Let’s get brutally honest for a moment, shall we? Writing– I mean really going for it–is terrifying! Each and every time you sit down to put words on page, you’re actually transcribing a little piece of you: your wildest dreams, your deepest desires. So what if you don’t like what you see looking back at you? What if your reflection exposes you to be not the creative genius you’d hoped and imagined, but a failure…a fraud?
And that’s just the first cause of anxiety… (Who wouldn’t want to be a writer?!) As if looking at your own work wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, if you have any hope of publication, at some stage you will have to cast your story–that rather revealing extension of you–before the eyes of complete strangers! Or worse… People you know!
“Oh, I never tell anyone I know that I’m writing a novel. They might ask to read it!” If only I had 5p for each time I’ve heard an aspiring writer say those words, eyes wide with horror at the very thought. I know I’ve said them, and far more seasoned and successful writers than I are just as guilty. Well then, you might reasonably conclude, it’s only natural! The nerves, the fist-fulls of hair and palm-to-forehead moments… it’s all part of the writing process! Indeed it is, and yet anxiety may be the very thing that’s putting a stopper in your creative process.
You may be carrying a parasite: a little monster I like to call The Horrible Whatiffer.
The Horrible Whatiffer comes along to gawk over shoulder as you transfer ideas to page in the form of a rough draft. Just as some new scene is about to blossom…“Wait!” he wails. “What if it’s over-the-top? What if it’s too long? Too slow? What if it’s not what the market’s going for these days? What if your characters are a bit flat? What if… it’s just. plain. dumb?”
Oh yes, if you’ve ever tried to create anything, you’ve heard the measly, meddling voice of The Horrible Whatiffer. His antics are enough to make Shakespeare want to drop his quill, crumple his parchment and curl up in a fetal position on the floor as he beats his brow and sobs “No one will ever want to read this RUBBISH!”
Hey, it might have happened for all we know!
You see, The Horrible Whatiffer is Absolute Death to your creative process as as a writer. There is nothing more paralyzing to creativity than over-loud, self-critical thoughts. They drown out the sound of our creative thinking and lead to self-destruction. And self-destruction is the very bane of creativity. One of the other will have to go.
There is only one solution: You must destroy The Horrible Whatiffer before he destroys your story… your joy of writing… YOU! Shakespeare did it, and here’s how. Imagine a big, bald tattooed bouncer. Use your creativity! Make him as repulsively scary as you like. Now set him to work in front of the VIP creative party going on in your mind every time you sit down to draft. When smarmy old Horrible Whatiffer comes whiffling along with his party-pooping, negative notions to gate crash: POW! Mr. Mental Bouncer gives him what’s coming to him. And the creative party can go on in peace! It takes practice, but it’s well worth the discipline to keep your story alive and moving forward.
“But,” I hear you protest, “aren’t we writer’s supposed to self-critique? Isn’t it our job to chip away at our ideas until they become the perfected story we can present to the world with pride?
The answer is a resounding “YES!” Only make sure you’re bringing in a self-critical eye at the right time (ie. NOT whilst writing your FIRST DRAFT!!!). The writer wears two different hats: The creator cap that corresponds to our creative right brain hemisphere, and the editor cap which alerts our analytical left brain hemisphere. New writers often try wearing both hats at once, but this is a fatal error. Each one has its time to shine– the left brain helps the right brain turn all of its fluttering fancies into some sort of coherent plan. But then it’s time to swap hats and let Mr. Editor take a backseat while Mr. Creator right brain drives. Eventually, after the drafting phase, Mr. Editor will return to the scene to analyze, problem solve and tweak away to his heart’s content while Mr. Creator gets some well-earned R&R.
And so you see, the balance between creativity and self-criticism is like a dance! But it’s entirely up to you, the writer, to make sure self-criticism isn’t stepping on creativity’s toes. That would only throw off the whole process and put you back from achieving your goals. So next time you sit down to draft, put self-criticism in his place, or you might just have to call your mental bouncer on him!