proven themselves countless times, and allow negative self-talk and painful self-criticism to derail their efforts. In today’s post, creativity coach Anne Carley explores this theme.

Anne explained:

A fellow writer once said to me, “Sapping my creative energy is the invisible parrot on my shoulder who reminds me of everything I’ve ever said wrong. It repeats my offensive phrases so I can never, ever forget. The parrot on my shoulder reminds me how bad I am for saying it. I have no problem forgiving others, so why can’t the parrot let me forgive myself?”

Another writer puts it this way: “Sometimes, I’ll look at the last sentence I wrote and immediately say to myself, ‘This is drivel.’ And that sense of failure and incompetence drives me away from trying to write anymore.”

A third says: “When I’m in the middle of writing, I can enjoy being carried by the flow. I can surf the creative wave. Later, when I come back to what I wrote, the mean voice in my head starts in. ‘Whatever gave you the idea that you can do this?’ ‘You must be kidding if you think anyone will want to read this.’

These three examples, as different as they are, represent versions of the inner critic. The first one attacks the person’s entire life, the second interferes with the creative process sentence by sentence, and the third leaves the creative process alone, only to attack the output after the fact.

It’s easy to hate the inner critic and to want to banish it permanently to a place far, far away. Here’s a thought exercise: What if we consider the possibility that the inner critic has something useful to offer? What if we give it a temporary pass, and invite it to join us for an interview?

Writer: Tell me about yourself.

Inner Critic: Why now? You’ve been ignoring me forever. Now you’re curious?

W: Look, this is an experiment. Don’t get on my case. I was just thinking – maybe we can stop being enemies.

IC: Well, when you put it that way … What do you want to know?

W: What motivates you? It seems like you show up when I’m feeling vulnerable. Like you’re bullying me into feeling bad about my work when I’m already a little down about it.

IC: Hang on a minute. I’m not a bully.

W: You’re not? Convince me.

IC: You’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope. We’re on the same side. If I suggest something’s off, I’m not doing it to bully you. I just want the work to be as good as possible.

W: Assuming for the moment that you mean that, then why do you raise your objections when I’m feeling discouraged, or just worn out? Why don’t you choose your moments better?

IC: Hmm. I could do that, I guess. What’s a good moment, though? I get the sense that you never want to hear any criticism at all.

W: That’s not true. I accept constructive criticism from everyone in my critique group, don’t I?

IC: I guess the difference is that you’re prepared to receive it from them.

W: Yep. Also, we have group ground rules about first saying what’s working, and then mentioning what needs work.

IC: So, if I speak up when you’re rested and curious, and use the critique group format, you’re saying we can get along?

W: Yes!

IC: Okay. Let’s give it a go.

Is an interview like that worth a try for you? See what happens!

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