Let’s get brutally honest for a moment. 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 and 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 hard-laboured insight into your soul) before the eyes of complete strangers! Or worse: people you know!
To some extent, the anxiety is only natural: the nerves, the fist-fulls of hair and palm-to-forehead moments… it’s all part of the writing process!
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 What-iffer
The Horrible What-iffer comes along to gawk over the shoulders of would-be writers as they attempt to plant their sapling idea into the soil of a First Draft. Then, just as that idea is about to blossom, the Horrible What-iffer strikes!
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?”
I guarantee, if you’ve ever tried to create anything, you’ve heard that measly, mettling voice of The Horrible What-iffer. 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 What-iffer is absolute death to your creative process as a writer. There is nothing more paralyzing to Creativity than self-critical thoughts. They drown out the sound of our creative thinking and lead to self-destruction and eventually quitting before you ever have the chance to know what sort of full grown tree your sapling story idea would have matured into!
Thus ends tragically the career of many a writer before it’s begun. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
Don’t be defeated by the Horrible What-iffer!
You can be creative. You can be self-critical. But like Harry Potter and Voldemort, the two cannot co-exist. One will eventually have to kill the other. There is only one solution: You must destroy the Horrible What-iffer before he destroys your story… your joy of writing… YOU! Shakespeare did it, and here’s how.
Imagine a big, bald tattooed club bouncer. 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 What-iffer comes whiffling along with his party-pooping, negative notions to gate crash, POW! Mr. Mental Bouncer gives him what’s coming to him. And your 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 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?
Yes… and No. We will never create the perfect Story. Aiming for perfection will again paralyze your creativity. But we can strive to write better & better stories all the time. And yes, that requires revising your story with a critical eye.
The point here is this: make sure you’re bringing in a critical eye at the right time (ie. NOT while writing your FIRST DRAFT!!!).
Here’s why you can’t Create & Critique at the same time:
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 left-brain take a backseat while Mr. Creator right-brain drives. Eventually, after the drafting phase, Mr. Editor left-brain will return on 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 criticism of your work isn’t self-criticism (product of the Horrible What-iffer), and it 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 criticism in his place, or you might just have to call your mental bouncer on him!